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Are superstar calls now a thing in the NRL?

Robert Burgin Columnist

By Robert Burgin, Robert Burgin is a Roar Expert

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Popular article! 4,771 reads

    In the NBA they call them ‘superstar calls’.

    Michael Jordan benefited from them. Kobe Bryant benefited from them. Many say LeBron James was still getting the rub of the green as recent as this week.

    The ‘superstar call’ is when the big name player gets the big decision in their favour when the game hangs in the balance.

    You hear about them in football when a guy like Cristiano Ronaldo or Lionel Messi is in the box. Ask English fans if Diego Maradona’s aura might have influenced officials.

    While there have been accusations of ‘superstar calls’ in the NRL before (Cameron Smith, Johnathan Thurston anybody?), it’s hard to ever remember a player having a run like Anthony Milford did against the Rabbitohs last night.

    I’ll start this argument with two caveats. One is that I’ve supported the Broncos since I was a kid. The second is that I’ve spent personal time with both on-field referees from last night’s game and believe they are men of integrity.

    So when I state the following facts, it doesn’t come from the vantage point of a guy with an axe to grind.

    But for a matter of historical record, let’s consider these instances all occurred in one match:
    • Just shy of 20 minutes into the game Milford gets a penalty for Kyle Turner dislodging the ball in a tackle. Milford’s grip looks tenuous at best. The commentator says Turner “feathered” the ball, so slight was his touch. Broncos score within seconds of the penalty.

    • In the shade of halftime Milford runs at Sam Burgess before passing on the turn. The considerably taller Burgess’s arm comes over the shoulder and makes contact with Milford’s head, but first point of contact seems to be torso-on-torso. Peter Sterling, a fellow playmaker who has previously spoken out in defence of cheap shots on Thurston, says it’s not worth a penalty. It’s given a penalty.

    • After slotting the conversion to put Brisbane ahead 18-8 at halftime, Milford is then given a free substitute for head injury assessment – on account of the Burgess tackle. Souths fans are livid he potted the goal before being taken off.

    Rabbitohs players Tom and Sam Burgess

    • When the second half resumes and the Rabbitohs begin to fight back Milford is this time taken out by a late George Burgess shoulder charge. It’s a pretty foolish move from the big Bunny and another penalty ensues. Right call, but we’ve seen worse let go in the past.

    • In the game’s most decisive moment, with ten minutes to go Milford carries a handful of defenders over the tryline before the ball somehow pops free and Tautau Moga scoops it up and dives over for a second serve. Endless replays ascertain Milford was at first held up in the tackle, but despite it looking like all momentum had stopped, the video referee then decides Moga’s second effort counts for a four-pointer.

    When Sam Burgess blows up deluxe and asks who scored the try, referee Ashley Klein hesitates before saying “Ah, I think it was Tautau Moga”. Commentating on the match, Andrew Johns labels the decision “rotten”. Milford then converts to bring the scores back level 24-all.

    • To top off arguably the most controversial NRL game of the season thus far, with two minutes to go Milford gets a dud pass from Andrew McCullough and has to collect the ball, switch to his bad foot and kick a drop-goal off balance. It’s a remarkable feat of skill and wins the match 25-24, but replays show he knocked the ball on ever so slightly when gathering it. Again, boos echo around the stadium.

    When listed like that, it’s a body of evidence that’s hard to dismiss.

    We haven’t even started discussing the two tries the Rabbitohs had disallowed by the video referee or a lucky Korbin Sims four-pointer that defied all but an auditor’s application of the rulebook.

    Not one singular official controlled the outcome of each instance. It was a collective effort and, certainly, some of them were hellish decisions that needed to be made at breakneck speed.
    But the fact remains that in each of the decisive moments, the call fell in favour of Milford.

    He did get pinged for a high tackle of his own on Angus Crichton in the first half, yet it was an indiscretion which failed to directly impact the scoreboard.

    There’s a counter theory in the NBA that ‘superstar calls’ don’t necessarily happen because of any ingrained bias by referees.

    Anthony Milford of the Brisbane Broncos and teammate Ben Hunt celebrate

    Rather, the argument is that superstar players are usually touching the ball most when the game is on the line, they make fast, jolting decisions, catch balls that others can’t catch, and by their very nature these supreme athletes are skilled in the art of deception.

    Superstars can disguise their mistakes better than most, they attract more fouls than most, and the expectation of them exceeding other’s skill level is only natural.

    But geez, I simply cannot remember another rugby league match where one player has emerged from a down-and-dirty scrap looking as squeaky clean as Milford did.

    Let’s hope this was a one-off anomaly – a freak sequence of events – and that the ‘superstar call’ never becomes part of NRL parlance.

