ONE week after leaving the Group Seven Rugby League judiciary a shattered man, Shellharbour Sharks skipper Matt Carroll will fight to see another day, after a Country Rugby League appeals hearing on Thursday night.
Last week at the Kiama Leagues Club, premiership winning captain Carroll was suspended by Group Seven for five weeks for allegedly calling referee Michael Booth a "cheat" during the Sharks' 68-nil thrashing of the Stingrays at Ron Costello Oval on August 4.
It all stemmed from Carroll approaching Booth, within his rights as captain, to ask the whistle-blower a question, which led to the halfback being sent to the sin-bin.
Carroll allegedly said "this is a joke" on his way to the stands - which led to Booth calling him back to the middle before sending the Shark off for the rest of the match.
The Sharks club was adamant Carroll had done nothing wrong and decided to appeal the suspension with the Country Rugby League.
"We were granted an appeal with CRL as we could provide new evidence and were unaware of the point charge going into the Group Seven hearing," Sharks coach Abed Atallah said.
"A number of Stingrays players came forward and made statements explaining how Matt hadn't swore at any of the officials or used the word 'cheat'."
During the 90-minute hearing at the Kiama Leagues Club, Carroll and Booth, who was accompanied by Group Seven Referees Association president Paul Lees, were questioned by the three-person panel and the Sharks' solicitor.
The CRL panel decided to downgrade Carroll's charge from contrary conduct to low grade offensive language - for a comment he made before being sin-binned and not towards a referee.
This saw Carroll handed a 100-point charge halved for his good behaviour, which was then halved again for an early guilty plea - leaving him with 25 points, meaning he could have played in last Saturday's win against Gerringong at Michael Cronin Oval.
"Although it's disappointing Matt missed last week's game, the most important thing is we left the hearing with the right outcome," Atallah said.
"We were confident going in of no wrongdoing by Matt, who has played in Group Seven for more than 10 years, but we just needed to convince the three-person panel of it.
"It's a big sense of relief for everyone at the club and now we can concentrate on defending our premiership."
While Atallah welcomed the outcome, he said the league had bigger issues to address moving forward.
"[Michael] Booth is a good young referee, along with people like Bailey Warren, Eleanor Drury, Beau Chamberlain and Ryan Micallef but we need to make sure we look after them moving forward," he said.
"All referees, young and old, need to concentrate on what's going on out on the field and not on the outside noise or what's happening behind the fence - that's what ground managers are for.
"And if there's a problem, report it and Group Seven will look into it.
"Unfortunately, the standard of refereeing has not been up to what it's been in previous years - especially around ruck control and teams being offside, which both slow down the free-flowing game."
Heading into the final round of the regular season, Nowra-Bomaderry host Gerringong needing a win to secure their first finals spot since 2015, Warilla-Lake South need to defeat Albion Park-Oak Flats to keep their finals dream alive, Kiama travel south to play Berry-Shoalhaven Heads and the Stingrays welcome Jamberoo to Flinders Field.