As Canberra’s NRL finals hopes faded on Sunday with a 26-22 loss to Penrith, a Raiders fan was ejected from GIO Stadium for allegedly spitting at NRL referee Ashley Klein at half-time.
The patron was kicked out of the ground and on Sunday night had his membership cancelled after leaning over the railing and appearing to spit toward Klein as he headed into the tunnel, while angry fans vented frustration at on-field officiating.
Canberra confirmed further action would be considered, with the fan’s details taken by stadium security. Coach Ricky Stuart said spitting at a referee was not on.
“They (referees) do a tough job. It’s unacceptable and definitely should be punished. I didn’t know that − that’s news to me,” Stuart said after the match. “They’ve got a tough gig. We’ve all got tough gigs though, but that is unacceptable.
“If it happened to a coach, if it happened to a player, and that’s how we do accept the referees − they’re as important as a coach or a player.”
The loss left the Raiders four points behind eighth spot with two games to go, all but ending a Raiders season that started with so much promise.
Penrith’s seventh straight victory put them in position to cap a remarkable climb into the NRL top four as soon as next weekend.
Tyrone May scored the match-winning try for the Panthers in the 73rd minute to keep them in sixth spot on the ladder. They are now within one win of fourth-placed Cronulla with two rounds remaining.
If Brisbane beat fifth-placed Parramatta on Thursday night and the Sydney Roosters defeat the Sharks on Saturday night, the Panthers will move into fourth spot with a win over St George-Illawarra on Sunday.
It would cap the biggest march up the ladder in the competition’s 109-year history; no team has ever come back from a 2-7 record to start the season and reach the all-important top four.
Perhaps most ominously for the Panthers’ rivals, the last time they put together seven victories on the trot was when during their 2003 premiership-winning season.
“We had a chance to win it today in our own right, and then we had to win it again when they surged at us,” Penrith coach Anthony Griffen said.
“That’s hard to do at this time of the year – win tight games of football twice. We’ll take a lot of confidence out of that.”
Manly’s bid for top four falters
In Sunday’s other game, a flat Manly were shunted into eighth place, put away 30-16 by Canterbury just one week after looking set to challenge for the top four.
If the Sea Eagles go down to the Warriors in Auckland next Sunday and the Dragons upset the Panthers, Manly − who have lost four of their last five − will drop out of the top eight.
Meanwhile, Brodie Croft filled the shoes of Cooper Cronk expertly in Melbourne’s 44-12 thrashing of Newcastle on Saturday, the halfback scoring a hat-trick and laying on two assists in a romp that secured the minor premiership.
Sydney Roosters-bound James Tedesco gave the club a sample of what to look forward to next season, almost inspiring Wests Tigers to a comeback victory on Saturday night but going down 22-18.
Second-placed Brisbane continued an inspired run since injury to Andrew McCullough threatened to derail their season, Anthony Milford turning it on in a 24-12 defeat of St George-Illawarra.
The result hurt the Dragons’ finals chances, and gave the injury-ravaged North Queensland some respite despite a fourth-straight loss.
The Cowboys were again brave in defeat in a 26-16 loss to Cronulla, Gold Coast’s misery continued at the hands of Parramatta in a 30-8 defeat while South Sydney accounted for the Warriors 36-18.