    Because, while Milford should be heading to his local newsagent for a lottery ticket this morning, fans of a fitting and just result can be excused for feeling more than a little hollow.

    Robert Burgin
    Robert Burgin

    Robert Burgin is a sports writer of 20 years with a particular appetite for Rugby League's exotic and bizarre tales. Find him on Twitter @RobBurginWriter.

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    The Crowd Says (84)

    • April 22nd 2017 @ 6:02am
      Mike from tari said | April 22nd 2017 @ 6:02am | ! Report

      Robert you are spot on but you missed Jones Pearson shoulder charge on Murray in the last play of the game, no penalty, Broncos win, every shoulder charge picked up except that one, yesterday one of our experts wrote that referees don’t influence the outcome of games but after this game it will be interesting to see the spin the NRL puts on this game.

    • April 22nd 2017 @ 6:20am
      Tom said | April 22nd 2017 @ 6:20am | ! Report

      If the NRL aren’t instructing referees to favour one team for the sake of “entertainment” or “business” which I suspect, then there is major problems with our referee’s abilities. It feels like every game a winner has been chosen to receive all of the 50/50 calls. Additionally, at times new rules will be invented or current rules ignored to also give the chosen side a leg up. Newcastle, Wests, Gold Coast and Manly can’t take a trick from the refs. Broncos, Eels, Storm and Sharks appear to get the rub of the green almost every game. Something needs to be done. The NRL has gone away from facilitating a fair competition to promoting entertainment and its killing the game.

      • April 22nd 2017 @ 7:18am
        Bup said | April 22nd 2017 @ 7:18am | ! Report

        The Eels haven’t won a penalty count this year. The last few years they wouldn’t have in a third of games played.

        • April 22nd 2017 @ 12:08pm
          Tom said | April 22nd 2017 @ 12:08pm | ! Report

          Just because they haven’t won a penalty count doesn’t mean they don’t get the rub of the green. Like the storm the eels love to wrestle and push the boundaries especially with offsides. Both teams essentially ask the ref if they have the balls to penalise them out of the game. The answer is no because the refs need to keep games close which in turn favours these teams.

        • April 22nd 2017 @ 6:05pm
          Alex L said | April 22nd 2017 @ 6:05pm | ! Report

          That’s because the Eels are universally ill disciplined.

      • April 23rd 2017 @ 9:24am
        Brando Connor said | April 23rd 2017 @ 9:24am | ! Report

        Take off the tinfoil hat. The NRL isn’t going to instruct the refs to favour some team or another. If they did some ref or another would “leak” the information to the press or just go straight to the police. There might be some game fixing or point shaving going on but it is going to be individual corrupt refs or players who have somehow become involved in gambling. But having said that the NRL are going to be looking very carefully at odd behaviour that influences the outcome of a game. And if they see a pattern of behaviour start looking for financial clues to corruption going on. So I cannot see anyone getting away with it long term.

    • April 22nd 2017 @ 6:26am
      Fish said | April 22nd 2017 @ 6:26am | ! Report

      The Moga try was diabolical. What was Sutton thinking sitting in the God box.

      To me Brisbane seem to get the best of the decisions most of the time. A competitive Brisbane is good for the bank.

      Big Sam called the Milford Knock on at the field goal, but to no avail. I can excuse that decision as part of the game, but the Moga try was inexcusable. unless the rule has changed, I was always of the belief that once the ball, or the arm carrying the ball touches the ground a tackle has been completed.

      • Roar Guru

        April 22nd 2017 @ 8:09am
        Emcie said | April 22nd 2017 @ 8:09am | ! Report

        I’m not sure that you can say milfords forearm or the ball touched the ground if he was held up on his back

        • April 22nd 2017 @ 8:31am
          Fish said | April 22nd 2017 @ 8:31am | ! Report

          only time he was on his back is when he wriggled over and flicked it out the back.

          • April 22nd 2017 @ 11:41am
            Gazza said | April 22nd 2017 @ 11:41am | ! Report

            Two points. First is, if you are attempting to score a try and your arm hits the ground before the ball does, it’s not ‘tackle complete’ it’s a try. If your arm hits the ground and the ball is held up by a defender and your squirm enough for the ball to find the ground before the whistle, it’s a try. Second point is he didn’t flick it out the back. Watch the replay. His arms were effectively pinned back. The defenders legally stripped the ball as it was attempting to stop a try. If anything, the ball goes forward off a defender. So while squirming, the ball is raked out before the whistle, collected, and grounded in goal. Try.

          • Roar Guru

            April 22nd 2017 @ 12:56pm
            Joey Johns said | April 22nd 2017 @ 12:56pm | ! Report

            The ball never touched the ground, or it would have been ruled a try.

            Because it wasn’t a try, the ball couldn’t have touched the ground.

