Last week I did something embarrassing and out of character. Unfortunately, after years of ripping into people that rip into referees, I inadvertently did the exact same thing.
Thankfully, it wasn’t a conscious decision to ‘ref bash’, otherwise I’d be a fully-fledged hypocrite. As it turns out, I’m just a quarter-fledged hypocrite.
In the process of discussing which game/incident from the opening week of the NRL finals had the biggest impact on the 2019 premiership race, it was somewhat impossible not to weigh in on the touch judge’s incorrect decision to rule Melbourne winger Suliasi Vunivalu’s hand as out, in the closing minutes of the Storm versus Raiders game.
To be fair, my argument was that due to their impressive defence, I believed Canberra were the better side and deserved to win, and as such, the touchie’s mistake didn’t have as much impact on the premiership race as other matters from the weekend. It was a non-controversy, for mine.
Problem is, in the process of communicating that point, I called the touchie’s decision a “howler”, and certainly didn’t back away from that opinion in my subsequent banter with Roarers.
Such provocative language – and a stubborn refusal to budge from my viewpoint – meant the focus of many a conversation I had with other fans was focused on the refereeing gaffe, and that’s something I actually detest in rugby league.
All too often the referees are lazily blamed for outcomes, while player and coaching errors are glossed over. After all, it’s much easier to blame the whistle blowers than admit your team deserved to lose.
Worse still, it also affords the usual crisis merchants in the game the opportunity to pick at some low-hanging fruit, and bash the refs. Which, as some long-time readers will know, is a bugbear of mine.
Unintentional or not, I contributed to that type of lazy narrative last week, and for that, I’m truly sorry.
Thankfully, as a rugby league writer – much like the teams still alive at this time of year – I get a chance to redeem myself just a week later. And what do you know, but a fresh batch of controversies present themselves after the semi-finals on the weekend! Ah, rugby league, the gift that keeps on giving.
This time, the refereeing dramas from the weekend centred on the sin-binning of both Jake Trbojevic and Cameron Smith, which brought the punishment of ‘ten minutes in the bin’ into the limelight.
Fear not, there will be no ref-bashing here today, because I don’t think either decision was a ‘shocker’. Far from it.
Yes, you can go straight to the comments section now to vehemently disagree with me, if you wish. Take a number, I’ll be with you in just a minute.
I can understand why the Trbojevic binning was controversial. It was a big game, and a big decision.
However, here are the facts, presented without bias, embellishment or subjectivity: Trbojevic took out an attacking support player by pulling his jersey and pushing him. It hindered Souths from a legitimate chance of scoring a try. It was an illegal play.
I’m not sure any of the above is disputable.
Manly coach Des Hasler said himself that a penalty would have been justified. Which means the controversy is really only about whether it should have been a penalty, or ten minutes in the bin. Technically the debate is about the punishment, not the call itself.
For those saying the sin bin changed the game, you’re undoubtedly right, as Souths ran in two tries while Trbojevic was in the bin. But in this case, that’s the entire point of the sin-bin; it was a drastic punishment designed to change the game, because the offending infringement was judged to have changed the game in the first place.
Trbojevic and Manly gained a significant advantage by taking Dane Gagai out illegally with Souths in a scoring position; a score that would have changed the game. Does that not deserve significant punishment?
It was unquestionably a big call, with so much riding on the result, but that doesn’t make it the wrong one.
Oh, and by the way, Manly kind of lost the right to blame the referees when they proceeded to drop the ball approximately 496 times after the decision. But sure, “ref’s fault”.
As for the Melbourne versus Parramatta game, the sin-binning of the Storm captain was the quintessential Cameron Smith experience. There was enough evidence for his haters to say he hit someone in the head and should have been binned. And, enough evidence for his fans to say there was absolutely nothing in it, and that it shouldn’t even be a penalty.
The incident was a brilliant a microcosm of Smith’s career: polarising.
Personally, I thought ten minutes in the bin for what Smith did was a little bit soft.
Then again, he did strike someone in the head. Sure, it was with an open hand, but you’re asking for trouble going around intentionally whacking people in the head. Doing such things should come with a significant punishment. Like, say, maybe, 10 minutes in the sin-bin?
Said punishment could really change a game, so it represents a pretty solid deterrent to not hit people in the head, no?
As such, I can certainly understand why the Smith call was made, even if I disagreed with it.
Of course, that didn’t stop the ‘sky is falling’ brigade from loading up, led by Gus Gould.
I bow to Gould’s knowledge of the game; he’s forgotten more about league than I’ll ever know. But I’m sick and tired of his constant whinging. Not every minor incident or drama is proof that the game is dying. On Sunday afternoon, I’d had enough and tweeted out this little outburst, which got some traction:
Don’t you dare speak for me, Gus. As a fan, you are not my mouthpiece. The biggest issue with the game is whinging crayons like you, not the refs. You’re a disgrace, and love having a crack at NRL. Retire, you fossil – the game would be better off without you. https://t.co/33vpd979qE
— Ryan O'Connell (@RyanOak) September 22, 2019
The ‘cranky old man’ whinging routine – perfected by Gould, Buzz Rothfield, Paul Kent, etc – is turning off many fans, and doing damage to the great game. Every week it’s some hyperbolic, sensationalistic, overblown drama. It’s so boring.
Just put a sock in it, you energy tampons.
This weekend’s predictions
Now, before we get to my predictions for the preliminary finals, just a quick recap of last week’s.
“Melbourne will regroup and be better for the wake-up call by coming out and defeating Parramatta comfortably, while Souths versus Manly will be a tight affair for the first 60 minutes, before the Rabbitohs pull away down the stretch from a gallant Sea Eagles outfit.”
Yes, I reserve the right to keep recapping my correct predictions, and completely ignoring my wrong ones!
This week, I predict the Roosters will beat the Storm by 1 point, courtesy of a Cooper Cronk field goal in Golden Point, in a game that will become an instant classic.
In the other match, Canberra will be too good for Souths, and win by a 6-point margin that will flatter the Bunnies, and make the game feel closer than it really was.