The decision is an enormous blow to Melbourne and their hope of successive premierships.
Smith faced the judiciary tonight being charged with a grapple tackle on Brisbane’s Sam Thaiday in last Saturday night’s match.
While Smith pleaded not guilty, the NRL judiciary believed otherwise, suspending him for two games.Â A speedyÂ decision, taking the judiciary only 20 minutes to pass judgment.Â Smith will miss the final qualifier against Cronulla on Friday night and if Melbourne are victorious, Smith will also miss the Grand Final.
If the Storm are beaten on Friday night, Smith will miss Australia’s opening game of the Rugby League World Cup against New Zealand in Sydney.
Craig Bellamy is now left with the decision of who Smith’s replacement hooker will be.Â His three choices beingÂ Billy Slater, Russ Aitken and Matt Geyer.
To make matters worse for the Storm, Ryan Hoffman was tonight also ruled out for the year after undergoing ankle surgery.Â The ruling also omitting Hoffman from the World Cup.
Smith claimed his contact with Thaiday’s chin was unintentional.Â He also claimed that as soon as he realised the dangerous position of his arm, he “immediately released” his grip.
Smith went on to tell the panel “the whole tackle took three seconds. Contact with his face was one second at most, if not less”.Â “It is hard to rectify faster than that, I think.”
Prosecutor Peter Kite hit back claiming that Smith made two efforts to “yank” Thaiday’s head before releasing his grip.
Smith is now the third player since 2005 to be found guilty of a grapple tackle by a judiciary panel.Â Teammate Hoffman was charged in 2005 and St George’s Jason Ryles was charged in 2007.Â Both Hoffman and Ryles being banned for 2 weeks after being found guilty by the panel.
Friday night’s clash against the Sharks will be a huge test for the Storm as the minor premiers are now without captain Smith, Jeremy Smith (suspension) and Hoffman (ankle injury).
If Storm are successful against the Sharks this weekend, Jeremy Smith will at least be available to play in the grand final as he had earlier accepted a one-game ban for his chicken wing offence in the same tackle on Thaiday.