            Therefore, no tackle was complete, as the ball didn’t touch the ground.

            As a side note, the whole idea of “tackle being completed when ball-carrying arm touches the ground” does not apply in the in-goal.

    • Roar Guru

      April 22nd 2017 @ 6:26am
      eagleJack said | April 22nd 2017 @ 6:26am | ! Report

      It’s certainly a compelling list when highlighted in this manner RB.

      But Superstar Calls are certainly not a new phenomenon. Many years ago I began using the acronym TBSE (The Billy Slater Effect) to describe incidents that should have been punished, let go due to precedence set by Billy Slater.

      Elbow guys in the tackle, punch them, fly kick them in the head, knees to the back, shoulder charge etc etc?? That’s fine. TBSE.

      Early 2013 the shoulder charge ban was all the talk pre-season. It was going to be cracked down on, if you didn’t use your arms expect to be penalised and most likely suspended. It was Round 2 and the refs got their first big test. Slater knocked out Antonio Winterstein with a no arms tackle, shoulder to the head.

      The result? No penalty awarded.

      Ok then well surely the MRC will step in? Nope Grade 1, free to play next week. TBSE.

      Other clubs would literally have multiple Billy Slater tapes on file to produce when their players got charged. “I’m sorry your honour but Billy only got a Grade 1 for the same offence”. TBSE.

      Manly got Richie Fa’aoso’s Grade 3 shoulder charge downgraded to a Grade 1 by showing that Winterstein tape.

      Another incident I recall involved Slater and Ayshford who’d got tangled up in the play the ball right next to the sideline. Slater got up and punched Ayshford in the head. Stunned Blake turned to the touchie who was inches from them and said “he can’t do that”. The touchie shrugged his shoulders, his eyes as big as saucers, almost wanting to say “I’m sorry mate but it’s Billy Slater”.

      Punches continued to be a mainstay of the league. Before, of course, the Gallen/Myles incident.

      The NRL have painted themselves in a corner multiple times by their inaction on Slater. TBSE. Superstar Calls are nothing new.

      • April 22nd 2017 @ 8:40am
        Liam said | April 22nd 2017 @ 8:40am | ! Report

        One happened last week when Slater stoped Brian Kelly from scoring, instead of awarding Taufua a try after the ball was propelled forward by Slater, the Storm get a 20 metre restart, opposite happend last night to suit the “Superstar” when Moga was awarded a try after Souths stripped Milford ingoal.

    • April 22nd 2017 @ 6:52am
      Stu said | April 22nd 2017 @ 6:52am | ! Report

      I’m really losing interest in the game – just so many discrepancies and inconsistency. How many officials do we need to manage a game fairly? I’m not a souths or bronco fan, but gee souths were robbed.

      • April 22nd 2017 @ 7:26am
        monday QB said | April 22nd 2017 @ 7:26am | ! Report

        Agree Stu, the inconsistency game-to-game and week-to-week is what’s hard to cop as a fan.

      • April 22nd 2017 @ 7:38am
        Jara W said | April 22nd 2017 @ 7:38am | ! Report

        Last nights game wasn’t the worst officiated I’ve seen. Not by a long shot. But it certainly has stirred a very high level of emotion.

      • Roar Guru

        April 22nd 2017 @ 7:44am
        steve b said | April 22nd 2017 @ 7:44am | ! Report

        Stu you not alone I know many who used to play and and watch as many games they could now they feel the same as you just to many rules and different interpretations to the same rule or situation . Last nights game was just one example of many that we will see in the future and have already seen in the past .A lot of us thought the bunker was the answer to bad calls well what a joke that has turned out to be. I really think captains call must come into the game but I suppose then it still has to go upstairs and rely on who’s in the box.Don’t really know the answer but some smarty in the NRL bet to come up with something soon because bad calls are bringing the game into disrupte and the NRL are big on that lol.

    • April 22nd 2017 @ 7:21am
      monday QB said | April 22nd 2017 @ 7:21am | ! Report

      You’re a bunnies fan, Rob? The Broncos absolutely got the rub of the green last night, but suggesting that officials calling legitimate penalties (like the Burgess tackles) are part of a ‘body of evidence’ that prove ‘superstar calls’ are part of the game is well down the path of ‘disgruntled fan conspiracy theory’ if you ask me.

      The two Burgess tackles were IMO the right call and should be penalties in any game. The George Burgess one was a copy book shoulder charge and Sam’s was a high tackle…but if Peter Sterling said it shouldn’t have been then it’s definitely got to be part of the ‘body of evidence’!

      You can always argue ‘we’ve seen worse let go’ (you could probably say that about any penalty in any game of the season) if that’s the measuring stick we’re going to use for whether someone is getting a ‘superstar call’.

