Coach Brad Fittler thinks Matt Burton’s sin-binning in the State of Origin decider was a “tad ridiculous” as NSW lick their wounds after the Maroons’ comeback win. Blues centre Burton and Queensland opposite Dane Gagai were both sin-binned as the Origin series decider descended into a throwback, fists flying in a second-half brawl.
The pair were given a spell by referee Ashley Klein in the 42nd minute after the Maroons made a snap break at Suncorp Stadium on Wednesday night. As Queensland burst upfield, Burton collided with Maroons fullback Kalyn Ponga after he had passed and was trying to catch up with the play.
Gagai took exception to the New South Welshman’s contact on Ponga and knocked him over before they squared up. The pair both hesitated and then threw a flurry of punches at each other.
While most of Burton’s missed, Gagai found the NSW centre’s head repeatedly and he got up after the melee with a black eye and bleeding nose. It was helped by Queensland teammate Tino Fa’asuamaleaui holding Burton back as Gagai laid into him, putting him into a headlock.
Klein showed no tolerance for the violence and sent the pair to the sin bin, but spared Fa’asuamaleaui. The incident appeared to galvanise the hosts, who kicked on from 12-10 down to win 22-12.
“He didn’t initiate it, he’s not going to fight anyone,” Fittler said of Burton. “He got belted, got the penalty, got in a headlock and we walk out with one player down each. Tad ridiculous, but it is what it is.”
Blues captain James Tedesco wondered why Fa’asuamaleaui was not sin-binned, before Fittler shut down the topic.
Origin games were once famed for descending into fighting but the NRL has taken a no-nonsense approach to on-field brawls. Klein’s approach was consistent with Origin II, 2020, when Fa’asuamaleaui and Payne Haas were both binned for trading blows.
Both Gagai and Burton escaped suspension crucially will not miss any club football after the NRL’s match review committee handed them monetary sanctions for grade two striking charges.
The pair have been given a fine worth 23% of their match fee with early guilty pleas and should both be available for Canterbury and Newcastle respectively.
Gagai was relieved when he learned of the news that he would not miss any club games while a crestfallen Burton struggled to comprehend the loss as he sported a big black eye.
The Canterbury centre was inconsolable after the 22-12 defeat and insisted he had not sustained a fracture to his cheek or eye socket.
“Whatever happens on the field stays on the field,” Burton said. “You don’t want to get sent off and it obviously affects the team. The ref controlled the game and that’s up to his decision and that’s footy. I’m not the ref, he makes the decisions and that’s his call. It was obviously disappointing to not get the result.”
The only other player charged from the game was Queensland prop Tino Fa’asuamaleaui who hit Burton with a high shot in the ninth minute and was also involved in the fracas with Gagai, holding Burton back as Gagai laid into him.
He faces a 20% reduction in his match fee if he pleads guilty and will be cleared to play for Gold Coast against Brisbane on Saturday.