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Not guilty: Kaufusi free to play Origin I, Leilua also cleared

Felise Kaufusi will lend his invaluable experience to the Maroons pack in the State of Origin opener after beating a tripping ban at the judiciary, while Wests Tigers forward Luciano Leilua was found not guilty of a shoulder charge.

Kaufusi was facing a match on the sideline after incurring a grade-one charge at the judiciary for appearing to kick out at Jake Turpin in last Thursday's win over the Broncos.

Such an act would usually only result in a fine but two non-similar offences in the past two years meant Kaufui's Origin jersey was on the line as he fronted a hearing via video link on Tuesday night.

The panel of Sean Garlick, Tony Puletua and Dallas Johnson deliberated for 15 minutes before coming to a decision. Kaufusi, who was represented by Nick Ghabar and appeared at the hearing via video link, cheered with delight after the verdict was read out.

In giving evidence, the star Storm back-rower repeatedly denied that he made any contact with Turpin while he was on the ground after tackling Tevita Pangai jnr, who had passed the ball.

He claimed he extended his leg in a "sprawling" technique to get back to his feet and after realising Turpin was coming towards him he dropped his right leg to the ground.

The trip that could rule Kaufusi out of Origin I

"As a defender, you can see I just made that tackle on Tevita Pangai jnr ... I'm thinking 'far out, he's just offloaded, I need to get up urgently'," Kaufusi said.

"In transition I'm bringing my leg up to try and bring myself back to my feet ... it was in transition I then saw Jake Turpin and I brought my leg down.

"You want to make the tackle and if you do see an offload, my next job is to get up on my feet."

At one point, NRL counsel Nick McGrath put it to Kaufusi that he intentionally impeded Turpin and made contact with the dummy-half.

"Absolutely not," Kaufusi says. "I don't know what you're seeing mate because there is no contact."

McGrath unsuccessfully argued that Kaufusi made contact with Turpin in a "reckless" manner, claiming there was "glancing contact" that caused a "slight stumble and overbalance".

Ghabar countered that "you see nothing [change in regards to markings] about [Turpin's] knee, the thigh or the leg" and added that "the stumble that was suggested occurs well after any suggested contact".

"So take the stumble out of your minds, in my submission ... On the balance of probabilities you cannot establish there was actual contact."

The 29-year-old will go into the series opener in Townsville as Queensland's most-capped forward with nine appearances against New South Wales.

His leadership will be highly valued with front-row enforcer Josh Papalii, an 18-time Maroons representative, missing through suspension.

The Melbourne veteran's availability means Jaydn Su'A is set to play off the bench while Coen Hess, who was on standby, will likely remain a reserve.

Arrow hopes for Origin leniency

Queensland coach Paul Green admitted on Monday that he wouldn't be surprised if Kaufusi was suspended but hoped "common sense prevails".

"People say he's a repeat offender but you can't hang a bloke for everything he's done wrong," Green said. "He's got charged for tripping and I don't think Turpin even fell over."

Kaufusi hasn't missed an Origin clash since debuting in 2018 and celebrated first series triumph last year.

Later on Tuesday night, Leilua was found not guilty of a grade-one shoulder charge on Dragons prop Blake Lawrie.

He was looking at a two-match ban but is now free to face the Panthers on Friday night.

"He’s running to my left shoulder. I could see [Lawrie] juggling the ball. I tried to get both arms and make good contact and wrap," Leilua said as he gave evidence.

The second-rower said the speed of Lawrie's run prevented him from fully wrapping his left arm.

“There is absolutely nothing wrong with that contact. That is legitimate contact," his lawyer Ghabar said.

 

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