After losing a sudden-death finals series match to Cronulla on a seventh tackle try in 2013, North Queensland coach Neil Henry and captain Johnathan Thurston blew up.
Back then, when the NRL wasn’t so guarded about their content, I used to put my iPhone on a bendy stand and video every media conference (when the battery wasn’t flat) and post them on YouTube.
The Cowboys’ September 13 elimination final presser is one of the most-watched on my modest little channel (you can see it below).
“There’s no accountability for what happens out on the field,” Henry said of the incident involving the recently retired referee Matt Cecchin and another man of the moment, Henry Perenara.
“Two men, experienced full-time referees, two touch judges, two blokes up in the video box, not…counting.
“The referees have proven a couple of years in a row that they’re not up to it. It’s embarrassing for the game. And I’ve got that from the top. They’re embarrassed, coming in shaking our hands.”
Henry then went further, much further than Sydney Roosters coach Trent Robinson last week in regard to the Latrell Mitchell challenge that broke Joey Manu’s jaw.
“If you’re (into a) conspiracy theory, you’d say ‘hang on, we’re so Sydney-centric here, we don’t care about the boys up north. The press talks about the ideal grand final: Souths, Roosters…We’ve just been dudded…”
Yet Thurston and Henry weren’t fined the requisite $10,000, let alone Robinson’s $40,000.
Why? NRL CEO David Smith had apologised to them after the game. Despite the heat they copped in the media for their decision, the NRL didn’t fine Thurston and Henry because Thurston and Henry had been right.
From here it would be obvious to say that Robinson was right too and that therefore the current NRL administration has less moral fibre than the one we had eight years ago. It’s not quite that simple.
Just the same as the current NRL would be less likely to let me put my wobbly tripod on the desk in front of a coach, they are also more sensitive to criticism and more attuned to the 2021 world of reputation management.
The censorship noose on players and coaches is much tighter, not just with the intention of keeping the sport out of court by discouraging libellous statements at post-match press conferences.
You can’t question the general competence of match officials now – and Robbo did use terms like “farce” and “circus music”.
But here again, if the coaches are expected to show restraint then how can the CEO publicly say Perenara had been sacked before the matter had even been dealt with by the judicial process?
At the time Andrew Abdo explained video referee Perenara’s absence from the Melbourne-Parramatta game by telling AAP he had been axed for not sending off Mitchell, the Souths player had not entered a plea to his charge.
It was theoretically possible, then, that Mitchell would go the tribunal pleading not guilty and the panel would convene knowing the CEO of the organisation thought he should have been sent off.
It was theoretically possible, using a clever argument by his silk or the vagaries of the panellists on the night, that Mitchell would escape suspension and play the following week – days after the CEO of the organisation had publicly sacked a match official for not sending him off.
Someone challenged me by saying that as a journalist I would have expected an honest answer from Abdo when he was asked why Perenara was missing from the box on Saturday.
No, as a journalist I’d want an honest, newsworthy answer. But as a journalist with experience of covering competent sports administrators for several decades, I’d expect him to say “I’ll be in a position to answer that honestly in a couple of days. If you think about it, you’ll understand why. Please ring me then.”
Trent Robinson is expected to control his compulsion to speak his mind and yet the person leading the organisation that expects the control can’t control himself by showing respect to the processes he oversees.
I wish I heard circus music in my head, Trent. Circus music makes me smile.