Ben Flower punch: Grand Final punch may land Wigan man extended ban

Wigan man’s early dismissal takes the gloss off Saints’ Old Trafford triumph

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The Independent Online

Wigan’s Ben Flower will find out on Tuesday what extra punishment will be added to the knowledge that he probably cost his side the Super League Grand Final – with the RFL not ruling out a ban of more than eight matches.

The prop was sent off for two blatant punches on Lance Hohaia after just two minutes at Old Trafford; St Helens went on to win 14-6.

Flower was full of contrition yesterday, issuing a statement through the club to say he was “so sorry”. “There is no defence for my actions,” he said. “It was something that happened in the heat of the moment, when our emotions and adrenaline were running high. I instantly regretted it and I’m devastated that I punched someone like that.”

He apologised to Hohaia – a player he says he has always respected – to his team-mates, to Wigan fans and the game of rugby league as a whole.

His coach, Shaun Wane, and the club’s chairman and owner, Ian Lenagan, both added their names to the apology. Wane had already said, immediately after the match, that he would not even try to defend Flower.

Hohaia was conciliatory, despite not remembering much about his evening, saying he had “no regrets”.

The Rugby League’s match review panel will view the incident today and decide what charges Flower will face. If, as expected, he is charged with a Grade F offence – the highest category – he could normally expect a suspension of up to eight matches. However, the RFL’s chief executive, Nigel Wood, made the point that the disciplinary hearing can impose a heavier punishment if it feels it is called for.

The fact that the offence took place in front of 70,000 supporters and the biggest Sky audience of the year does not help Flower, but some voices have been raised in his defence. Former Wigan players Martin Offiah and Gareth Hock both tweeted with the observation that Hohaia had struck the first blow, with a raised forearm in the tackle.

Hock went further by suggesting Hohaia had “got what he deserved”. His controversial tweet later disappeared from his account.

The sending-off overshadowed Saints’ achievement in winning Super League for the first time in eight seasons.

In that time, they have lost at Old Trafford five times. Even this season, it often looked as though the odds were stacked against them as they lost a series of key players with long-term injuries.

Their coach, Nathan Brown, in his last season before returning to Australia, proved adept at making adjustments to compensate for the growing list of absentees. He was at it again on Saturday night, with the switch that took leading try-scorer Tom Makinson to full-back turning out to be a match-winner. With 11 minutes left to play, he out-jumped the Wigan defence under their posts for the clinching try.

The result means Saints will play Australian champions South Sydney in the plum fixture of the expanded World Club Series next February. Wigan will meet Brisbane; Warrington will face St George Illawarra.