Leeds Rhinos may appeal Blake Austin’s opening day suspension

LEEDS RHINOS will decide today whether to appeal against the suspension set to keep stand-off Blake Austin out of Saturday’s Betfred Super League opener against his former club Warrington Wolves.

Austin was handed a one-match penalty notice for grade B dangerous conduct in Tom Briscoe’s testimonial game on Sunday, January 30.

The RFL’s match review panel imposed the suspension yesterday, after Austin was sin-binned for a late tackle on Luke Gale.

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Any appeal would be heard after 5.30pm today - and risk the ban being increased if the disciplinary panel deemed it frivolous.

Blake Austin is sin binned during the Tom Briscoe testimonial game against Hull FC.

Late hits on the passer are something the RFL has vowed to crack down on and Leeds forward James Donaldson was banned for two matches following a yellow card in the Boxing Day derby against Wakefield Trinity, both of which he served in pre-season.

The panel’s notes on Austin said: “A defending player makes contact with an opponent after the ball has been released by an opponent in a vulnerable position which causes flexion to the head, neck or spinal column on an attacking player, which poses an unacceptable risk of injury to that player.”

Asked if Rhinos would appeal, coach Richard Agar said: “We will have a look at it.”

But he admitted: “What has happened over the last 12 months indicates appeals generally haven’t been very unsuccessful.

Leeds Rhinos head coach Richard Agar

“There has been a change in the threshold for what is considered a [grade] A or a B, but the big disappointment for me is it is eight days after our game that we found out, walking on to our training field on Monday morning.”

During the season, the match review panel studies Super League games on a Monday, with suspensions coming into force for the next round of matches.

Lower division matches are reviewed on a Thursday - with bans taking effect from the following week to allow time for potential appeals - and an RFL spokesman said that has been the policy throughout pre-season.

He said: “It [the review of Leeds’ game against Hull] should have been last Thursday, but that would still have ruled him out of this weekend.

“Last Thursday over-ran because of the sheer number of charges and the review of the games between Leeds and Hull was put back until [yesterday].”

However, Agar stressed Rhinos have lost several days’ preparation time because of the delay, with Agar saying Richie Myler or Liam Sutcliffe could step in for Austin.

Of who will play at stand-off if Austin is ruled out, Agar said: “We have a couple of options.

“We could stick Jack Walker in at full-back and move Richie Myler into the halves.

“We will wait and see if Harry Newman is fit and we can play Liam Sutcliffe at six, or Jack Broadbent is another name we could use. We have some different options, but it would have been nice to have some more preparation time under the normal process.”

Austin’s half-back partner Aidan Sezer was not charged over his yellow card for dissent in the same game. The review panel notes stated: “Player uses a foul word but is not aimed at the referee and is in frustration at the decision.”

Centre Newman said last week he was “touch and go” for Saturday’s game after suffering a hamstring strain against Hull.

But Agar reported: “He is okay, he is feeling good. We will wait and see.”

Rhinos have close to a full fit squad, with only forwards Tom Holroyd (ankle) and Sam Walters (shoulder) definitely unavailable this week because of injury.

They have both undergone surgery and Agar pointed out: “Unfortunately, we’ve picked up an injury in every pre-season game.

“That’s the nature of our sport and I still think we are in a good position coming into the game, regardless of whether Blake gets a suspension or not.”

Leeds’ Harry Jepson OBE Memorial Trophy tie at Hunslet was studied by yesterday’s match review panel. Rhinos’ Jack Smith avoided a ban after being charged with grade A dangerous contact following a late tackle.