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Opinion

Fair comment not coming from unfair commentators whining about rules they should know off by heart

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Expert
28th March, 2024
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“He was never going to chase. He was never going to chase. He was never going to chase.”

If I close my eyes and listen hard enough, I can still hear Phil Gould whinging about the ‘no try’ decision in the closing stages of the clash between Parramatta and Manly on Sunday afternoon.

With 16 minutes to go, Tolutau Koula crossed the line in an exciting play that featured Luke Brooks, and a beautiful Tom Trbojevic pass to Koula. The only problem was that the lead runner, Jake Trbojevic had stopped in the defensive line and made contact with Luca Moretti.

Gould’s whinging was tiresome, but his take on the rule was also wrong. The rules are clear. Block runners who do not receive the ball must not stop in the middle of the defensive line. That’s exactly what Jake Trbojevic did.

Moretti may have been slightly lazy, given up on the play and perhaps he was never going to chase, but the same can be said of Jake Trbojevic who just needed to take a couple of extra steps.

It was not a coincidence that Jake Trbojevic stopped in the line.

Anthony Seibold doubled down in his press conference and the focus shifted from discussing one of the best games of the season, to debating a rule which is black and white.

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We can’t have it both ways. A couple of years ago the approach to obstruction was discretionary. But we didn’t like that either, because ‘discretion’ varies between referees. So the rule was changed to black and white; some people still aren’t satisfied.

The decision on Sunday was consistent with the current approach to obstruction so I’m not sure what all the whinging, particularly from some of the commentary teams was about.

The media and particularly our commentators have an extremely important role in the promotion of our game and also how fans understand the game.

With the platform that both Channel 9 and Fox Sports have there is endless opportunity to shine a light on positive player stories and big moments in games.

Too often though, we see the media shirk those responsibilities and instead focus on the negative and sometimes the downright wrong. Is it ignorance? Is it to get clicks? I’m not sure, but what I am sure of is that it damages the game and sometimes pushes fans to switch off.

Canterbury general manager Phil Gould. (Photo by Mark Kolbe/Getty Images)

A similar thing happens with penalty tries. The commentary always seems to shift to the player being ‘100 per cent guaranteed to score’. That guarantee is impossible to provide. That’s why the rule requires consideration as to whether a try would have been scored if not for the illegal actions of a defender.

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Gould’s rant on Sunday is problematic because it will colour how fans understand the rules and drive further discussion and criticism of a ruling that was correct. It also focuses on the negative, rather than some of the more positive results we saw on the weekend.

But with someone like Gould the challenge is even more pronounced because he not only has a role in the media but also at a club as General Manager of Football at the Canterbury Bulldogs.

In life, conflicts exist everywhere. In an industry, like sport, the likelihood of conflicts gets even greater.

This isn’t in itself a problem, because the key to conflicts is how they are managed or perceived to be managed. How well are we managing them in rugby league?

Latrell Mitchell has been in the spotlight recently for many reasons, but he came under fire when it was suggested that he had influenced the judiciary process because of his comments about Spencer Leniu and his racially charged comments about Ezra Mam.

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Under the NRL Code of Conduct, club officials and players can be sanctioned if they are too critical of the NRL or if they discuss Match Review Committee charges that are still before the judiciary.

Mitchell was hammered by sections of the media. But we see this sort of discussion on panels, podcasts and in print every single day.

It’s unclear to me how people like Gould can provide commentary on the game and talk about the most important issues of the game, whilst at the same time holding a prominent role at a club.

The same could be said for someone like Braith Anasta, who holds a role as a player agent.

While Abdo met with Gould and his Bulldogs counterparts on this very issue in 2023, it’s still unclear to me how Gould can hold these two roles and still meet the NRL’s Code of Conduct.

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