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Heighington cleared of eye gouge

The NRL match review claimed Chris Heighington mistook Wayne Ulugia's head for the ball in clearing the Cronulla back-rower of what appeared an ugly eye gouge.
Heighington cleared of eye gouge
by AAP

By Steve Jancetic

SYDNEY, Sept 16 AAP - The NRL match review claimed Chris Heighington mistook Wayne Ulugia's head for the ball in clearing the Cronulla back-rower of what appeared an ugly eye gouge.

Despite seemingly incriminating footage emerging on Monday of Heighington's fingers digging into the North Queensland rookie's eye, the English Test forward was found to have no case to answer.

"It was flagged up by the match reviewer. It appears that Chris Heighington was attempting to grab the ball," match review committee chairman Greg McCullum told AAP.

"He was behind the player, made contact with his arm first and then his hand went onto the head of the young winger from the Cowboys.

"We didn't see it as a gouge - there was no reaction at all from the player ... Heighington was upside down when he was trying to grab him."

Given the seriousness with which eye gouges are normally treated by the NRL judiciary, Heighington would have been lucky to play again in the finals series had he been charged, but he is instead free to line up against Manly in Friday night's semi-final.

Sharks coach Shane Flanagan said he saw no problem with his player's actions

"I spoke to Chris, Chris didn't know anything about it," Flanagan told reporters.

"I just told him he's got no concerns."

South Sydney winger Dylan Farrell was also cleared by the match review committee after being placed on report for the incident in which Melbourne opposite Sisa Waqa landed on his head on Friday night.

Waqa flew high to take a bomb when his legs were taken from underneath him by Farrell, the collision deemed a `football incident' by the MRC.

"Players are entitled to shadow players towards the sideline, he was in the process of doing that when Sisa Waqa actually jumps from beside him across his body," McCullum said.

"At no time did Dylan Farrell lift or provide any lifting of the player up in the air.

"At the point of contact Farrell is actually shielding himself from Waqa jumping on top of him."

Farrell's South Sydney teammate Roy Asotasi was also cleared after being put on report for a crusher tackle.

Newcastle utility Matt Hilder is also free to play in his side's semi-final against Melbourne despite being charged over a high tackle in Sunday's NRL elimination final win over Canterbury.

Hilder copped a grade one careless high tackle charge, the sanction attracting just 75 demerit points.

Despite his availability, Hilder may still find himself on the outer when coach Wayne Bennett names his squad on Tuesday, with veteran hooker Craig Gower in the frame for a return following neck surgery.

Gower said on Sunday he hoped to prove his fitness on Tuesday in what would be a welcome boost for the Knights.

Bulldogs skipper Michael Ennis copped the same charge for his high shot on James McManus in the opening minute and, like Hilder, will not serve any time for the offence.

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