AN independent tribunal has cleared Oldham’s Richard Lepori of wrong-doing in making contact with referee Liam Moore during the win against Swinton Lions on Good Friday.
Supported by the club, fans’ favourite Lepori pleaded not guilty to a grade ‘B’ charge of contact with the match official, brought by the RFL’s match review panel.
Roughyeds claimed all along that player and referee bumped into each other accidentally while Oldham were defending on their own line and under heavy pressure.
Club chairman Chris Hamilton was twice in contact with the tribunal by phone last night, while the case was being heard, to back his player to the hilt and to present reasoned arguments to support Lepori’s not-guilty plea.
The independent panel was chaired by a legally-qualified judge and comprised of ex-professional players Graeme Hallas and Jon Hamer.
When the ‘not guilty’ verdict was announced a relieved and vindicated Hamilton said: “We’re grateful to the panel for accepting our reasoning as to how the contact happened.
“We felt the charge was harsh in the first place and grade ‘B’ (with a recommended suspension of one or two matches) was certainly harsh.
“Despite RFL remonstrations to prove their case, the panel found in our favour.
“Naturally, we are delighted.”
Coach Scott Naylor added: “It’s nice to see that commonsense has prevailed. The panel has looked at it and realised there was no case to answer.”
The Roughyeds coach has insisted from day one that contact between player and referee was “a pure accident” as each went about his job.
Lepori is free now to play in a crucially-important game on Sunday (3pm) at Dewsbury Rams, who have won only one of their 10 Championship games.
They hadn’t won any when Neil Kelly was appointed new coach in the week before Easter, but they have since beaten Batley Bulldogs twice, once in the league and also in the Ladbrokes Challenge Cup. They have also lost 48-12 at Sheffield in the league.
Kelly insists, however, that the Oldham game is much bigger than his club’s sixth round cup-tie against Wakefield Trinity.
He told the Rams’ website: “My priority at the moment is getting ready for Oldham. That’s a bigger game for me than the cup.
“We still have to play them twice and we need to pick up four points from those games.
“We have to make sure that when we split into the 8s we have more than a chance of doing well.”
He said Tony Tonks, Aaron Brown and Dom Speakman played in the cup win against Batley while carrying injuries and Gareth Potts had to leave the field with a rib injury.