By TONY WHITE
LOWER Clarence rugby league player Jack Currie faces a life ban from football and possible civil action after punching a referee during yesterday's reserve grade match against Murwillumbah at Maclean Showground.
In the dying minutes of a tense match, the game erupted when referee Vaughan Steel was punched in the face on at least two occasions by Currie immediately after being sent from the field for allegedly using an elbow to the head of a Murwillumbah player during a tackle.
Currie had only just returned to play after spending 10 minutes in the sin bin for repeated head-high tackle infringements.
When Steel halted play after the final tackle, he was in discussion with Currie then raised his arms and pointed to the dressing room, indicating the player had been set off.
Suddenly, Currie let fly with a right hand punch, followed by a left, both of which struck Steel in the face, sending the referee reeling and his knees buckled.
Official video of the game indicated a third punch had also been thrown before players from both sides grabbed Currie and an all-in melee erupted.
It was settled quickly, however, with Lower players dragging and pushing Currie away from the field.
Referee Steel then called a halt to the game.
Currie, believed to be 34, is expected to face serious charges when Steel tables his match report to Northern Rivers Regional Rugby League (NRRRL) management today.
The player also faces the possibility of assault charges should Steel elect to pursue the matter through the courts.
It is understood Steel was instructed by league management last night to undergo a full physical check up this morning.
Steel returned to the field to act as linesman in the first grade fixture.
Asked by The Daily Examiner if he had anything to say on the Currie incident, Steel replied: "I'm, all right. I've got no comment to make at this stage."
Currie was unavailable for comment, but Lower Clarence president Garry Anderson said: "It's a sad day for rugby league.
"I've known Jack for a long time. He's been one of our more consistent players over many years. He always plays the game hard. It's very unfortunate what happened."
NRRRL secretary and Group One secretary since 1987 Doug Harrison, when informed of the incident, said that during his time in the Group he could not recall a player actually punching a referee.
"There have been several players banned for making contact with a referee, but I can't remember a similar incident to what is alleged to have happened today."
In the 1990s a player was banned for five years after making contact with a referee and around 30 years ago another player was outed for 10 years on similar charges.
Currie will face the NRRRL judiciary at a date to be fixed.
Lower lost the match 40-30.