Yesterday’s match at McDonald Jones Stadium was one of the high points of the season so far.
As the Knights start to regain form, there’s more of a sense of desperation and urgency to their matches.
Add inconsistent refereeing into the mix and tempers are guaranteed to flare.
Late in the game, Trent Hodkinson reacted furiously to a penalty for the Bunnies, telling the referee that he’d just decided the outcome of the afternoon.
The irony was that Hodkinson’s actions decided the outcome, since he was promptly sin-binned for ten minutes, leaving Newcastle to bring home two more converted tries without him.
There’s no doubt that speaking in that manner on the field has to be penalised. But would Cameron Smith or Johnathan Thurston have copped a full ten?
It seemed even more unfair given that George Burgess had been sin-binned earlier in the game for elbowing and throwing punches at Mitch Barnett.
Sometimes fights break out organically and it’s hard to tell who’s the instigator. This wasn’t one of those cases.
Instead, Burgess lost the ball after a big tackle and lashed out.
The fact that Burgess was only sin-binned, rather than sent off for the entire match, makes Hodkinson’s punishment seem unnecessarily drastic.
Sure, remonstrating with a referee is bad form, but is it really as bad as biffing your opponent in the face just because you stuff up on the field?
If Hodkinson was sin-binned, then Burgess should have been sent off for the entire match.
Similarly, if Burgess was sin-binned, then Souths should have been given another set of six and Hodkinson allowed to remain on the field.
Finally, even if Burgess and Hodkinson’s actions are in fact equivalent then this equivalence needs to be applied consistently over the rest of the season.
While having Burgess back on again after ten minutes might have mobilised the Knights further, there’s no doubt that removing Hodkinson from the field in the final stretch swamped their chances of winning.
When a match is won or lost on sin-binning, we have a right to expect the rules are crystal clear.
From now on, then, we have a right to expect that every player who throws a one-liner at the ref is sent off for ten minutes, and that any player who throws a punch on the field is also sent off for ten minutes.
Let’s hope, too, that Hodkinson comes back with a bang next week, since he hasn’t been so downright entertaining for a long time.