NSW Origin coach Brad Fittler has fired another shot after Blues skipper James Tedesco was knocked out, then ragdolled by Queensland forward Jai Arrow.
Blues legend Andrew Johns labelled Arrow’s actions as “rubbish” on Channel 9, while Fittler added that it showed a “lack of respect” for the felled Tedesco.
REPLAY The State of Origin III Decider on Kayo. No ad-breaks during play and Fox League commentary. New to Kayo? Get your 14-day free trial & start streaming instantly
But with a free shot with the second of the press conferences, Maroons coach Wayne Bennett took a free swipe at Fittler.
Bennett told Fittler to go and watch a replay of the controversial shove of a concussed James Tedesco in Origin III, telling the NSW coach he was “kidding himself” if he thought Arrow had intentionally targeted a vulnerable player.
“That was instinct, mate. That happened so quick and he didn’t realise that Papalii had hit him with his knee,” Bennett said. “As soon as he realised what he’d done, he stayed there (to care for Tedesco). He never moved, he didn’t run away and get a high-five or something.
“It happens so quickly out there and he just didn’t know what had happened … I thought he reacted really good. If you look at his head, he never even seen what happened. He was in there trying to make the tackle, he never saw the knee go into Tedesco’s head.”
Told specifically of Fittler’s comment, Bennett replied: “Brad’s kidding himself, OK? There was no lack of respect there. Just watch it again.”
But Fittler hasn’t let it go, taking a swipe at the act and the NRL’s handling of it as the Queensland forward was handed a grade-one contrary conduct charge by the NRL match review committee, essentially a $550-$750 fine.
The Blues coach called for tougher sanction for the act.
“It looked ugly,” Fittler said.
“I didn’t actually see it until last night (after the game). Jai has to live with what he did. It wasn’t cool, it was over the top and I don’t think the league handled it that well.
“I don’t think a $550 fine is an appropriate thing — I don’t know what the appropriate thing is, I just think something more could have been done.
“That’s someone else’s job (to decide the punishment). But it was the first thing two people talked to me about this morning, so it obviously had an impact on the viewers.
“I don’t want to pick a fight with the super coach. It is what it is, that’s my opinion, Wayne has his.
“You can see the reality of players getting knocked out and some players getting knocked out over and over — I’m incredibly conscious and aware of what’s going on.”
Tedesco was already knocked out after being tackled and accidentally coming into contact with Josh Papalii’s knee. But Arrow went on with the tackle, lifting Tedesco and shoving him back to the ground before realising the Blues skipper was in a bad way and calling for medical assistance.
The act saw social media erupt with hot takes, something that Fox League’s Paul Kent hit out at, telling critics to “pull their heads in”.
But Maroons great Cooper Cronk replied: “Well then I need to pull my head in because I don’t like that. That’s not a play you should be doing if a player is in or out of consciousness for me. Whether he’s out or not, you don’t whack somebody then pick them up and throw them again.”
Former NSW coach Laurie Daley also responded on Sky’s Big Sports Breakfast.
“I don’t know think he knew that he was knocked out,” Daley said. “I didn’t see it as a grubby act, I think he was caught in the emotion of NSW’s best player has made and error and I’m going to rub it into him and when he picked him up, he realised that something was wrong.”
Arrow sought Tedesco out after the game to offer an apology but defended himself against the “grub” accusation.
“When I was speaking to him after the game I said, ‘Look mate, I’m sorry I didn’t realise you were knocked out until probably a couple of seconds after I threw him back on the ground’,” Arrow said.
“People are always going to have comments about it but I know myself, I know what I do as a player, I’m not out there to try and hurt someone intentionally.”