Referee Ray Pettit tries to again restore order between Coffs Harbour and Macleay Valley before finally abandoning the match in the 61st minute.
Referee Ray Pettit tries to again restore order between Coffs Harbour and Macleay Valley before finally abandoning the match in the 61st minute. Leigh Jensen

Wild scenes between Coffs and Macleay see league abandoned

SHAKEN Group 2 officials have a stinking mess to clean up after the weekend's first grade rugby league match involving Coffs Harbour and Macleay Valley ended in chaos.

Two sin-binnings, a send off and numerous spiteful incidents finally ended with an ugly confrontation between players that spilled over the sidelines midway through the second stanza.

Fed up with what he had seen, referee Ray Pettit consulted with touch judges David Dunn and Garth Burley and abandoned the match with 19 minutes still remaining.

The Comets at that time were ahead 56-10 and will be awarded the match premiership points.

While there has been tension between the teams in recent seasons, nobody expected the underlying sense of hostility that bubbled away almost from kick-off.

Macleay had star half Ant Cowan sin-binned early and as he returned to the arena 10 minutes later, he was passed by lock forward Richard Dungay heading off to replace him in the cooler.

Moments later, Macleay hooker Cecil Lardner was sent off absolutely and the minutes leading up to the break were marked by numerous incidents that contributed to the home side not only leading by 40-4 on the scoreboard but by 10-nil in the penalty count.

A major explosion occurred as players were leaving the ground at half time.

It will be alleged at least one Coffs Harbour lower grade player sitting in the crowd racially abused a Macleay Valley player still on the field.

An uglier incident was averted when Coffs officials ordered their player to leave the venue.

Club president Steve Gooley then called police who arrived at Geoff King Motors Park minutes later.

"I asked them to do a walk-through to settle the tension and avoid any further incidents," he said.

"We have identified the player concerned in the alleged abuse and a report will be prepared for Group 2 with a view to possible further action."

When play resumed, tension escalated near the official table on the half way line with what eyewitnesses have described as a bizarre occurrence.

A member of the Mustangs support staff took the club's acting president to task for taking photographs of the match for the Macleay Argus newspaper.

It took some time to convince the staff person that media representatives have permission from Group 2's administration to report on and photograph matches and that debate only settled down when on-field relationships between the teams totally broke down.

The catalyst was sparked when one player allegedly committed an indiscretion right on the centre of the half way line and his opponent took offence.

Play continued across field while they pushed and shoved each other in the background.

Finally, open fighting was sparked when a former Macleay player who was acting as a water carrier entered the field of play and began to remonstrate with players from both sides.

Replacement players and some officials then came off the bench and also entered the field of play by no more than five metres from the sideline.

Even more officials then poured onto the field to usher them away, arguably causing a further breakdown in the stability of the game.

By this time, referee Pettit had called time out but as he and his touch judges tried to settle the situation, more persons entered the field.

Staring each other down, pack of players and others slowly moved toward the sideline.

Isolated fights broke out between individuals and to the credit of many of those wearing jerseys, there were plenty of peacemakers who tried to talk team mates into acting with decorum.

But as the surging group reached the sideline, the afternoon exploded in a manner that was short in duration but vicious in nature.

Players from both clubs came off the benches and on to the field seeking to get involved.

This is one of the cardinal sins in rugby league and if evidence is found, may result in lengthy suspensions.

Not helping was the abuse raining down from the sidelines with some of the nastiest comments coming from a gathering on top of the amenities block, a problem area in the past.

Of major concern is the action of one club official who may yet be accused of deliberately trying to inflame the situation.

He was noticed constantly squeezing a water bottle that sent liquid into the faces of rivals to his club and increasing resentment.

It took another five minutes to restore some semblance of order.

Referee Pettit then called the game off when it appeared safe to do so.

A disgusted Group 2 president Warren Gilkinson remained on the field and continued attempts to calm the situation.

The entire episode was captured on at least two video cameras and Gilkinson said footage will be impounded.

"The Group will call for written reports from all involved in this and take it to a management meeting as a matter off urgency," he said.

"We'll see what evidence comes of it and make our judgement.

"The Group has the right to demand any video or other evidence from the game and it then becomes our property.

"We will have a look at it and take action."

A shattered Ray Pettit could only shake his head at every referee's nightmare.

"There are things I would like to say - but won't - as this has been very upsetting," he said.

"Better wait until later in the week when I've had a chance to calm down and clear my head.


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