There’s no denying the recurring scuffles and the bad blood in the NRL this season have injected some fire into a game that sorely needs it, as boring blowouts further plague the competition.
But Penrith Panthers young gun Stephen Crichton crossed a line in terms of sportsmanship when he pulled Canberra’s Joseph Tapine into a try celebration and wouldn’t let go, sparking one of several melees that occurred throughout the 20-point victory over the Raiders last week.
And the Panthers have since responded poorly to being labeled arrogant for it. Before their Broncos clash this week, they mocked their critics with an Instagram video of Matt Burton and Charlie Staines celebrating a try at training with a simple handshake with the caption: “Is this more acceptable?”
Burton implemented the same celebration with Brian To’o and Jarome Luai when he scored against the Broncos.
It’s a tone-deaf response to the fact that last week’s incident was indeed unsportsmanlike and invited a push and shove when it wasn’t necessary.
It’s not been their only problematic act in the past 12 months when they’ve enjoyed some surprising success, or their worst. Up the top of a list of recent grubby acts is Jarome Luai stomping on Warriors playmaker Kodi Nikorima’s head in Round 14 last year, for which he was handed no penalty.
It’s disappointing that it’s taken this long for there to be proper debate around Penrith overstepping the mark.
As for coach Ivan Cleary’s reasoning for the latest behaviour?
“We get a little bit of niggle towards our boys, especially because we are young.”
(Photo by Ian Hitchcock/Getty Images)
What sort of excuse is this supposed to be?
It’s not a bit of niggle when the talk is that your player group has reached a point of arrogance where they’re okay to incite a scuffle the way Crichton did.
And they’re continuing to get off lightly. Crichton was fined just over $1350 for his act, a barely noticeable deduction from salaries that hit six figures. Meanwhile, the Raiders were hit with a fine of over $10,000 merely because a trainer put a hand on a Panther’s back during the incident.
Unless something changes it’s going to keep boiling over and getting worse, and the Panthers can’t hide behind their success tag forever.
Now, the Panthers are a great side and their recent run of success has been amazing to watch. And of course, any side that’s going well is going to pick up a band of haters. The Roosters and Storm can attest to that.
But when your club’s players are engaged in some dog acts in between those brilliant plays and little seems to be done beyond taking the criticism as a term of endearment, that is going to draw stronger hate and that hate will be deserved.
And whether it takes someone getting hurt or the NRL finally puts its foot down, if this grubby run continues further, it will come back to bite Penrith hard.