For countless years the common refrain in rugby league has been “what if a decision like that decides a grand final?”
And now the NRL are being forced to face that reality after referee Ben Cummins’ six-again blunder blighted the Sydney Roosters’ 14-8 win over Canberra in the season decider at ANZ Stadium on Sunday.
The Roosters were skilful, brave and resolute as they held firm in the second half despite the sin-binning of Cooper Cronk to become the first back-to-back premiers in over 25 years.
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However, that will be sadly overshadowed as the incident promises to reverberate around the game.
With the scores level at 8-8 with eight minutes to go, Jack Wighton hoisted the ball in the air and it came down in a crowded pack of players.
As it bounced backwards into the Raiders’ grasp, Cummins waived his hands in the air, to signal a new set, and could be heard saying “six again”.
However, when the call from his assistant referee Gerard Sutton that the ball had in fact deflected off a Raiders’ player, he quickly changed his call.
He could be heard saying “last tackle” on five occasions, however the Raiders were oblivious.
Wighton, who believed that it was the zero tackle, was rounded up by the Roosters defence.
From the ensuing set, the Roosters scored a brilliant team try with fullback James Tedesco sealing the game.
NRL head of football Graham Annesley said that ultimately, the right decision was made because he ball had bounced off the Raiders, however he conceded that the Raiders attackers were left confused.
“Does that initial decision affect the way Canberra play out that tackle, yeah I’m sure it does? But if they had not and the Raiders had scored, I’d probably be sitting here telling you that a try had been scored off an incorrect decision,” Annesley said.
Annesley offered to speak to Ricky Stuart post-game but the Raiders coach declined the invitation.
Despite being outspoken of his criticism of the referees throughout his career – and fined on 10 occasions for a total of $125,000 – Stuart he refused to comment on the issue.
He said when he got on the field post-game, he made a beeline to the referees to congratulate them on their game.
“No one goes out there to make a mistake,” Stuart said.
“They’ve got tough jobs. It was a really good game of football tonight, we could’ve won it, we didn’t. And it’s a very empty feeling losing a grand final.”
However the criticism of the decision was widespead – Wally Lewis described the call as “crazy” while fellow Queensland great Johnathan Thurston said he was “dumbfounded”.
Souths co-owner Russell Crowe took to twitter to describe it as a “horse**** result”.
But Roosters coach Trent Robinson took issue when questioned on it, saying it was only being scrutinised because this side took advantage of the opportunity.
He said the decision to sin-bin Cronk was just as controversial, however his side held their line for 10 minute.
Annesley said the six-again incident did not form a basis for the the reintroduction of a one-referee system.
“If we had one referee tonight we would have got the decision wrong,” Annesley said.
“Because they would have awarded six again. The fact is that play and the contact from the kick did not warrant the awarding of six more tackles.”
Annesley said he was also comfortable with Cronk’s sin-binning.
And he the said decision to give the Roosters a scrum feed after the ball hit the club’s trainer Travis Touma, was the correct application of the rules.
© AAP 2019