Conspiracy and paranoia at Shark Park

The Barry Roar Guru

By The Barry, The Barry is a Roar Guru

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    This isn’t about referee bias or a ref costing us the game. This is about whether the ‘crackdown’ was really about enforcing the rules of the game.

    Paranoia and conspiracy for sure, but also hopefully a reasonably objective look at one example of how the referees are exerting their influence.

    The game in question is Sunday’s clash between the Sharks and the Bulldogs, which is a perfect microcosm of what’s wrong with NRL refereeing at the moment.

    For the record, I tipped the Sharks.

    After a tight start, the Dogs got away to a 4-0 lead. They had conceded two early penalties to the Sharks’ none by the time Josh Morris scored.

    Protecting a narrow lead, the Bulldogs gave away three penalties in quick succession, yielding two tries to be 10-4 in arrears. The penalty count stood at 5-0 to the Sharks.

    Canterbury were penalised several times for leaving the line early or being offside, yet the Cronulla defence was meeting the ball carrier at the ruck, tackle after tackle.

    So far, so what?

    However, having forged their way to a lead based on discipline and looking like they comfortably had the Bulldogs’ measure, the Sharks suddenly changed tack and gave away five consecutive penalties themselves, between the 29th and 38th minutes. Sure enough, Canterbury scored to make it 10-8. A penalty goal with two minutes remaining and we’re at 10-all.

    The Bulldogs went from conceding five penalties in the first 17 minutes of play to none in the next 23 minutes, when they looked like they were on the ropes.

    Does that seem natural? Didn’t look it. Didn’t feel it.

    There was no perceptible difference in how either team approached the game but suddenly the Dogs were no longer offside and the Sharks were.

    The result was a 10-10 halftime score line and 5-5 penalty count. What an even contest. Crackdown’s working.

    So, after having forced their way back into the game on the back of conceding no penalties for the second quarter-and-a-bit of the game, the Bulldogs came out after a rest and an orange and conceded three penalties in the first 12 minutes of the second half, a Sharks try the result.

    The Dogs conceded their fourth and fifth consecutive penalties in the 67th and 68th minutes and the pressure eventually told, with Matt Prior scoring.

    Cronulla was controlling the ball, not giving away penalties and looked like they might put a couple of tries on in the last 13 minutes.

    But again, instead of pressing home their advantage, Cronulla seemingly lost the plot and conceded another five penalties between the 72nd and 80th minutes while leading by eight points. If ever there was a time for a disciplined side to play disciplined football and close out the game, this was it. Apparently not.

    So we have the Dogs conceding five consecutive penalties while they’re in the contest, the Sharks the next five with the game in their control. Canterbury then go five again while they’re back in the game for Cronulla to concede five of the last six in the final eight minutes.

    The Sharks conceded no penalties for 60 minutes of the game but gave away a total of ten in the last ten minutes of each half. Does that seem right?

    Do teams really switch between being uber-disciplined for large parts of the game, when the result is up for grabs, to completely haphazard when they can close it out?

    Yeah, teams can be cynical to protect a lead, but there was no perceptible shift in how the teams were playing.

    If the Bulldogs had somehow scored in the last minute, the home fans would have every right to be blowing up.

    Andrew Fifita of the Sharks

    Andrew Fifita of the Sharks. (AAP Image/Joe Castro)

    The better team won on the day and, if I’m honest, the referees kept the Bulldogs in the game at least as much as they stopped them.

    None of the flow of the game and the penalties seemed organic. None of it makes sense. Except…

    22-16 score line, 11-10 penalty count. One score away from golden point. Nice, tight, even contest.

    Except it wasn’t. It felt like a completely manufactured result.

    Not manufactured from the perspective that the home side were supposed to win, but that neither team was supposed to lose too badly. Both teams were to be given their shot.

    This happens often enough for there to be a perception that it’s a pattern.

    Paranoia and conspiracy. The cynic in me can’t help but feel the crackdown from the refs has nothing to do with adherence to the rules but to create a contest.

    Why did the Bulldogs concede five straight penalties to start each half? We’re having a crackdown.

    Why did the Sharks concede all ten of their penalties in the last ten minutes of each half? Crackdown.

    Conspiracy and paranoia.

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    The Crowd Says (50)

    • May 22nd 2018 @ 3:12am
      Chris Love said | May 22nd 2018 @ 3:12am | ! Report

      I like the thinking…..at least to call it out for what it looks like. There is no doubt in most games an attacking or defending team could be penalised for a minor infraction in every single set. Yet the refs seem to blow the whistle at very opportune times……except when one side begins mouthing off before the pendulum swings.

      • May 22nd 2018 @ 8:17am
        Peter Phelps said | May 22nd 2018 @ 8:17am | ! Report

        A lot of fans are thinking this about their teams this year. The blowing up over petty infringements (even if justfied) is distorting our game and putting it in the hands of officials which is wholly unacceptable. Fans are turning away in droves as our beloved game descends into absolute farce. Do we need to tighten up on the rules – YES, do we want to destroy the game in the process – NO!

        Its time this was stopped and thought through better. We have to find another way before we destroy the thing we love altogether.

        Finding witches by throwing them in the river to see if they survived was a great process. What we are doing now with our great game is very similar – TIME TO STOP!

    • May 22nd 2018 @ 3:27am
      KenoathCarnt said | May 22nd 2018 @ 3:27am | ! Report

      I dont how teams control frustration at Shark park. I remember a few seasons ago when Broncos were in really good form and they went there and it was like 20 nil to Sharks at half time. It was insane iv never witnessed anything like it. Broncos came back but still lost no team in history could have beaten them that day. The main thing I remember was the way the penalties were given it couldn’t of worked out any better for them.

