The iconic Sydney Cricket Ground has hosted some of the game’s greatest moments and players throughout its long and storied history – from the all-conquering St George Dragons of the 1950s and 1960s, the once-mighty touring British Lions and Immortals like Gasnier, Messenger and Churchill.
Nobody will want to remember what happened on Thursday night between the Sydney Roosters and the Manly Sea Eagles in what ended up becoming an atrocious display of what is meant to be ‘the greatest game of all’.
It was painful to watch. We weren’t expecting a classic from two teams on the periphery of the top eight and outside chances of playing September footy.
But referee Ashley Klein and the bunker didn’t do us any favours, either.
The NRL should refund every single one of the 12,197 punters that showed up. Trust in officials, whether on the field or upstairs, is at an all-time low.
Fans that sucked it up and actually got through the entire 80 minutes were “treated” to a whopping 21 penalties and an incredible 13 set restarts.
With just 20 minutes to play and the Eagles down 22-2, Klein sent Manly prop Toafofoa Sipley to the sin bin for holding down in the ruck. This was a penalty given away with the Roosters coming out of their own end.
Despite most of the penalties at this point, given by Klein, going against the Roosters, he sent a Manly player for 10 minutes.
Just when you thought it was safe to peel away a finger from across your face and take a peek – Klein sent Nathan Brown off for a fairly innocuous high tackle on Manly’s Ben Trbojevic, stating that the Roosters forward “left the ground” to make contact with the young Sea Eagle. A quick replay showed the Roosters veteran’s boots firmly entrenched on the SCG turf.
“You don’t want to see it, I don’t think it’s great for Ben but there’s so much worse than that in the game and that gets sent off?” the usually cautious Roosters coach Trent Robinson said. “Guys have been heavily concussed from high tackles and all of that, nothing happened there tonight and he gets sent from the field.”
An equally frustrated Anthony Seibold took the officials to task for Sipley’s binning.
“Our sixth penalty of the night was a yardage penalty on Tof Sipley and he gets sin binned,” Seibold began. “I understand the frustration with the amount but at that stage the Roosters had given away ten and we’d given five.
“I wasn’t sure where that came from.”
This is meant to be one of the best referees we have – a veteran of 14 State of Origin matches and 23 finals appearances. Combine Klein’s 23 playoff games with Gerard Sutton’s 36 and the pair share a huge 59 finals combined.
Now compare that to the glory years of the 1990s and 2000s.
A golden age, full of top-flight whistle blowers, all jostling for the tag as number one referee and while it was mostly always Billy Harrigan’s crown, there were plenty of others nipping on his heels.
From the bearded Greg McCallum to Tim Mander. Eddie Ward, Steve Clark or Paul Simpkins, anyone? What about David Manson? Sean Hampstead, Tony Archer or the most tanned bloke this side of Spain – Shayne Hayne!
If you take away Harrigan’s 45 finals caps – the nine other referees amassed 140 finals at an average of 15.5.
Eight less than Klein and 21 behind Sutton who are both active in the NRL and still going strong.
Does anyone know what Matt Cecchin is up to these days?
The fact is, we had many more top-line referees in the past held to much higher account than in 2023 and they didn’t have their hands held by dozens of cameras and “big brother” over-analysing every play and barking into their ear pieces incessantly.
We all deserve better.