After a week of barbs about the role the media plays in refereeing decisions, it appears one club has decided a tactically-placed story in the papers is the way to beat Melbourne.
Let me set the scene:
It’s the 79th minute of the grand final, the Storm are down by one and as Brandon Smith charges for the opposition tryline, he is collected high.
Melbourne’s players go up as one, screaming at the ref for a penalty.
But as Gerard Sutton begins bringing the whistle to his lips, he stops.
“I can’t award this penalty – my brother is a part-time consultant for the Storm,” he thinks.
“He’ll obviously get fired if I don’t blow the pea out of this thing – I mean, he only got the job so he could influence my decision-making – but everybody knows Bernie has a gig with Craig Bellamy’s mob.
“If only he’d managed to keep his role at the Storm under wraps, I could have helped him out, blown the penalty and ensured Melbourne win the grand final. But the damn media got a hold of it!
“Sorry Bernie, I can’t risk it. Guess you’ll have to find a different side-hustle for 2022.”
Gerard calls for Smith to get to his feet and play the ball, no penalty is awarded and seconds later, the Storm lose the game.
Apparently, that scenario is considered a possibility, if reports in Monday’s Sydney Morning Herald are on the mark.
“There is unease at some clubs over former referees boss Bernard Sutton’s involvement as a consultant to the Melbourne Storm, considering his brother Gerard is firming as the whistle-blower for the grand final,” Michael Chammas reported.
It’s the second time this issue has come to the fore this season, Bernard having been effectively told to stand down from a similar consulting role with the Queensland side or his brother would be Buckley’s to officiate Origin.
While Chammas wrote that “the majority of the remaining clubs don’t have an issue with Bernard remaining on the Storm’s books”, some clearly do – as evidenced by it being written about.
As for which clubs take issue with it, you’d have to assume it’s at least one that’s still in the race for the premiership, because who else would care?
Well I’ve got bad news for whichever organisation that succeeded in making an issue of this non-event – and it is a total non-event, because anyone who thinks a professional referee is going to be biased because his brother has a small, part-time, remote-based consultancy with a team in the comp needs their head checked – even if you get Bernard Sutton removed from his role at the Storm, that’s not going to stop this juggernaut.
Over the weekend, we had three games that were in the balance until the final moments, and one which was over before 15 minutes had elapsed.
Melbourne were completely ruthless in their dismemberment of Manly, putting Des Hasler’s men away to the tune of 40-12, with the Storm ahead 16-0 at the 14:50 mark.
It was the 12th time this season Melbourne had put at least 40 points on the scoreboard – that’s almost half their games – and took them past 850 for total points in 2021. And while the Storm’s regular-season points haul of 815 means the 2001 Eels’ 839 remains the most, that Parra team had 26 games to accrue it, compared to the 24 games each side played in 2021.
The really scary part is that the Storm put these numbers up without having been able to pick their first-choice 17 all year, a trend that continued against the Sea Eagles, with Josh Addo-Carr nursing a hamstring injury that kept him from playing.
And it’s worth reflecting on just who their latest victims were.
Des Hasler’s side were worthy top-four finishers and considered one of two teams that could challenge the Storm in the big games.
Now a week is a long time in rugby league and with injuries and suspensions still able to turn things on its head, you can’t just rule any of the other five teams out of contention. But based on what we saw on Friday night, this iteration of the Manly Sea Eagles don’t have the grunt to beat Bellamy’s boys if they are to meet on the first Sunday of October.
As for the other team that was considered most likely to rain on the Storm’s parade, that’d be their opponents in the 2020 decider.
For most of the season, the common prediction was that we’d be seeing a replay of last year’s grand final. Well, that’s now longer on the cards, with the Panthers’ loss to Souths meaning – if they can get over Parramatta this week – they’ll face Melbourne in the eliminator.
And while Penrith weren’t humiliated, their 16-10 loss to the Bunnies showed Ivan Cleary’s side may still not quite be the finished product.
Of course, it could be Parra taking on the Storm in a fortnight, which would have the Storm sweating a little, given the Eels won both their encounters this year.
But regardless of who wins the western Sydney derby this weekend, they’ll have played a hard game in hot Mackay, while the Storm will have watched on with their feet up in the air-conditioned comfort of their Sunshine Coast resort.
There are obviously permutations on the other side of the draw to play out as well, particularly with South Sydney showing there may yet be life after Latrell Mitchell.
But with just three weekends of the NRL left in 2021, it is looking increasingly likely that we’ll have back-to-back premiers – and, coming off the back to the Chooks’ 2018-19 double, it’ll in fact be back-to-back back-to-back winners.
Someone could stop the Storm, sure, but it will take something akin to the perfect game of footy.
Certainly something better thought-out than this dastardly plan to stop a team that has Cameron Smith on speed-dial from having an ex-referee give them a few pointers.