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Opinion

Gamesmanship, grace, humility and did the Eels get hosed? Talking points from NRL finals Week 2

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19th September, 2021
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Another fun weekend of NRL finals saw Manly and Penrith move through to the preliminary finals to face South Sydney and Melbourne respectively. Plenty happened that needs backing over – here are your talking points from the semi-finals.

Did Parramatta get hosed?
A 7-2 penalty count, numerous missed calls, including two critical non-calls in the late moments, a questionable interchange hustle and a Panthers trainer stopping play when he wasn’t even on the field to kill an Eels attacking foray with moments left.

Add in the decisive two points of an 8-6 scoreline coming from a horribly called penalty for a high shot and it’s enough to drive Parra fans to drink. There’s plenty of moments to look at and feel hard done by with such a close result in a sensational game.

But having said that, the decisive score came just on halftime. There was plenty of game left. The Panthers had three tries struck out in the first half, at least one of which was done on pretty weak grounds. Parramatta were hanging on by their fingernails for an incredible period of the second half as Penrith battered away at them, and while the Eels had the edge in a number of the key stats, they couldn’t unlock Penrith’s league-best defence.

A wise man once told me something about sport that has stuck with me: good teams don’t lose to referees. Parramatta played a great game and had more than enough chances to win. But they didn’t. And it’s on them.

Bryce Cartwright of the Eels looks dejected after defeat as the Panthers celebrate victory.

(Photo by Matt Roberts/Getty Images)

What to do about dodgy trainer stoppages?
Not for the first time this year, a Panthers trainer has stopped play at a most convenient moment, when their opponent is charging ahead and carrying all the momentum.

On Friday night the trainer stopped the game and they weren’t even on the field, which is in contravention of the NRL’s own rules. It’s likely the Penrith trainer will be suspended and the club fined, but what do the Panthers care? They got what they wanted out of the exchange and won the game. A post-game punishment is well and truly closing the barn after all the horses have taken off.

So what’s the solution? It’s a tough one. Referees are on a hiding to nothing, they’ll cop it from us whether they stop play or not, so of course they’ll stop play.

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But on Saturday Mitch Kenny was behind the play and well out of the danger zone, so they probably should have played on.

Maybe there’s a way it can be done like in football, whereby the referee decides when play stops unless an opposition team puts the ball out of bounds to create a stoppage so the injured player can receive attention.

There has to be a better way than trainers being able to just yell out to stop the game and the game stops, especially when the injured player is out of harm’s way.

Diving has always been here, but it’s getting worse
Blake Ferguson’s Academy Award performance on Saturday may have won a penalty, but it sure didn’t do much for his already poor reputation. Bouncing up to remonstrate after seconds earlier being in mortal pain from a tackle was a more extreme example of staging for penalties or bunker reviews, but it is more widespread than ever.

Ferguson is one of dozens of examples throughout the finals of players flailing arms around, dramatically grabbing their head/neck/face after being tackled and staying down before getting up extra slowly to make the touch judges and bunker think there’s something to look at. It’s all very unedifying.

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Again, what’s the solution? Referees can’t take the chance that a player hasn’t been hurt, or they’d cop it from all of us. Again. They’re also beholden to the laws of the game, and although the acting is there, often so is the infringement no matter how small. The diving is done to force a very technical ruling, to get a penalty to the letter of the law although there’s no injury or even discomfort.

The NRL’s arsenal to combat fakery is pretty barren – there’s a contrary conduct charge for ‘attempting to gain advantage with a referee for high contact’, and that’s about it.

Maybe the ‘injured’ player has to go off for a period, although that’s easily rorted. Could actors be fined, highlighted and shamed of a Monday?

Every team does it. Your team does it. Some do it better than others. I wouldn’t want to be refereeing Melbourne and Penrith this Saturday, because that’s going to be like managing a travelling theatre troupe.

Blake Ferguson of the Eels

(Photo by Matt Blyth/Getty Images)

Hey broadcasters: live action goes in the big part, replays go in the small part
There was a hell of a lot going on during Saturday night’s game as play went end to end and the pressure built and built. There were so many key moments as possession turned over and bombs were defused, and bit hits and errors were all part of a frantic 80 minutes.

So I can’t have been the only one finding it maddeningly annoying the broadcast from Channel Nine would play its action replays in the whole screen, with live action reduced to an almost illegible box on the bottom right of the screen.

This also happened on Fox Sports, because they were taking the Channel Nine feed. It’s a shocking way to direct a live sport broadcast and really takes viewers out of the moment as they try to work out what they’re looking at.

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Can we just flip it? Surely the actual live footage deserves the main focus.

The other Trbojevic was great too
While Tom won man of the match and all the plaudits for Manly’s mashing of the Roosters on Friday night, the elder Trbojevic was just as instrumental in the Sea Eagles putting that early space between them and their feathered opponent.

Jake T was almost perfect in defence and bent the Roosters every time he carried the ball. His 119 metres was second for Manly forwards and his 30 tackles with only one miss tied for the most on his team. He did his best work early when the game was hot and helped his faster teammates to make hay with the constant stream of possession.

Early on in the season when Manly were getting flogged and V’landysball was in its early stages Jake Trbojevic was named as one who might have had the faster game pass him by. That call has turned out to be quite incorrect.

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Victor Radley should have been suspended for many weeks
Radley played pretty well on Friday, running over 100 metres, making a huge 56 tackles and fighting hard in a lost cause.

The 2021 season has been a frustrating year for Radley, marred by injury and suspension after being put on report an impressive five times. And he really should be spending more time on the pine to start 2022 after putting a punch on the chin of Manly’s Sean Keppie as a scrum broke late in the game.

The NRL’s apparent ‘investigation’ into Radley’s punch resulted in this statement from the match review committee:

“Based on the available angles, neither the bunker review official or match review committee could not determine if a punch was involved.”

Look at the footage and determine for yourself.

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A classy exit from Trent Robinson
Manly may have smudged his team 42-6 on Friday night, but Roosters coach Trent Robinson was most gracious and humble in his post-match comments as he reflected on the year gone and paid tribute to the NRL and their ability to keep the season going.

“I’ve been critical of the NRL at different times this year, and I obviously backed that up,” he said. “It’s only right for me to say how incredible this time has been up here for us, and the way that the NRL has just dealt with our families and our players.

“The way that they have organised nights for our partners to get to know each other, they have put everything on for us to play and train, it has just been with a lot of heart. It has been incredible, the amount of heart and care.”

“Sometimes we see it as a cold brand that administers that holds the game together so fans can cheer their Roosters or Sea Eagles, but sometimes you have to stand up and applaud the NRL and say thank you for looking after us, thank you for caring for us in what could have been a really tough time.

“They needed to hear that, because they have been amazing.”

Plenty of us have (and will continue to) take shots at the NRL, but it was good to hear this coming from one of its most respected names.

There are only three games left in season 2021, Roarers. What caught your eye during the semi-final weekend?

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