St George Illawarra Dragons player Craig Garvey is facing a possible jail term after being found guilty of violently assaulting a man in a Wollongong pub in February.
Garvey punched Christopher Allan repeatedly after the two got into an argument on the dance floor of Hotel Illawarra on February 27 while Garvey was on a night out with Dragons teammates.
The assault left Mr Allan with a bloody cut to his left eye.
Garvey admitted to throwing the first punch in the melee, but claimed he had acted in self defence after Mr Allan shoved him in the chest, causing him to stumble backwards.
Garvey said the push, along with what he claimed was Mr Allan's "aggressiveness" towards him, left him fearing for his safety and caused him to react violently.
"As soon as I felt the push I felt I had to defend myself in some way," the 21-year-old told Kiama Local Court on Tuesday.
"I thought I was going to get tackled or hit."
Magistrate Mark Richardson accepted that Garvey's fear for his safety had been real, but ruled his reaction to that fear - the violent assault - had been over the top.
"The response of Mr Garvey to the situation he found himself in was disproportionate and not reasonable to the threat as he perceived it," Magistrate Richardson said, noting Mr Allan had not laid a hand on Garvey during their encounter aside from the push.
Following the guilty verdict, police prosecutor Matt Zalunardo flagged that he would be asking the court to consider a prison sentence for Garvey given the seriousness of the assault.
Magistrate Richardson agreed to adjourn the matter for a sentencing options report to be prepared.
It is likely any prison sentence for Garvey would be suspended, given his clean criminal record and otherwise good character.
Earlier in the day, the court heard from several witnesses including Mr Allan and his friend, James Stimson, who both claimed the Dragons hooker had approached them, seemingly out of nowhere, and threatened Mr Allan.
Mr Allan said he and Mr Stimson were standing near the back wall of the crowded dance floor when Garvey approached them.
He said Garvey appeared to "go to walk past us" but stopped and turned towards Mr Allan, telling him: "I'm going to knock you the f... out, you're being a smart arse".
Mr Allan said the comment surprised him, as he had no idea who Garvey was.
"I said 'I don't know what you are talking about, I haven't done anything to you, I don't know who you are, I don't want to fight you'," Mr Allan told the court.
But he claimed Garvey continued the threats, before pushing his forehead against Mr Allan's forehead in an aggressive manner.
Fearing for his safety, Mr Allan said he pushed Garvey in the chest with both hands, causing Garvey to stumble backwards.
He claimed Garvey then came towards him and punched him "four to five times", causing him to bend over and hold his arms around his face for protection.
He claimed Garvey continued to punch him, hitting him in the eye with an upper cut.
Mr Allan denied suggestions from Garvey's lawyer, Matt Johnston, that he had first tried to grab Garvey on the arm as he walked past him on the dance floor, before swearing at him when Garvey asked what his problem was.
"I suggest to you when he said 'what's your problem' you said to him words to the effect of 'f... off' or 'shut the f... up'," Mr Johnson said.
"I never said that," Mr Allan replied.
Both men had been drinking before the fight but were not heavily intoxicated.
Garvey will be sentenced on September 26.