THE Newcastle Rugby League has begun investigations into an ugly all-in brawl in a second division game that involved spectators and continued after the game was abandoned six minutes early by the referee.
Windale were leading Wallsend-Maryland 16-10 in the 74th minute of their A-grade Newcastle and Hunter Rugby League match at the Grange Oval, Maryland, on Saturday when the melee broke out.
Several players from both sides were involved in the fight before calm was restored.
One Wallsend player was sent off and referee Gavin West was preparing to dismiss another two – one from either side – when beer cans were thrown from the hill.
West called off the match due to a threat to player safety.
Players from both sides started shaking hands before the brawl erupted again, this time including spectators. Footage of the incident has circulated on Facebook.
Brawls are not uncommon in the competition, but the incident has been described as the most unsavoury seen in recent years.
Normally the Newcastle and Hunter competition committee handles citations and penalties in the second division.
However, due to the seriousness of the incident Newcastle Rugby League CEO Matt Harris said last night his organisation would be heavily involved in the investigation.
‘‘We’re doing a full investigation and working with Newcastle and Hunter competition committee to determine what the outcome is,’’ Harris said.
‘‘Normally citations are determined by today, but obviously we’re looking into it further to gather further information,’’ Harris said. ‘‘We’re taking our time to make sure we investigate it fully, so we’ll have some more answers in the next few days.’’
Harris will meet with West, who is also referee operations manager, today to determine who will be cited from the brawl.
There has been speculation that the clubs could face expulsion from the competition for the remainder of the season.
When asked if Wallsend-Maryland and Windale would face club sanctions, Harris said: ‘‘That definitely needs to be considered, but we need further information before we can make that call.
Windale president Scott McDonell described the melee as a ‘‘normal footy fight’’ which turned ugly when unruly spectators began hurling full cans of beer at players and officials.
He said he was outraged when, minutes after the fight and outside the dressing sheds, the Windale club secretary was suddenly punched in the back of the head. ‘‘We are shattered by what happened and disappointed the crowd control wasn’t there,’’ he said.
‘‘We just want the Newcastle Rugby League to do the right thing.
‘‘Player safety is too important. We have to play them in another game this year at our home ground and that could turn into a nightmare.’’
He denied claims the brawl was exacerbated by a Windale player kicking a Wallsend-Maryland player in the head during the brawl.
He said the banning of alcohol sales at any Newcastle and Hunter Rugby League ground had the ability to sink the club.
Wallsend-Maryland secretary Craig Aspinall said he did not want to comment until after the official report was handed down by the league.
Whoever is cited by the league will face a stiff penalty.
In 2012, Wallsend-Maryland were fined $1500 after their fans fought with Windale supporters while watching the preliminary final between Windale and Mallabula at Cahill Oval.
Harris has vowed to crack down hard.
‘‘You don’t want this in any competition at district level or in the Newcastle and Hunter level,’’ he said. ‘‘I know it’s something Newcastle Rugby League doesn’t want and nor do the teams and fans either.’’