Leeds-based player - who had previous spells with Castleford Tigers academy and Hunslet - banned indefinitely over alleged assault on ref in National Conference fixture

A player from a Leeds community club has been handed an indefinite ban following an alleged assault on a referee.

RFL referees' boss Steve Ganson. Picture by Allan McKenzie/SWpix.com.

The National Conference League imposed a sine die suspension on Milford player Josh Nathaniel after an incident in a game against Oulton Raiders last week.

Nathaniel, 30, has the right to appeal and will be able to ask for a review of the ban after five years.

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That is the maximum time that can be imposed under community game operational rules.

Nathaniel had a spell in Castleford Tigers' academy and has also played for Hunslet, York City Knights and Hemel Stags.

The RFL have backed the punishment, insisting it was the correct decision.

Head of match officials Steve Ganson said: “Respect for match officials is imperative for all in our sport, at all levels.

“Physical abuse of match officials is the unacceptable extreme of disrespect and it is important that on the very rare occasions such as this when it does occur, any punishment must reflect that.”

The referee involved was Joe Stearne, a grade one official from the Castleford and Featherstone society.

The governing body fear the incident will make recruitment of match officials more difficult.

Ganson insisted: “If incidents such as this were not met with the most severe punishment, it would send all the wrong messages as we aim to increase our recruitment and retention of match officials, which is so important for all levels of rugby league.

“Abuse of match officials is a significant concern in a majority of sporting environments and it is important that all in sport realise that this is unacceptable.

“It is a commonly used statement that without a match official there is no game. This abuse causes serious harm to recruitment and retention of officials.

“Officiating at all levels of the sport is difficult and a thankless task but we must do all we can to support these officials to become the best they can.

“Match officials are like players in that they make major sacrifices to commit themselves to the sport they love and it is important that support is available to all involved in extreme cases such as this.

“We have made that support available to Joe Stearne, and I’m sure all rugby league supporters would send him best wishes in his recovery.”

The National Conference have pledged to work with Milford to support Nathaniel.

Chairman Trevor Hunt said: “The National Conference League has always recognised the importance of supporting all match officials in undertaking their key role within the sport.

“This means we hold a strong line against any abuse of match officials, whether verbal or in rare cases such as this, physical.

“We will never accept or tolerate such actions and we know these feelings are shared by all at the Milford club, who have been outstanding members of the NCL over many years.

“We also know and accept that the player involved is deeply upset following the incident and we are determined to work with Milford to support him through these difficult times.”

He went on: “We are grateful to the RFL for the support that they, through their experienced officers and RL Cares, will now provide not only to the referee, but to Josh, as we seek to eradicate such instances from our competition.”