A rugby player has been arrested and faces a lifetime ban after he was charged with assaulting a referee at an under-19s grand final on Saturday.
Maitland Blacks flanker Mark Meafua, 18, allegedly struck referee Niklas Gaal, 19, in the jaw during his grand final match against the Newcastle Wanderers in the NSW Hunter region.
According to witnesses, Meafua had been involved in a scuffle moments earlier after the Blacks players objected to a tackle from a Wanderers opponent.
Gaal was in the process of issuing Meafua a yellow card when the 18-year-old allegedly struck him with an open hand.
Meafua was removed from the field.
Gaal received a standing ovation after consulting with other officials and deciding to referee the remainder of the game.
The incident was captured on video, but the Newcastle and Hunter Rugby Union has decided not to make the footage public, while the 19-year-old declined to comment about the incident.
Meafua will face the Newcastle and Hunter Rugby Union judiciary and code of conduct committee on a charge of "physical abuse of match officials", which according to Australian Rugby Union guidelines, carries penalties ranging between 24, 48 and 96 weeks, with a life ban reserved for the most serious cases.
NHRU general manager Andy Fairfull said that the incident was "unacceptable" and was problematic for a code that is struggling to recruit grassroot referees.
"We're trying to attract young referees into the game and if they are concerned they are going to get physically abused while doing it, they don't get paid enough for that type of behaviour," Fairfull told Fairfax Media.
"It is not good for rugby for something like that to happen.
"I'm sure the player that committed the offence will have some issues to work through as well.
"It is not good all round."
Meafua was arrested at his home around 10 p.m. on Saturday and charged with common assault, which carries a maximum two years in jail.
Maitland Rugby Club president Ben Emmett spoke out on Facebook calling it an "ugly incident".
"This evening, what should have been the culmination of an outstanding season of Colts Rugby from both the Blacks and Wanderers was tarnished by an ugly incident that has no place in our sport," Emmett posted on Saturday night.
"The Maitland Rugby club prides itself upon the principles of fair play, honesty and respect for others...We cannot, and will not, condone any behaviours that threaten or devalue the remarkable place that referees and officials play in our game.
"The Maitland Rugby Club refuses to accept any actions that may bring our great sport into disrepute and will work with all parties and support them through the processes as defined by the competition in relation to this incident.
"Finally, the Maitland Rugby Club wish to thank this evening's referee, Niklas Gaal for his contribution to what was an otherwise outstanding match and to congratulate Wanderers RFC on their successful season."
A police spokesman said on Sunday that Meafua would appear in Maitland Local Court on Oct. 4.
The Wanderers won the match 28-3.