Rugby League

JWH ban won’t cost him a World Cup spot as Kiwis explore warm-up loophole

New Zealand Kiwis coach Michael Maguire won’t hesitate to include Jared Waerea-Hargreaves in his World Cup touring party even if a prospective four-week ban rules him out of action until the semi-final stage of the tournament.

Waerea-Hargreaves is facing a three-to-four week ban for a head slam on South Sydney’s Tom Burgess that was labelled an “ordinary act” by Rabbitohs coach Jason Demetriou.

Given Waerea-Hargreaves already has three similar charges to his name, his grade 2 dangerous contact charge carries a three-game suspension with an early guilty plea.

Provided he is picked to tour the UK for next month’s World Cup any ban can be served at international level, with Waerea-Hargreaves to miss four matches if he is unable to beat the charge or have it downgraded at the judiciary.

The Roosters will make a final call on his plea on Tuesday morning.

New Zealand officials are set to ask NRL judiciary chairman Geoff Bellew whether an October 8 warm-up clash against Leeds Rhinos can be counted toward any suspension Waerea-Hargreaves’ serves.

Latrell Mitchell had this year’s All Stars game counted toward his ban for the tackle that broke Joey Manu’s jaw based on a similar request to Bellew. NRL CEO Andrew Abdo later used his discretionary powers to make the same ruling for Melbourne’s Brandon Smith and the Warriors Reece Walsh regarding suspensions for off-field behaviour.

Even if that is not permitted and Waerea-Hargreaves sits out New Zealand’s three pool matches, or a four-game suspension rules him out of a subsequent quarter-final as well, Maguire said he would happily pick Waerea-Hargreaves after a two-month lay-off.

“No, he’ll be fine,” Maguire said on Monday after inquiries with the Roosters and NRL.

“He spent four or five weeks out with a hamstring issue this season and played one of his better games when he came back, so I’ve got no issues with him coming back from a bit of time off.”

Provided preliminary results go as expected, Australia and New Zealand are slated for a semi-final showdown in November.

Maguire’s Kiwi side shapes as the Kangaroos’ strongest challenger to World Cup honours, thanks in no small part to a formidable forward pack.

Waerea-Hargreaves, James Fisher-Harris, Joe Tapine and Nelson Asofa-Solomona lead an all-star front-row rotation that also includes incumbent skipper Jesse Bromwich.

There have been suggestions that Waerea-Hargreaves could sit out the Kiwis’ campaign to recover and prioritise his 2023 Roosters season, potentially an NRL swan song after 14 bruising seasons.

Maguire said he had heard “the same chatter” of late but said Waerea-Hargreaves was making himself available for selection as of last week.

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