Not much can beat grand final day in bush footy.
It was another special one at Apex Oval on Sunday, with travelling fans from Mudgee, Bathurst, Lithgow and Orange helping make the day what it was.
The gate takings figure was roughly $27,000, slightly up on last season, and that ensured there was a crackling atmosphere by the time first grade kicked off.
But, there was one thing missing.
In the day's main event - Dubbo CYMS v Mudgee in the Peter McDonald Premiership grand final - one of the competition's biggest names wasn't on the field.
Dragons player-coach Clay Priest cut a frustrated and dejected figure on the sideline as he was forced to watch on while serving the penultimate week of a six-game suspension for a high shot back in round 14.
The former NRL player is arguably Mudgee's best and you could just imagine his battle with the CYMS pack would have been enthralling on Sunday.
The season's showpiece event deserves to showcase the best players.
CYMS players and fans might not agree, and this isn't to say Priest shouldn't have been suspended at all for what was a seriously nasty high shot on Nick Booth of Bathurst St Pat's, but it points to a wider issue with the suspension system and judiciary in 2023.
Ask anyone on the board of a PMP club about some of the biggest issues in the game this year and I can guarantee most will come back with the judiciary as the answer.
Suspensions are part of the game and any wrongdoing needs to be punished, but the time served on the sideline must be relative to the competition these players are taking part in.
Much of the punishments handed down this season mirror those in the NRL.
Consistency and conformity. That's a good thing, right?
Not necessarily when you dig into things a bit more.
Roosters enforcer Jared Waerea-Hargreaves - who is well known for pushing the limits on the field - copped two charges in the one game against the Wests Tigers late in the NRL regular season.
Few players have been charged as much as the big Kiwi in the game's recent history. He's had five charges dating back to August of last year. He's been charged more than 30 times in total throughout his career.
He copped seven weeks for his two charges - four weeks for a grade two dangerous contact (he hit Api Koroisau late) and three for a grade-one striking (he headbutted Stefano Utoikamanu).
A late hit on a much smaller player and a headbutt which started a brawl. With his record. Seven weeks.
It's a strong suspension but in a 27-round competition it's nowhere near a season-ender.
Now let's look at the PMP.
One incident, grade two, six weeks. In a 15-round competition.
Albeit it was Burgess' second charge of the season, but he missed more than a third of the regular season for one mistake.
Priest copped six for a high shot while Jack Kavanagh and Tongia Fox were others to cop lengthy bans all because they had a record at the judiciary. All three missed more games than they played this year.
That's not right in a bush footy competition where the players (despite some good $$ thrown around at times) are not professional.
NRL players are professionals and train multiple times a week to tackle and behave correctly. Yet their punishments work out to be far less than someone who works Monday to Friday then plays footy for the chance to be around their mates on a weekend.
That's not right.
It ended up just being a rumour, but when Kavanagh received a second suspension for 2023 earlier in the year there was a whisper he considered retirement immediately.
What was the point, he supposedly thought, when he could come back and play, make what could be considered a small mistake by many, and then not be able to play the game he loves for an extended period?
Kavanagh is a Western Rams representative. We shouldn't have some of our best players considering walking away from the game.
That's not right.
I'm not against long suspensions. Clinton Edwards of Nyngan and Willie Wright of St Pat's received nine and potentially 18-week bans this year and that won't get any arguments here.
If you elbow someone to the face or swear at an official and accuse them of cheating then the book should be thrown at you.
Priest should have copped time for his high shot as well. No doubt about that and he's someone who has now been suspended for two finals campaigns in a row so there's clearly issues in his own game he needs to look at.
But it's got to be relative and it's got to be fair and it can't be something which starts turning people away from the game.
Something needs to change.
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