The Sydney Roosters suffered further long-term injuries and another player appeared to touch a referee as North Queensland kept the Tricolours winless after three rounds of the new NRL season.
Centre Dale Copley was forced off in the opening minutes of the Roosters' 40-0 loss on Thursday night at 1300SMILES Stadium. Copley, 24, will be sidelined for up to four months.
He joins internationals Boyd Cordner and Jared Waerea-Hargreaves on a big-name casualty list, while former co-captain Mitchell Pearce has more than a month remaining on a disciplinary suspension.
Just 24 hours after Canterbury prop David Klemmer escaped at the judiciary on a charge of touching a match official, the issue raised its head again when a screen capture of Cowboys back-rower Ethan Lowe with his hand on the side of referee Gerard Sutton came to light.
The 13th-minute incident was first reported by Fox Sports, whose commentator Warren Smith later tweeted the still.
A try to fullback Lachlan Coote right on halftime pretty much guaranteed Trent Robinson's side would head into round four with a 0-3 record.
While defensive decisions inside him left him posted, Roosters winger Shaun Kenny-Dowall had a nightmare start to his 199th game when two tries were scored down his side of the field in the opening eight minutes.
First, it was North Queensland centre Kane Linnett after lead-up from Johnathan Thurston and Coote.
Then it was another former Rooster, winger Antonio Winterstein, with captain Thurston and fullback Coote again the instigators.
When interchange forward Scott Bolton bullocked his way over using sheer strength just after halftime, the Roosters were cooked.
After a near miss for Michael Morgan in the 65th minute, the five-eighth beat defender Mitch Aubusson to post his side's fifth try three minutes later.
Roosters hooker Ian Henderson suffered a compound leg fracture right on fulltime and was taken away by an ambulance which ferried him from the centre of the field.
Roosters coach Trent Robinson admitted the growing injury toll put the club in a tough position but refused to use it as an excuse for their lowly early season standing.
Discussing the Henderson injury, he said: "Jackson (Hastings) swung around and, as he was coming in to help Jackson, had to dive for that tackle and (Henderson suffered) a lower leg break.
"Then Copley had a ruptured pec. So, not a good night there."
When Robinson was asked whether the club's fans needed to be prepared for a rebuilding year, he replied: "No, that's an excuse ... you can't put 40-0 down to a rebuild. We're not there. We've got some players missing but we've got 17 players who can play some footy; we've got coaches who are coaching every week.
"We need to do better."
North Queensland coach Paul Green said he felt some empathy for his former club.
"They're going through a tough period there.
"They've got some very good players and a lot of experience out injured at the moment. It's a tough period. There's some young guys there, some great players, but they're probably learning some tough lessons in the NRL.
"You don't want to see anyone going through that. The NRL is hard enough without injuries and things like that."
Asked about the Ethan Lowe incident, he responded: "I haven't seen the photo so it's hard for me to comment."