Junior Warriors forward James Bell will not play again this season unless his team qualifies for the Holden Cup finals series after he was found guilty of spitting at a Newcastle Knights opponent during their under-20s clash at Hunter Stadium last Sunday.
Bell received a three-match ban after a NRL judicial hearing tonight found him guilty of spitting a mixture of saliva and blood at rival lock Joseph Boyce during the second half of the Warriors' 40-34 loss.
Referred straight to the judiciary after being charged with contrary conduct, Bell's punishment was relatively light considering NRL judicial counsel Peter Kite recommended a ban of between six and eight weeks after he successfully argued the player's actions were intentional.
However, the panel of Mal Cochrane, Michael Vella and Chris McKenna imposed a three-game ban which covers the remainder of the regular season.
Bell's counsel Bill Neil submitted the offence was not at the serious end of the scale because the contact was made with Boyce's right arm and not face.
He also said Bell's on field apology after he was placed on report indicated his remorse.
Bell told the hearing via a video link in Auckland that he did not intentionally spit at Boyce while the footage showed him apologising shortly after the incident.
"Sorry brother, I didn't even mean it," he said, after the referee spoke to both players.
Bell had been tackled by Boyce before he spat but said he had no issue with the tackle - his mouth had been bleeding 10 minutes before the incident.
"It was a good tackle .... there was nothing done to make me angry," he said.
Bell had been tackled heavily earlier in the match, a collision that caused a melee and the sinbinning of two players, though Boyce was not involved.
"I had no intention of hitting him. It's the last thing I'd do in a footy game," Bell said.
"It was a complete accident. I was real sincere (apologising on the field) because it's disgusting getting spit on you."
Bell admitted he saw Boyce in his field of vision but thought he was a clear distance away when he cleared his mouth.
However, Kite successfully argued Bell had spat in Boyce's direction with the intention of hitting him because he did not turn his head away from the Knights player or spit towards the ground.
He argued for a six to eight week ban -"a serious element of deterrence" - because of the risk of infection.
The Stacey Jones-coached Warriors are currently in eighth place and are no certainties of qualifying for the finals series as the Melbourne Storm, South Sydney and Manly are also in range of securing the last play-off berth.
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