ORANGE rugby league suffered one of the blackest days in its proud history after referee Nathan Blanchard was attacked by a crowd member in a shocking end to Saturday’s Group 10 local derby.
Blanchard, the Group’s premier whistleblower, had called full-time 25 minutes early after an ugly brawl right under the Endeavour Oval grandstand that had already brought shame to both clubs, considering the large number of children in attendance.
Blanchard was then grabbed by a spectator and punched several times before CYMS’ club captain Des Knight stepped in to shield him away to the referees’ change room.
Although shaken by the incident, Blanchard was not seriously hurt in the attack.
The spectator was charged with one count of common assault by Orange police on Saturday night and is also facing a life ban from all involvement in rugby league.
It was the second time in three weeks a match involving Orange Hawks had been called off early due to fighting.
Their round three match in Lithgow against Workies also ended in a brawl.
They will face a Group 10 committee meeting tonight in Bathurst where they must show cause as to why they should not be booted out of the competition.
“They’ve obviously got a discipline problem there. It’s three times their club has been involved in this, so it’s obviously an issue,” Group 10 president Linore Zamparini.
“I think they’ll have to show cause why they shouldn’t be dismissed by the Group.”
Shattered Orange Hawks captain-coach Todd Barrow described the incident as “disgusting”.
Orange CYMS president Ray Agland was “gut-wrenched and devastated” by what happened.
HAWKS FACE POSSIBLE AXING
ORANGE Hawks may need to show cause why they should be allowed to stay in Group 10 following the disgraceful finish to Saturday’s Orange derby at Endeavour Oval.
The Group 10 committee will meet at Bathurst Panthers tonight to discuss the ramifications of referee Nathan Blanchard being attacked by a spectator after calling the match off 25 minutes early.
It is the second time in three weeks a match involving Orange Hawks has been called off early due to fighting.
Their round 10 match against Lithgow Workies in Orange two weeks ago was ended 10 minutes early by referee Nick McGrath, while the corresponding fixture in Lithgow on May 22 also ended in a brawl.
Group 10 president Linore Zamparini yesterday revealed Hawks will need to show why they should stay in the competition.
“I think they’ll have to show cause why they shouldn’t be dismissed by the Group,” he said.
“It is (concerning that Hawks have been involved in similar incidents three times).
“They’ve obviously got a discipline problem there. You’re quite right in that it’s three times their club has been involved in this, so it’s obviously an issue.
“It’s very disappointing. The game is struggling as it is with things like crowds and things like this are only going to hurt the game more and more.
“It’s a shame. I know (Hawks) have some really good people (on the committee) at the club who work very hard for them. But all it takes is a few people to bring down the castle.”
Zamparini also revealed the spectator who attacked Blanchard is set to face a life ban from all involvement in rugby league.
“I would think that would be automatic,” he said.
“Spectators are still subject to the national code of conduct.
“We will have to get advice on the next step we take given it is now a police matter.”
How a member of the crowd was able to be so close to Blanchard after the heated brawl is also of a concern to Group 10.
Zamparini said employing security guards at matches is an avenue clubs may have to consider.
“You wouldn’t think so. We live in a country where that shouldn’t be the case. But employing security guards is something that may have to be considered and clubs would have to foot the bill for that. It’s something that could happen,” he said.
KNIGHT IN SHINING ARMOUR
GROUP 10 Referees’ Association president Mark Edwards has praised the efforts of Orange CYMS club captain Des Knight after he shielded referee Nathan Blanchard away from an attacker in the aftermath of Saturday’s Group 10 derby against Orange Hawks at Endeavour Oval.
After calling full-time with 25 minutes remaining after an ugly brawl, Blanchard was taken to the ground and punched several times by a member of the crowd.
Knight then came to the defence of Blanchard, Group 10’s leading referee, shielding the whistleblower before he was led back into the referees’ changing rooms.
Edwards said he spoke to Blanchard on Saturday night and, although shaken, the Bathurst-based referee was not seriously hurt in the attack.
“He’s a bit shaken around but he’s OK. He was protected very well by CYMS players after it happened. We’re very thankful to them for that,” Edwards said.
While reluctant to comment in detail because the matter is now before the police, Edwards expressed his extreme disappointment over the attack on the Group’s top referee.
“It’s very disappointing to see this happen to rugby league in general,” he said.
“I haven’t spoken to the Group yet, so I’m only going on a bit of hearsay and from what Nathan has said to me.
“We’ll be working with the Group to see what action they will take to ensure it doesn’t happen again.”
Edwards said Blanchard gave no indication he intends to quit refereeing after the attack.
Blanchard did not return messages yesterday.
BARROW DEFENDS HAWKS' BATTERED REPUTATION
SHATTERED Orange Hawks captain-coach Todd Barrow was left to defend his club’s battered reputation in the aftermath of Saturday’s ugly Group 10 derby against Orange CYMS.
Supported by Hawks officials in the two blues’ sheds, Barrow said both clubs needed to accept responsibility for an ugly brawl that brought an early end to the match at Endeavour Oval.
“I’ve never seen anything like it. It was pretty embarrassing, I think from both sides. I don’t think anyone was to blame,” he said.
“I think we’ll probably cop a fair bit of flak over it, which we always do.
“Against Lithgow we got portrayed as the team that started it all last time and it’ll probably happen again for us. But there was two sides involved in it. If you see the video and see the play-the-ball, they were the ones who threw the first punch.
