‘Kidding himself’: Bennett slams Fittler
Wayne Bennett has told Brad Fittler to go and watch a replay of Jai Arrow's controversial shove of a concussed James Tedesco in Origin III, telling the NSW coach he was "kidding himself" if he thought Arrow had intentionally targeted a vulnerable player.
In the same way Cameron Munster's concussion was the defining moment of Game Two, Tedesco's exit at the 19th minute mark after he slid headfirst into the knee of Maroons forward Josh Papalii left an irreplaceable hole in a Blues side that would go on to lose 20-14.
But it was the actions of Arrow which drew the most heat after he shoved the NSW fullback's head and then lifted him by his jersey and drove him back into the turf.
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NSW legend Andrew Johns labelled Arrow's actions as "rubbish" in commentary for Channel 9 and former NRL forward Keith Galloway labelled Arrow "a grub" on Twitter.
Fittler agreed, declaring Arrow showed a "lack of respect" in his post-match press conference, adding "he will learn from that".
Damien Cook, who finished the series as NSW skipper after Tedesco had replaced original captain Boyd Cordner, conceded he hadn't seen the Arrow vision but stated: "I know for a fact if it's what they are saying, Wayne won't be happy because it's a duty of care, and Wayne is big on that."
But Bennett couldn't have been more emphatic in his support of a player he also coaches at club level.
"That was instinct, mate. That happened so quick and he didn't realise that Papalii had hit him with his knee," Bennett said. "As soon as he realised what he'd done, he stayed there (to care for Tedesco). He never moved, he didn't run away and get a high-five or something.
"It happens so quickly out there and he just didn't know what had happened … I thought he reacted really good. If you look at his head, he never even seen what happened. He was in there trying to make the tackle, he never saw the knee go into Tedesco's head."
Told specifically of Fittler's comment, Bennett replied: "Brad's kidding himself, OK? There was no lack of respect there. Just watch it again."
Fox League's Paul Kent told those slamming Arrow to "pull their heads in", agreeing with Bennett he was unaware of Tedesco's concussion.
But Maroons great Cooper Cronk replied: "Well then I need to pull my head in because I don't like that. That's not a play you should be doing if a player is in or out of consciousness for me. Whether he's out or not, you don't whack somebody then pick them up and throw them again."
Arrow sought Tedesco out after the game to offer an apology but defended himself against the "grub" accusation.
"When I was speaking to him after the game I said, 'Look mate, I'm sorry I didn't realise you were knocked out until probably a couple of seconds after I threw him back on the ground'," Arrow said.
"People are always going to have comments about it but I know myself, I know what I do as a player, I'm not out there to try and hurt someone intentionally."
"I was fired up and obviously I've been told some comments were made about Tedesco and I just want to come out and say at first I was fired up and I, honestly, personally, am not a grub like that," he added.
Originally published as 'Kidding himself': Bennett slams Fittler