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The debate about resurrecting the five-minute sin bin to arrest the growing number of penalties flooding the game reminded me this is the 30th anniversary of probably the most explosive sin-binning I can recall.

It was Game II of the 1988 State of Origin series at Lang Park when Sydney referee Mick Stone’s decision to bin ‘The King’ Wally Lewis for five minutes ignited wild and ugly scenes.

Things quickly got out of control as angry Queensland fans disgraced themselves by hurling beer cans and other objects like missiles onto the field as players and officials took evasive action.

At one point things got so dangerous that concerned officials considered stopping the game.

Stone had already sent Queensland hooker Greg Conescu and Manly forward Phil Daley to the bin for 10 minutes for fighting.

But it was his decision to sin bin Lewis after he continued to argue the case that sent the Lang Park faithful into a wild frenzy.

Lewis can clearly be seen on the video yelling at Stone and mouthing the words: “But he (Conescu) had the ball” (so therefore could not have thrown a punch).

As Lewis walked from the field, the crowd went ballistic throwing cans in Stone’s direction before security moved onto the field.

It was several minutes before order was restored.

Play resumed once the tin cans and other debris hurled at Stone were removed from the playing field.

“We were just thirsty. Our fans knew we needed a drink,” joked Lewis, recalling the bizarre incident from three decades ago.

“In that era, things like that used to happen all the time, especially when fans didn’t agree with a NSW referee’s interpretation of what had happened.

 “It was a bit wild I suppose.”

Lewis recalled the Sydney press did a job on him reporting he had “incited the crowd” to throw the cans at Stone.

He said he was asked on TV the following day by a reporter if he had indeed incited the Maroon Mob.

“I blew up deluxe,” he said.

“What, did I run out of the dressing room with a hammer and nails and a saw and some timber and make a sign that said ‘Please throw cans’? Is that what I did?

Lewis conceded recent changes to the rules since the wild west days when he played had gone a long way to eradicating those types of ugly incidents - especially the ‘no punch’ rule introduced following a spate of nasty incidents and all-in-brawls.

Rugby league officials have been debating bringing back the five-minute sin bin for professional fouls or to punish other repeat offenders for the last five or six years.

The alarming increase in penalties as part of the NRL’s crackdown this year in several key areas of the game, including the ruck and 10 metres, resulted in a record-high 33 penalties being dished out in a game last weekend and has re-opened the debate.

The five-minute penalty bin was first introduced into the game by the NSWRL in 1981.

Newtown Jets hooker Barry Jensen has the ‘honour’ of being the first player ever sin binned in 1981.

Many believe it could help reduce the high number of penalties being whistled up by teams who are now prepared to give away a string of penalties, even in their own 10 metre zone.

Teams can re-set their defence and have the fullback play in the line, making it more appealing to give away penalties because players are so fit.

Over the years binning players has led to some incredulous actions, highlighted, as we said by Lewis’s ‘I can feel a XXXX coming on’ moment.

Three years earlier, at the very same Brisbane ground, Australian prop forward Greg Dowling and Kiwi rival Kevin Tamati engaged in a vicious sideline brawl which spilled into the stunned Lang Park crowd.

The pair were on their way from the field after being binned when all of a sudden head-butts and fists began flying, scattering fans before security came into break up the brawling forwards.

Both players, even today, wish it had never happened because vision of their fight is often replayed when the two countries play Test matches.

More recently we saw similar wild scenes involving Melbourne enforcer Adam Blair and Manly hitman Glenn Stewart.

The pair were on their way to the bin after a brawl involving almost every player, when Blair allegedly pushed Stewart in the back and taunted him with the words “Let’s get it on”.

Like the Dowling-Tamati incident the fired-up forwards ripped into each on the sidelines with both clubs receiving warning letters from the NRL.

The ‘no punch’ rule has gone a long way to cleaning up rugby league and reducing the brawls.

But as we saw at the end to last weekend’s niggling Sharks-Storm game, emotions can still easily get out of hand because of the frustration created by so many penalties.


Wayne 'Ticker' Heming is a veteran rugby league correspondent and parochial Queenslander who has attended more than 100 State of Origin matches.