      For me, the biggest wrong call of the game was what looked like a missed shoulder charge from a broncos player on the very last play of the game. I’d have called that a penalty to Souths which would have given the bunnies a penalty attempt after the siren.

      • April 22nd 2017 @ 9:52am
        Kc said | April 22nd 2017 @ 9:52am | ! Report

        Why even allow Sam to play after he was deemed not guilty for the same exact thing this week. Burgess brothers obviously are dangerous when fired up hey.

      • Roar Guru

        April 22nd 2017 @ 10:13am
        The Barry said | April 22nd 2017 @ 10:13am | ! Report

        Sam and George shouldn’t have even been on the field this week other than being blessed by the MRC and judiciary for pretty blatant acts of foul play last week.


        • April 22nd 2017 @ 8:09pm
          Don said | April 22nd 2017 @ 8:09pm | ! Report

          Since you were so wrong about the officials last night you have become more and more shrill trying to defend the indefensible.,Give us all a break and drop off – you are really boring!!!

          • Roar Guru

            April 23rd 2017 @ 3:02pm
            The Barry said | April 23rd 2017 @ 3:02pm | ! Report

            I’m not shrill at all mate. I’m just against the salty refs faulting that’s going on because a ref missed a knock on.

            If you don’t like my posts f.o and don’t read them.

            I find your petty little personal swipes at me, offering no opinion of your own boring and weak. But each to their own.

            • April 23rd 2017 @ 5:36pm
              Don said | April 23rd 2017 @ 5:36pm | ! Report

              You are repetitive and desperate to have the last word.. Did the officiating on Friday night cost the Bunnies a win? – Yes! Was the officiating unacceptably poor? – Yes. Do I follow either team or did I have a financial interest in the result? – No.

              I/m not sure if you listen to Sydney Sports talk back radio- I suspect you do – but you are the Adrian equivalent of the Roar blog.

              • Roar Guru

                April 23rd 2017 @ 7:49pm
                The Barry said | April 23rd 2017 @ 7:49pm | ! Report

                I don’t know that means.

                I’ve been discussing this with a few other people who have been fine with it, even if we’ve disagreed. You’re sitting here on the sidelines reading it all getting hot under the collar. Seems strange.

                If you don’t like my opinions do yourself a favour and don’t read them. Don’t get worked up about it and resort to personal insults. It’s a free world and I can post as many times as I like. I’m not going to stop because someone I’ve never met disagrees. It’s a free world and you don’t have to read them. Or get in the spirit and join in. But don’t be one of those people that doesn’t comment until resorting to petty, personal insults online. It’s weak as p1ss.

                Anyway, I won’t respond to your thoughts on the incidents as you seem to have read them already.

            • April 23rd 2017 @ 9:38pm
              Don said | April 23rd 2017 @ 9:38pm | ! Report

              The Barry – For clarity Adrian is a ubiquitous self appointed expert on all things Rugby League. He calls every sports program in Sydney, BSB, Talkin Sport, ABC Grandstand etc etc and is boring and repetitious and drives all the listeners mad! He has regularly been banned because he is a know it all pain in the a—. I’m surprised a prolific blogger like you doesn’t listen to any of these programmes.

              • Roar Guru

                April 23rd 2017 @ 10:13pm
                The Barry said | April 23rd 2017 @ 10:13pm | ! Report

                No I don’t listen to them. Don’t really get the chance. I listen to MMM shows on Saturday and Sunday arvos when I’m around a radio and Roy & HG on Saturday mornings if I can.

                So I reminded you of this know it all pain in the a…?


                Look I obviously viewed this differently to other people, but I’m not the Lone Ranger. Where others see a game changing call I see a ref that’s missed a knock on. It happens.

                I enjoy having these discussions and I never question anyone’s right to their opinion. I haven’t told anyone that they’re wrong on this issue (i think) just explained how I saw it. we all process the same information differently.

                I get into it – sometimes too much – but I rarely go in intending to cause offence.

                Anyway good luck for the season for whoever you follow..,

              • April 23rd 2017 @ 11:13pm
                Don said | April 23rd 2017 @ 11:13pm | ! Report

                It’s cool – you’re obviously a League tragic and based on your posts you are extremely knowledgeable. The reason your Friday post irritated me so much is that I am the greatest apologist for the NRL refs there is. I think they are consistently of a high standard and are light years ahead of the officials from the 60’s, 70’s &.80’s etc I find all the criticism of them tiresome and counter productive to the game. However, I thought the officials on Friday night fell way short of the acceptable standard and determined the result and gave oxygen to all the conspiracy theorists.I genuinely couldn’t believe that you thought that what happened on Friday night was normal run of the mill stuff. Even Wayne Bennett said it was a weird night. Anyway good luck to you and your Bulldogs.

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