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Klein should be declined chance to referee Grand Final again after blatant clangers in Storm-Roosters cliffhanger

15th September, 2023
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15th September, 2023
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Ashley Klein’s chances of retaining his status as the NRL’s top-rated referee for the Grand Final should be over after he made a couple of howlers in Melbourne’s 18-13 semi-final thrilling win over the Roosters at AAMI Park on Friday night which thankfully didn’t decide the result.

He missed a high shot on Harry Grant with the Storm trailing by a point late in the contest which should have given the home side a go-ahead penalty but after Klein refused to blow his whistle when the unhappy hooker stayed down following the Sam Walker tackle, Melbourne won the game via a spectacular Will Warbrick try from a Cameron Munster crossfield kick.

It came after Klein made a blatant error in the first half which cost the Roosters.

Rated the No.1 referee by the NRL, Klein – who was in charge of all three Origins this year, will surely pay the price for his shoddy display.

Adam Gee is due to control Saturday’s Warriors vs Newcastle semi in Auckland and unless he has a shocker, he should be on track to referee his first Grand Final.

Referees usually adopt what behavioural scientists refer to as the Fonzie philosophy and never admit when they’re wrong. 

But it was Happy Days for Melbourne with Klein apologising on the run to Roosters skipper James Tedesco for his first-half blunder. 

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The source of Klein’s regret was missing Grant knocking on while reeling in a kick just metres in front of the ref. Roosters coach Trent Robinson was a lot further away in the coach’s box but he was able to spot the fumble, blowing up deluxe. 

Klein had the chance to express his remorse to Tedesco because there was a break in play soon after … when Grant threw the last pass for Marion Seve to make it 10-0. 

“It was pretty clear it was dropped,” Robinson said in the post-match media conference about the Grant fumble. “He was right there, it hit the ground, what can you do? It was an error and they went down the other end and scored but we should have also stopped that.

“It should have been a try-scoring opportunity to us 10 metres out from the line. In finals games, they’re always critical.”

Tedesco explained Klein told him that “he called it as he saw it”.

“I was 30 metres away and I could see that he dropped it and he was right there,” he said. “It’s hard when you can’t really have a conversation on the run at the back and you can’t really stop play and run up. It was pretty obvious it was a knock-on.

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“I think he knew he didn’t get that right.”

Curiously, Robinson added that they don’t expect 50-50 calls to go their way, without explicitly stating there’s a bias against his team, and reiterated that they should have defended better after the dodgy call.

Bellamy’s take on the incident was not to crucify Klein. “I thought Harry did drop the ball and that’s a big non-call, but having said that, it’s hard to blame the referee for everything. He’s got touch judges and guys in the bunker.”

MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA - SEPTEMBER 15: Harry Grant of the Storm is tackled during the NRL Semi Final match between Melbourne Storm and the Sydney Roosters at AAMI Park on September 15, 2023 in Melbourne, Australia. (Photo by Daniel Pockett/Getty Images)

Harry Grant. (Photo by Daniel Pockett/Getty Images)

Perhaps it was an unconscious bias towards the team he wronged but Klein awarded the Roosters the ball on a 50-50 call against Tariq Sims for a dropped ball in the ruck. 

Then the Roosters got a penalty and a six-again but failed to convert the chances into points. And then they got the next penalty and another six-again call their way as they camped in Melbourne territory and eventually the weight of possession led to a Brandon Smith barge-over try. 

If you didn’t know any better you’d swear Klein was trying to conjure an old-fashioned get-square. 

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But the Roosters maintained their momentum late in the first half but the siren came not a moment too soon for Melbourne as they were able to regroup at the interval after the sustained onslaught. 

The captain’s challenge was brought in to help teams in situations where they’re dudded by an obviously wrong decision. 

But the review can only be called during stoppages in play. 

And that rule can’t be changed. You can’t have a situation where a captain could challenge a clanger in a live-ball situation no matter how egregious the error. 

If that were the case, you would end up with captains using a spare challenge late in games midway through a defensive set to catch their breath and halt their opposition’s attacking momentum. 

(Photo by Kelly Defina/Getty Images)

And tinkering with the rulebook has mercifully subsided in the past couple of years after more changes than David Bowie could sing about. 

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Storm coach Craig Bellamy said the decision to not give Grant a penalty would have been a bigger issue if not for the result changing a few moments later with Warbrick’s effort.

“The Harry one when he got high, in nearly every game this year that would have been a penalty,” he said.

“If we’d got beaten by a point we might be talking a little bit more about it. I don’t want to sweep it under the carpet, at the end of the day, if there’s different rules in the finals, let us know.

Ultimately, the Roosters’ season is over due to their sluggish first few months of the season which meant they needed to win five straight to sneak into the finals in seventh spot.

They battled on bravely as Jared Waerea-Hargreaves’ season ended early due to a dopey suspension and then Joey Manu, Joseph Suaalii and Billy Smith were sidelined by injury in last week’s 13-12 elimination final win over Cronulla.

Friday night’s loss was a cruel way for their season to end on the back of Munster’s Hail Mary play for Warbrick’s magical four-pointer.

Melbourne live to fight another day but facing the toughest assignment of all – travelling to Sydney to face rampant premiers Penrith next Friday night and even if Jahrome Hughes is able to return from his calf injury, the Storm’s finals campaign is likely to go the same way as the Roosters by this time next week.

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