Down Under Blog: #43 The Man in the Middle

Pommy Rich gives us all the mis-dealing's in the NRL in his world famous Down Under Blog.

Is there anything else this week to talk about except referees? In both Super League and the NRL its been a week where our “merry whistle blowers” have been under more scrutiny than ever, and rightly so after some abject performances on both hemispheres.

Firstly, let’s talk, Hicks, Watts and McIlorum. There have been plenty of column inches after the incident, and it’s hard for me to offer anything new in print, however for the sake of clarity, let’s go over the salient points.

Firstly, Hicks had lost control of the game WAY before the tackle in question. He’d brought the two captains together several times to give them a talking to, both sets of players were getting frustrated and the game was simmering for about five minutes prior to what eventuated.

McIlorum only flew out of the line because of this frustration, he wanted to put on a shot as I’m sure he thought it would spark something. Whether that would’ve been a mistake, a fight, or just to pump up his teammates, he sensed it was something he had to do.

Hicks had given plenty of warnings by then, but kept his yellow cards in his pocket, the sight of “Micky Mac” on the floor with blood streaming from his mouth has gotten our friend in the middle a little worried, “oh no” he thinks, “I should’ve binned someone earlier, and now this has happened”, then the video ref says that it looks like Watts caught him with the elbow…. Hicks in his mind is left with no choice. He created the problem with his lack of action earlier in the game when both teams were niggling, faced with taking no action when a player is spark out, he’s come to the decision that he had to do it.

Of course, the next 50 odd minutes showed how heroic we can be, but we just ran out of steam at the crucial time. Watching it back, you almost see us tense up when we took that late lead, it’s almost like we couldn’t believe the situation we’d got ourselves back into. I still think we’d have mullered them with 13.

The postscript of course is that the RFL has classically fudged the disciplinary process so that everyone saves face. Sending Off Sufficient. In other words, Hicks was right to send Watts off, but Watts has served his ban in the 50 odd minutes he sat on the sidelines. What the Actual Fudge? Make no mistake about it, this is a guilty verdict, not an exoneration.

Hicks is way out of his depth and his mishandling of the game, coupled with McIlorum’s reckless charge out of the line are far more to blame for the blood spilt on our turf, than Wattsy’s split second 5 degree change of direction to protect himself.

Then reeling from all this drama, I settled down to watch the four NRL finals games. Brisbane v Roosters was a hell of a lot closer than it should’ve been, with Benji Marshall showing class is permanent and form is temporary. The Broncos almost pulled off the comeback of the year, and deserved to win. The Roosters got the biccies though, and on their day they could prove to be very dangerous.

Then Saturday’s “game of the round” came around and talk about controversy. Melbourne seemingly cruising to victory, when – rightly in my opinion – Cameron Munster is sinbinned just before half time for a professional foul, and Parra come roaring back. Then the Storm prove just why they’re a champion team and finish the job late on. A great game, although a number of forward passes went unseen (or at least, unpunished), and one pass that didn’t look forward at all was called too.

Then onto the Manly v Penrith game, and a Video Ref decision that has cost the Sea Eagles their season, and Trent Barrett about $20,000 after his post-match press conference. Due to the fact that the on field ref called Tyrone Peachey’s effort a try on field, it meant that the video ref had to look for evidence to disprove it. To most people at the ground, commentators, TV viewers, and probably Stevie Wonder, it looked like he’d knocked on for sure, but the “Bunker” saw it differently. Manly collapsed and the Panthers later score was a coup de grace, ending their suffering.

The final game of the round was batshit crazy. Proper Mental. The 8th placed Cowboys turning over the 5th placed defending premiers the Sharks was a shock, but it’s HOW it happened. Some of the stats from the game are frankly unbelievable. Paul Gallen, 54 tackles and 189 meters. Jason Taumalolo 37 tackles and 256 meters, and a stunning, barnstorming try too. 256 meters? That’s my total for the week…. Mostly made up of trips from the couch to the fridge.

The Sharks were barely holding on when they conceded a contentious penalty for stripping on their own line and Lowe banged over the penalty levelling the scores. At 14 all the game was on a knife edge and when Paul Gallen charged through and reached out for the line it looked as though he’d score. He came up JUST short and was deemed to have lost control of the ball in the act of trying to score. That’s a brave decision to say the least. It could easily have gone the other way and been called as a strip, and in fact I swear if the game had been in the 20th minute it would’ve been.

Then came something I wasn’t expecting. Every NRL game in the regular season goes into Golden Point if the scores are level at the final hooter, however in the finals we have normal extra time of 2 x 5 minute halves before the Golden Point is enacted. The players looked as dumbfounded as I was to learn of this in the 80th minute. Who Knew?? I could hear the ground announcer trying to get this point across as the ref was conducting to coin toss, however when the Cowboys kicked what turned out to be the winning field goal, most of the Cronulla fans thought it was game over! Proper Mental, and yes, Bat Shit Crazy.

This week, both Trent Barrett of Manly and Shane Flanagan of Cronulla have been fined a cool 20 grand each with Cronulla copping a further 10g’s for a disparaging report on their website. The NRL taking the view that the integrity of the officials needs protecting, and both coaches having form in this regard have thrown the book at them.

So on we go. Six teams left in the NRL, with Melbourne now firm favourites although I still have a sneaking feeling that the Eels or Roosters could beat anyone on their day. Let’s hope that this week, both where I am, and where you are we’re talking about incredible football, and not incredulous at inept referees.

Until next time, Up the Cream, Gerremonsard and Come on you ‘Ull.
Rich – Twitter @pommyrich

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