An 18-year-old Australian rugby player has been severely punished with a 10-year ban after a vicious shove to the face of a junior referee.
Maitland player Mark Meafua received the suspension from the Newcastle and Hunter Rugby Union after his violent reaction to being shown a red card by referee Niklas Gaal.
The 19-year-old official suffered a blow to the neck and chin in the Newcastle and Hunter Rugby Union Under-19s Grand Final. The impact sent him staggering back and towards the ground.
Meafua trudged off furious at the decision before being met by coaches on the touchline.
The crowd could be heard booing the flanker, who lost his cool after the Newcastle Wanderers inflicted a heavy 28-3 defeat.
Meafua was arrested at his home in Rutherford before being escorted to the Maitland Local Court, where he pleaded guilty and recited a three-page apology.
The behaviour was seemingly out of character with reports Meafua was set to receive the Jack Scott Medal for best and fairest player in the competition.
“We have not seen anything like this in our zone in 30 years,” NHRU general manager Andy Fairfull told the Herald.
“It is unacceptable to verbally or physically abuse a referee. The sanctions show that if you undertake that behaviour, you will be out of the game for a serious amount of time.
“But, as well as ensuring Nik’s wellbeing, the union has an obligation to provide Mark with the appropriate support. Within that 10 years, the referee’s association and Maitland club will work the young man to assist in some rehabilitation.”