The Parramatta team and their supporters feel deeply robbed and they want blood.
And they are totally justified in their rage.
Their claim that cheating on the part of the Penrith side denied them a real chance at victory and progression to the preliminary final is hard to argue against.
The powers that be at NRL HQ have seen the massive wave of outrage and duly thrown the Blue and Gold faithful a sacrificial goat.
While the Roosters and their trainer – Travis Touma – to the best of my knowledge received no penalty or sanction for him being illegally on the field and interfering with the play in the 2019 grand final, the NRL has actually suspended a Panthers trainer and fined the club $25,000.
Except it fixes nothing.
The punishment won’t give the Eels the victory and a preliminary final berth.
And it hasn’t punished the actual people actually responsible: Peter V’landys, Andrew Abdo, Graham Annesley and Nathan McGuirk.
It is those four who are in command of NRL HQ, the very same organisation Roosters coach Trent Robinson recently compared to a circus with streamers and music due to the incompetence he saw on display.
It is V’landys, Abdo, Annesley and McGuirk who are responsible for putting in place rules to control the access to the field – and influence on the game – that trainers can have.
And it is they who – in spite of the continued warnings and incidents – have effectively done three quarters of bugger all to mitigate the risks posed by the trainers.
In fact, they’ve arguably made them worse. And as a result we had the fiasco that conspired last Saturday night.
In the 75th minute of the semi-final Penrith were on the ropes. A rampant and focused Eels side was absolutely coming for them on the back of a glut of possession. It looked more than likely that the Panthers’ sensational defence would finally crack, especially when Mitch Kenny stayed down, writhing in agony after making a tackle.
The Eels surely would capitalise on the man advantage.
Then Panthers’ orange shirt trainer Pete Green called for play to be halted, citing a serious injury to Kenny.
Referee Ash Klein called a halt to play.
The Eels’ momentum was stopped.
The Panthers’ line was unbreached and they hung on for the win.
While Kenny was certainly injured, it was not serious enough to justify a halt to play.
That rule has been put in place specifically to ensure that medical attention can get to an extremely seriously injured player immediately. Nene Macdonald or Corey Oates’ compound fractures fall into this category. So does the tragedy of Alex McKinnon’s neck injury.
Injuries like Mitch Kenny’s hurt ankle do not and must not be allowed to be included.
Yet, the NRL has rules in place that meant Kenny’s sore ankle could be used as a lever to halt play.
We can’t see inside Pete Green’s head, but there is a fair bit of speculation that he called for a stop in play to buy his side time to regroup, replace Kenny and hold the line.
There is speculation that he knew that to call for play to stop for Kenny’s injury wasn’t appropriate.
The $25,000 fine imposed by the NRL suggests that the opinion at Moore Park is along those exact lines.
I tell you this with utter certainty: if I had been in Green’s position, with the power that the NRL had conferred upon me to call for a stoppage in play, I would absolutely have done the same thing.
In fact, if my team was in the same position and my Orange shirt trainer didn’t do what Green did, I’d want them sacked.
The NRL is a serious business. It is a brutal, professional sport that chews people up and spits them out constantly. The great scorer only marks whether you won or lost. How you played the game is a distant concern for any of us who fanatically support a team. Double that for the people who are directly involved with the club.
The win is what matters, heroic losses are for losers. That’s the cold reality.
I encourage people who don’t like or understand that to stick to park footy where sportsmanship can still be held aloft as paramount.
You win any way you can, and if the NRL gives you the ability to influence the game in your favour, then you use it when you need to.
It is a fair guess that there is no one at the Panthers mad with Pete Green at all. In fact, probably quite the opposite.
I know that if my club could pay $250,000 right now – let alone $25,000 – to be playing in this weekend’s preliminary finals the only question we’d have is how we deliver the money and to whom.
The fault on this issue does not lie with Pete Green and the Panthers.
It lies with the people who thought it was a reasonable idea to give partisan officials the ability to halt the game.
Last week, I called for Craig Bellamy to be the next CEO of the NRL because – among other things – there is no way he’d be stupid enough to grant clubs such power. He’d absolutely realise how it could be abused.
The question is why didn’t V’landys, Abdo, Annesley and McGuirk realise it?
Why did they not explore the possible ramifications of placing such power in the hands of club trainers? Why did they not put independent people in place to make those calls at each game, such as the people they have at each game assessing possible head injuries?
Surely the lessons of the past were an excellent guide to what the trainers will do.
They will do whatever they can get away with.
The vision of Travis Touma leaving the field after he illegally interfered with play in the 2019 grand final showed him with a huge grin on his face. He knew that his infraction had cost his side nothing.
In fact, it had gained them an advantage when they might have been in serious trouble. While in the AFL such an interference sees a 50 metre penalty instantly awarded to the opposition regardless of the state of play, there was zero downside to Touma breaking the rules. There was only upside.
It was the NRL that let him be on the field when he shouldn’t have been. Operations Manager Nathan McGuirk failed to enforce his own operations manual in the biggest game of the year. As a result, Touma was there to bat away the ball that was charged down. The rest is history.
Yet, the NRL still left it in the hands of partisan trainers to call for a halt to play for injuries…
That is the height of incompetence and ineptitude.
I’m at a total loss as to why – after all of the outcry about the risks of on-field trainers for nearly a decade, all of the near misses, as well as the actual incidents – the NRL have not prioritised putting in place rules and management to control the trainers and the risks they pose.
Following the incident in the 2019 decider, the NRL said that they’d be making changes.
The following February, Annesley came out talking tough about big changes in regard to the trainers.
“The days of the blue trainers constantly on the field relaying messages will be significantly curtailed,” he said.
“We understand that coaches want to get messages out there whenever they feel the need, but we have to find a better balance. We intend to strictly enforce the new rules. If there is a breach, there will be fines in place with penalties increasing for repeat offenders.
“The fans hate it. In our fan survey, the trainer issue received the highest percentage of agreement among NRL fans… we have to take heed of that response and listen to the people.”
However, after a brief effort to control them, the trainers’ time on the field has pretty much reverted to being unhindered. They are still almost a constant presence behind their sides’ lines, just waiting to get in the way when there is an unexpected change in possession.
There have been a lot of words and very little – if any – actual change.
On top of that, they’ve then managed to engineer a situation where partisan officials have the power to halt play.
And – lo and behold – one of them seemingly used that power improperly.
I’ve lost track of how many times I have raised the no-brainer necessity of tightly controlling trainers, of the totally unnecessary risks they pose and the total lack of benefit their access to the field provides.
Here is what I promise you: until the NRL get people in who can a) put effective rules in place in regard to trainers and b) ensure those rules are actually enforced, these incidents will keep happening.
These non-players will keep interfering and improperly effecting the outcomes of games.
I guarantee it.
Right now, the Parramatta Eels, just like the Canberra Raiders in 2019, have a perfect right to be furious, to feel robbed and to demand that heads roll over this appalling incident.
The horrible probability is that – once again – nothing meaningful will be done by NRL HQ to fix this glaring issue.
And all you Panthers fans, if you win the 2021 premiership, every single one of you owes Pete Green a beer.