    • May 22nd 2018 @ 5:33am
      Magic Lyrebird said | May 22nd 2018 @ 5:33am | ! Report

      It’s a weird pattern you describe The Barry, and I agree that ‘the crackdown’ hasn’t been anything of the sort, but rather an increased number of mostly arbitrary nit-picking penalties – very frustrating for the fan. But if the refs really were trying to manufacture close scorelines, they wouldn’t blow penalties with scores level, as we’ve seen a few times lately: in the Dogs-Broncos game, the Broncos-Souths game (I think it was) and probably others too.

      I missed the first half of the Dogs-Sharks game, but I suspect the runs of penalties generally happen when a team defending their own goal-line infringes repeatedly – certainly that’s what happened in the second half, when the Dogs got a heap of (more or less useless, as the contest was pretty much over) penalties in the final few minutes. That felt like a square-up by the ref to me – until then, I don’t think the Dogs had got a penalty in the whole second half. It felt like the refs were trying to even up the penalty count to forestall claims that their decisions had favoured the Sharks.

      The killer calls are penalties against the team in possession – the penalty against Woods for an incorrect play the ball had a huge impact on the game on Sunday.

      • May 23rd 2018 @ 7:37pm
        farkurnell said | May 23rd 2018 @ 7:37pm | ! Report

        The easiest thing in league is to criticise the refs,always has been always will be.-I do it, everybody who loves the game does it.NRL diehards have a death wish for the code .I remember at the start of the season the majority wanted a crack down -with the refs to get tough.Now thats been happening,sections of the media in particular Channel 9 commentators are screaming blue murder,promoting ill will among all stakeholders.I listen to others in the media who are still happy with the crack down, thinking – a short term pain for a long term gain Last time I looked Gould is the head of a NRL club ,he appears to be a protected species -his rant the other day against the whole establishment was nothing short of disgarceful.,yet he gets away with it.
        Back to the refs -the issue with the dummy half milking a penalty by throwing the ball into the tackler in the ruck,is not that easy to fix.I guarantee you will get 6 different solutions on this site .Gould said it was easy to fix ,but didnt offer how.
        Who are you going to penalise?,if the refs yell play on- the ruck becomes an even bigger mess,if he packs a scrum who
        does he give the feed?
        Of course the whole scenario is against the spirit of the game ,taken advantage of by players and coaches .

        I think RL is its own worst enermy,and the diehards constantly nagging about the refs is turning a lot of people off our great game ,as well

    • May 22nd 2018 @ 6:32am
      Womblat said | May 22nd 2018 @ 6:32am | ! Report

      TB, I’ve been saying for years the NRL is a business, not a sport, and the referees (just like other employees) are directed to behave in a way that best suits the business. That, of course, is a close game, with a pulsating excitement and a “within strike” feel, to keep the fans interested. Referees massage it that way, and it works, I know it does. It isn’t hard to do it without the perception of bias, too (of that 5-5 penalty count, which ones really mattered?).

      But astute watchers with a good feel can pick it, as you have. It just feels… artificial, as though some third party was playing God and affecting the play. Guess what? You’re right!

      When things get serious and the finals are on us you can bet it’ll be more right down the line but until then, enjoy the manufactured closeness and pretend it’s the real thing. 95% of modern dilettante fans can’t tell the difference. After all, the NRL traded the sport for the business years ago.

      And sorry to see you didn’t back your beloved Dogs. Man, you must be a disillusioned fan right now.

    • May 22nd 2018 @ 6:57am
      i miss the force said | May 22nd 2018 @ 6:57am | ! Report

      easy, the game ebbs and flows and when teams lose ascendency they give away penalties

      • Roar Guru

        May 22nd 2018 @ 7:07am
        The Barry said | May 22nd 2018 @ 7:07am | ! Report

        That’s fine but does the team comfortably on top suddenly start giving away penalties?

        I did consider that and realise I was emotionally invested in the game…so early on I was yelling at the TV that the Sharks were offside but no penalties. Then all of a sudden when the Dogs were behind and looking like they might get blown off the park, the penalties started flowing.

        There was no perceptible change to the way the Sharks were playing. They weren’t losing ascendency other than the refs were suddenly intervening.

    • May 22nd 2018 @ 7:09am
      3 recalcitrant monkeys said | May 22nd 2018 @ 7:09am | ! Report

      It always makes me feel like I’ve been grifted when commentary brings out the line the “reffs have no feel for the game”.it to me says hang up the rules and doll out some square up penalties for the TV audience .when Hollywood TV finish Harrigan comes out and says it is know I’m being grifted.

      • Roar Guru

        May 22nd 2018 @ 7:25am
        The Barry said | May 22nd 2018 @ 7:25am | ! Report

        I know what you mean but I’m not really talking about feel for the game – although that does come into it.

        It’s really about consistency. The refs are still letting heaps go in their “crackdown” but then arbitrarily blowing the same things up minutes later to seemingly alter the flow of the game.

        • May 22nd 2018 @ 8:05am
          3 recalcitrant monkeys said | May 22nd 2018 @ 8:05am | ! Report

          To go more off topic TB why should coaches not push the rules where there is no consistent parameters being enforced. These things perpetuate each other so why not be offside or lye around in the ruck when it’s only a random chance of getting pinged so if you’re behind you can really start pushing the boundaries.

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