League: Maroons and Blues exchange 'cheap shot' barbs

Trent Merrin of the Blues and Brent Tate of the Maroons fight during game two of the ARL State of Origin series. Photo / Getty Images
Trent Merrin of the Blues and Brent Tate of the Maroons fight during game two of the ARL State of Origin series. Photo / Getty Images

The State of Origin decider is in danger of turning into a cheap shot free-for-all, with tensions simmering on both sides of the border over attacks rival camps feel went unpunished.

While the heat continued to be applied to the NRL over the fighting clamp-down which led to four players being sinbinned in game two, the two incidents which provided the catalyst for the brawl have both camps fuming.

The Blues are livid over Billy Slater's elbow which split the cheek of halfback Mitchell Pearce, while the Maroons claim the precedent has been set after Trent Merrin copped just a one-week ban for his flurry of punches to the head of Brent Tate. Slater's elbow was deemed accidental by the match review committee, while Merrin will miss St George Illawarra's game against Penrith tomorrow after pleading guilty to a striking charge.

With Origin III set to be one of the most hyped rugby league clashes of all time as the Blues look to end the series' greatest dynasty on home soil, officials are now bracing for a night of spite on the game's biggest stage.

The Blues claimed Slater committed his action as an act of retribution, with suggestions he was shouting "1-all" after hitting Pearce.

"We were surprised but if that's what it is now, then that's what it is," coach Laurie Daley said. "We thought that would have been an offence but obviously it's not.

"Obviously the match review panel thought it was accidental. If it was accidental I don't know why you'd be jumping up and going '1-all'."

Added Pearce: "That's just how it is. If we do the same thing in game three it's play on."

Asked about the prospect of a free-for-all at ANZ Stadium on July 17, Pearce said: "I don't think it will - probably the first guy that does that will get binned.

"That's just how it is now. It's a shemozzle."

The Maroons were just as upset at what they thought was an unprovoked attack by Merrin on Tate.

Tate pushed Paul Gallen to the turf in the play the ball, Merrin reacting before a number of players joined in, with Greg Bird and Justin Hodges being sinbinned along with Merrin and Tate.

Merrin could be in line for some more punishment next time out against the Maroons.

"I think Merrin got a week for a king hit so that sets a precedent doesn't it," Maroons star Johnathan Thurston said.

"Tatey was looking down and copped a couple on the chin. The judiciary's dealt with it but he deserved more than a week, yes."

- AAP

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