MELBOURNE (Reuters) - Gold Coast Titans captain Kevin Proctor has been banned for four games for biting New Zealand international team mate and friend Shaun Johnson on the arm during a match in Australia's National Rugby League.
Proctor, who was sent off for the incident during the match against the Cronulla Sharks over the weekend, pleaded not guilty to the biting charge at a judicial hearing late on Tuesday.
He told the hearing that he was "struggling for air" with Johnson's arm over his mouth after a tackle and that "opening (his) mouth was the only way to get it."
Johnson remonstrated angrily on field and told match officials that he thought he had been bitten.
However, he recanted on his account when fronting the judiciary.
"As time went on, whether it was 30 seconds, one minute, two minutes, I realised that doesn't add up to me ... It wasn't until I took a step back to think about it ... I thought I got bitten, but it's Kevin," he said.
NRL counsel Peter McGrath conceded there "wasn't a Jaws-like chomp" from Proctor but showed video of Johnson grimacing in apparent pain.
The four-game ban fell short of previous biting suspensions in the NRL, with former Canterbury Bulldogs player James Graham sidelined for 12 games for biting the left ear of Melbourne Storm's Billy Slater in 2012.
Brad Morrin, another Canterbury player, was banned for eight games in 2007 for biting the arm of Parramatta Eel Timana Tahu in 2007.
After Proctor's ban was handed down, judiciary chairman Geoff Bellew gave both Proctor and Johnson a dressing down for commenting on the case to media during the week.
"It is not for players to conduct their defence in the media," Bellew said.
"The players are provided with this forum that we are in at the moment for that purpose."
(Reporting by Ian Ransom; Editing by Richard Pullin)