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Manly's Watmough avoids NRL ban
By Ian McCullough
21:37 AEST Wed Aug 1 2012
Penrith Panthers playmaker Travis Burns.
Penrith playmaker Travis Burns has been hit with a nine-game NRL ban for an intentional high tackle.

Manly's push for a top-four NRL finish has been boosted by the NRL judiciary's decision to downgrade Anthony Watmough's dangerous contact charge on Wednesday.

Watmough was hit with a grade two dangerous contact charge for a chicken-wing tackle on Warriors fullback Kevin Locke in Perth last Saturday.

The NSW and Test back-rower pleaded guilty to the offence, but as a grade one charge, and risked a two-match suspension if he failed to persuade the three-man panel of Michael Buettner, Royce Ayliffe and Sean Garlick that the incident was not serious enough to warrant a ban.

But he will be free to face North Queensland on Saturday after his counsel Nick Ghabar successfully argued that Watmough's challenge was less dangerous than three comparable incidents that merited grade two punishments.

Peter Kite, for the NRL, claimed it was a player's duty to realise what is dangerous to an opponent, and Watmough continued to push on Locke's arm as the Kiwi Test star resisted.

He likened the incident to the ones by Travis Burns on Masoe Masoe in Penrith's recent win over the Sydney Roosters, which was a grade two, and grade one charges against Dragons utility Beau Scott on Ben Pomeroy of Cronulla and former Panther Masada Iosefa on Joel Monaghan of Canberra two years ago.

But Ghabar said Watmough's tackle was less dangerous than the other three and the panel took just over 15 minutes to agree.

"He didn't use an arm-bar on player Locke and he was able to free himself from the tackle," Ghabar said.

"We agree the arm is an unnatural position, but the player was not injured and able to continue playing."

Earlier in the evening, Ghabar was unable to convince the panel that Burns' intentional high contact charge should be downgraded to reckless contact.

The Penrith five-eighth's season is over after he was found guilty for a challenge on Sydney Roosters prop Martin Kennedy and slugged with a nine-game suspension.

The ban is in addition to the three games he'll miss after pleading guilty to a chicken wing tackle on Mose Masoe in the same game.

Burns was sent off in the 71st minute of the round 20 clash at Centrebet Stadium when he leapt up and caught Kennedy across the face with his right arm.

He'll be free to play in round five of next season should the Panthers play two trials before the start of next season.