Sport Rugby League How video blunders killed NRL thrillers
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How video blunders killed NRL thrillers

Yes, but was it legal? Kieran Foran goes over for Manly.
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Controversial calls put spotlight back on officials …

Three absolute thrillers in over the Easter weekend were overshadowed by highly debatable video referee decisions inside the final 10 minutes.

In the lead-up to winger Corey Thompson’s crucial try during Canterbury’s remarkable late comeback on Friday, a strong case could be made for Souths skipper John Sutton being impeded, but the video referee ruled otherwise and the Bulldogs got up 15-14.

Later that night, Kieran Foran plunged over to level at 20-all for Manly – and despite a fairly obvious obstruction on North Queensland hooker Ray Thompson, the green light again came up. The Cowboys edged ahead with a field goal, but a late Jamie Buhrer try saw the Sea Eagles home 26-21.

The celebration after the Corey Thompson try. Photo: Getty
The celebration after the Corey Thompson try. Photo: Getty

The trifecta came on Sunday in Canberra when Melbourne winger Sisa Waqa was denied a four-pointer – which would likely have given the Storm an unassailable lead – despite the limited video angles showing in all likelihood Waqa had got over the line for a fair try. The Raiders rallied to score a match-winning try of their own with two minutes on the clock.

The dud decisions in round seven follow hot on the heels of recent contentious match-deciding calls.

The video ref abominations highlight the inherent flaws in the current system, which requires the on-field official give their ‘try’ or ‘no try’ opinion before sending it upstairs – with all three of the above decisions going with the on-field call. Too often the men in the box are too frightened to overturn the original call, regardless of how overwhelming the video evidence may be.

The dud decisions in round seven follow hot on the heels of recent contentious match-deciding calls, most notably the last-minute stripping penalty that allowed the Gold Coast to pip Melbourne, and the siren fiasco that allowed the Storm to steal victory from St George Illawarra with a try when fulltime should have been called.

But the most frustrating element for players, coaches and fans is that the video referees have every advantage to make seemingly obvious decisions, rather than the heat-of-the-moment calls the on-field officials have been pilloried for in the aforementioned matches.

… but Cowboys’ problems run deeper

The captains and coaches of the unlucky Rabbitohs, Cowboys and Storm all acknowledged that despite the decisions that went against them, the onus was on them to recover from those setbacks and protect their late leads – which all three sides were unable to do.

Johnathan Thurston needs to pull his head in. Photo: Getty
Johnathan Thurston needs to pull his head in. Photo: Getty

But while Souths and Melbourne are likely to use the pain of these defeats to spur them on, the overt bitterness of Johnathan Thurston suggests North Queensland may continue on a downward spiral.

On the field post-match and during the press conference, the Cowboys skipper made reference to the notion “when you’re in this jersey and it goes to the video ref, it’s a lottery”. Besides teetering on the cusp of questioning the referees’ integrity, ‘JT’s’ routine reaction isn’t doing his team any good.

Thurston has a point – the Cowboys have copped some rough and vital decisions in recent years – but stewing on these will only hurt the club.

After wildly controversial finals exits over the last two seasons, North Queensland has started extremely poorly: 2-4 and 4-9 in 2013, and 2-5 this season. If Thurston and co. allow this latest injustice to rattle them in the same manner, the Cowboys can put their cue in the rack for 2014. The Maroons and Kangaroos champion needs to shrug off the controversies and lead his club out of the mire – he’s the only player who can.

Struggling Sharks’ season may not be a write-off

While they ultimately proved to be tries in a losing effort against the Roosters, Cronulla centre Ricky Leutele’s stunning individual try in the first half and Sosaia Feki’s barnstorming effort after the break – set up by a brilliant Leutele move – suggested the last-placed Sharks may not be done and dusted for 2014, particularly with the inspirational Paul Gallen back on deck.

Former minnows turn on heavyweight classic

Easter Monday’s 4pm clash between Parramatta and Wests Tigers – last season’s bottom two clubs – would have been pegged as a surefire dud when scheduled, but it shaped as the match of the round in the wake of six crazy weeks. And it delivered in spades.

Regardless of how their teams are travelling, every fan must appreciate what an extraordinary premiership we have on our hands just shy of one-third of the way through.

Despite key injuries, a halftime deficit and a late leveller from Eels powerhouse Semi Radradra, the resurgent Tigers grabbed a 21-18 win on the back of runaway tries to Luke Brooks and Pat Richards as the former kicked a deadlock-breaking field goal and the latter landed a 50-metre penalty.

Regardless of how their teams are travelling, every fan must appreciate what an extraordinary premiership we have on our hands just shy of one-third of the way through.

Week to remember for …

Brisbane, St George-Illawarra, Sydney Roosters and Canberra shrugged off the disappointments of recent weeks to get their respective stuttering top eight bids back on track with impressive, pressure-relieving wins.

Week to forget for …

Newcastle was the only team to lose by more than 10 points, outplayed from start to finish by a polished Brisbane Broncos outfit 32-6. The Knights have plenty of work to do to before they can even consider playing in back-to-back finals series for the first time since 2003.

Play of the week

Buried under the controversy of a Melbourne no-try, Canberra’s match-winner via a spectacular 78th-minute individual charge by burly interchange forward Paul Vaughan was one of the highlights of the year so far. The Italy World Cup star has been a standout so far this year and is deserving of domestic representative honours.

Season highlight: Paul Vaughan in full flight for the Raiders. Photo: Getty
Season highlight: Paul Vaughan in full flight for the Raiders. Photo: Getty

Blunder of the week

It wasn’t so much one particular piece of play, but Warriors left centre and serial bumbler Dane Nielsen’s overall performance drove the club’s fans to extreme frustration after game-breaking right centre Konrad Hurrell was inexplicably dropped for failing to meet ‘defensive KPIs’. Besides a handy flick pass (which went forward) for Manu Vatuvei to race away for a try, Nielsen threw a woeful forward pass (which was called), coughed up possession with no opposition player within cooee (one of three handling errors) and stood on the sideline while attempting to put in a last-tackle kick. The social media groundswell against Nielsen is among the most intense seen in NRL history, and if caretaker coach Andrew McFadden retains the former Origin centre there could be a riot at Penrose.

Josh Dugan has been in stellar form for the Dragons. Photo: Getty
Josh Dugan has been in stellar form for the Dragons, but will he play State of Origin? Photo: Getty

Standout performer

No player in the NRL encapsulates the ‘game-breaker’ tag like St George Illawarra fullback Josh Dugan. The brilliant, physical, skilful and high-octane Dragons No.1 has been in irrepressible form since returning from injury three weeks ago and without him the Saints would not have held the willing but sloppy Warriors out 20-10. Besides a return of 172 metres from 17 runs, Dugan saved numerous dangerous situations at the back and superbly finished off the match-sealing try as the Dragons snared their first victory since round three.

Representative watch

The push for Dugan as NSW’s fullback with Jarryd Hayne at centre – where he starred at the World Cup – is growing, but has the Saints No.1’s card already been marked after a rumoured no-show at a Blues summer camp? Parramatta fullback Hayne bagged a first-half double to remind selectors he is in near-career best form, while the presence of class centres Josh Morris, Michael Jennings and even Will Hopoate may leave the undisciplined Dugan on the outer.