“It happens in footy, derbies as well. The stuff that happened there at the end of the game was disgusting. The ref getting tackled and hit, that’s something I don’t like seeing and no one does. I feel for them.
“Stinks happen in footy every now and then. I think it just got a bit out of hand. I think both teams are to blame.”
Despite having two of their matches called off early in the space of three weeks, Barrow maintains Hawks do not have a discipline problem.
“I don’t think so mate. As I said, the fight started out there because their player threw the first punch. Our boys retaliated and then it got out of control,” he said.
“Our player was walking off - I was sitting on the bench and (saw) the whole thing. He was walking off and they both had words and then it started.
“So I don’t think you can blame one player. I think they’re both to blame. And I think both clubs are to blame. So to get singled out I think is totally wrong.
“I don’t think there is a discipline issue. I think the boys were just sticking up for their mates and that’s just how it is.”
Hawks will be asked to show cause tonight as to why they should not be removed from Group 10 at a meeting in Bathurst.
The club’s president, Craig Wishart, was yesterday adamant that should not happen.
“I don’t believe we should be removed. There were two clubs involved and we will get the blame for this,” he said.
“I have not had one phone call from Group 10 so far. It’s a local derby. Up until that moment, it was a good, hard game. If the game was played at Wade Park I don’t think it would have happened. At Endeavour, the field is too close to the crowd. It was not real good at all for rugby league. That’s just not on in any way.”
Wishart said the spectator who attacked Nathan Blanchard was not affiliated with Hawks.
He said it was too early to comment on whether Hawks will discipline players involved in the incident.
“We are getting statements off our players to get their views. We have to view the video first before we make any decisions like that,” he said.
Hawks remain upset after claiming Group 10 has ignored their complaints regarding alleged racism towards their players during their two matches against Lithgow this season.
There is no suggestion of any racism during Saturday’s match against CYMS.
Wishart said, after initially hoping to keep the matter under wraps, the club will now take the issue to the Country Rugby League.
“The incident against Lithgow was totally different to what happened against CYMS,” Wishart said.
GROUP 10 NEED TO COME DOWN HARD ON HAWKS: SULLIVAN
ORANGE CYMS captain-coach Michael Sullivan believes Group 10 need to come down hard on Orange Hawks following the ugly end to Saturday’s Group 10 local derby.
Sullivan was so disgusted with how the match ended he made a beeline for the dressing sheds.
“When it started I went straight in the sheds, I didn’t want to be part of it. That’s not me. When I came out here it was about playing football, not throwing punches and things like that,” he said in the aftermath of Saturday’s match.
“I got hit quite hard there late - I don’t get up and retaliate. These guys didn’t want to get up when they got hit. They want to push and shove and carry on like world prize fighters. It’s not the first time they’ve had a game called off. It’s pretty embarrassing for their club.
“Group 10’s got to really step in now and discipline them. It’s not the first time it’s happened. It’s going to keep happening until they actually do something about it.”
Sullivan wasn’t backing down from his fiery comments yesterday afternoon after having had time to cool down.
“As I said yesterday, it’s an ongoing thing with Hawks. It’s not the first time it’s happened,” he said.
“They can go around and say they’re embarrassed as much as they like but the writing’s on the wall. They’ve done it more than once now. I know last year with us, our guys got taken off the ball and split heads and whatnot and punches were starting to get thrown, so they got called off in the Bathurst Knockout.
“Again from their side’s point of view, it was all them. Lithgow, same team was involved. I know a player last year was cited for stomping. I think in my time at the club I don’t think there’s been too many if any of our first graders sent to the judiciary or sent-off. From our point of view, I don’t know if there’s too much to be reprimanded. I’d have to see what more comes out of it and hear if any of our guys have done the wrong thing.”
“I think there’s one common denominator in the last 18 months of teams that are doing the wrong thing and intimidating refs and what not and it’s been Hawks.”
Sullivan said he feels CYMS have been dragged into a situation to which they don’t belong.
“I was a bit embarrassed by what went on. It’s just unfortunate our club’s been the other half involved, where I don’t think we did too much wrong,” he said.
WE NEED TO LEARN FROM THIS: AGLAND
ORANGE CYMS president Ray Agland says little more could have been done to prevent a crowd member’s attack on referee Nathan Blanchard in the aftermath of Saturday’ Group 10 derby with Orange Hawks.
A member of the crowd grabbed Blanchard after he had called full-time 25 minutes early and punched him several times before the whistleblower was shielded by CYMS club captain Des Knight.
A 51-year-old man was charged with common assault after the attack.
Agland was yesterday devastated at the damage the incident had done to his club and rugby league in Orange.
He described it as one of the worst things he had seen in the sport.
“I’m gut-wrenched and devastated because things like that shouldn’t happen in any sport, let alone rugby league and we just don’t need it in our game,” Agland said.
“We strive to give our best and do our best to keep our club going and we’re having a lot of success of late but then we get dragged in to this situation. It’s not good at all.
“I can only apologise to our sponsors and supporters in that aspect because they witnessed what happened there. I’m not apologising for us but apologising for what they saw.”
Agland maintained CYMS could have done little more to protect Blanchard but added the club would fully support investigations into the incident.
“We actually met as a committee last night (Saturday). We had our groundsperson there yesterday and they did everything they need to do at a rugby league game. But unfortunately you can’t control spectators who do things like that,” Agland said.
“There’s only certain measures you can go to. So, there’s a learning curve for everyone out of this and hopefully something will come out in the investigation.
“We’ll now support the Country Rugby League in their investigation and the police and whatever we need to do that comes out of that.”