Before this weekend, I had an idea in advance of what I’d be writing about. The luck of the draw had meant the North Queensland Cowboys – a team guaranteed to have at least two of their best players in State of Origin – would play the New Zealand Warriors, last year’s losing grand finalists.
That was the plan. With the Cowboys eventually losing four players to Origin duty (Johnathan Thurston, Brent Tate, Matthew Scott and James Tamou), I was prepared for a scoreline similar to the final 35-18 result.
I was prepared for the often-flimsy defence from both teams, the ridiculous offloads and the spectacular acrobatics to try get the ball over the line.
Let me rewind a little. The Warriors started as I feared they would, running in three early tries to take a 16-0 lead after only 13 minutes. On their first real attacking run, Matty Bowen held the ball back long enough for Kane Linnett to cross, before former Cowboys Jacob Lillyman restored the 16-point buffer for the Warriors.
Then came the comeback. This season’s leading try-scorer Ashley Graham made a spectacular leap to cross just before half-time; Gavin Cooper then crossed in the 52nd minute to narrow the score to 22-18.
With momentum behind them, the Cowboys looked like scoring again to take the lead, only for some strong Warriors defence to stop them. The Warriors were then slowly making their way upfield when the ball came loose in a tackle.
This was a real Sliding Doors moment. The Warriors got the penalty, and from the ensuing set of six managed to pin the Cowboys back in their own in-goal. Drop-out Cowboys, Warriors on the attack, and once again the kick on the fifth is good and the Cowboys are forced to drop-out again. Warriors attack, Cowboys repel, and yet again there’s a goal-line dropout.
Finally after three drop-outs, Nathan Friend spins over from dummy half and the Warriors fans can breathe a little easier.
The Cowboys try a short kick-off, miss out on possession and can only watch as Lewis Brown cannons over in the corner. By the time James Maloney kicks a field goal, the Cowboys have been forced to defend six consecutive sets since that penalty, conceding two converted tries and the field goal.
Problem is the ref got the call wrong. Replays showed the Warriors layer had simply lost the ball cold rather than having it stripped.
Now all this is not to say that the Cowboys would have won had the correct call been made. The Warriors showed great composure and patience to keep the Cowboys defending their line. In the end, though, they were too good on the day. But a Cowboys scrum 30m out might well have seen a different story.
But it seems as though most games there’s a dodgy call when it comes to lost balls. Players are milking penalties when they’ve dropped it cold; others are throwing a sneaky hand in to make it look like a knock-on.
Perhaps the NRL needs to look at allowing referees to check the video if they’re unsure about a knock-on/stripped ball. This could be done quickly and would help clamp down on players pulling a swifty one way or another.
Mind you, the Cowboys could also do with holding onto the ball a little better next time around.
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