NRL admits ref made key errors in semi but leaves door open for finals return

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The NRL has conceded referee Ashley Klein made two errors during Friday night’s semi-final in Melbourne, but left the door open for the official to control next weekend’s preliminary final and the grand final.

Klein apologised to Sydney Roosters skipper James Tedesco immediately after he failed to pick up a Harry Grant knock-on in the 25th minute of the Storm’s dramatic 18-13 victory.

He then refused to penalise Sam Walker for hitting Grant in the head just before full-time, even though the NRL admitted on Saturday there were grounds for a penalty, which would have given Melbourne an easy kick for goal to, potentially, seal victory.

NRL head of elite competitions Graham Annesley said on Saturday the bunker was not permitted to overrule Klein on either occasion.

The refereeing errors opened the door for Gerard Sutton or Grant Atkins to return for one of next weekend’s preliminary finals after they were overlooked for this weekend’s semi-finals. Adam Gee was in charge of Saturday’s Warriors-Knights semi-final.

“It’s too early to tell and, to be frank, we haven’t even discussed it internally at this stage,” Annesley said of overlooking Klein. “I’m not going to speculate about the appointment of referees next week at the moment. It’s a decision to be made by NRL management in the coming days after we fully review both matches.

Sam Walker avoided being penalised for this contentious shot on Harry Grant.

“That first incident on Friday night was clearly a knock-on. It was just a judgment error by Ashley.

“Referees make split-second decisions, and on this occasion, he was wrong. He obviously knew it was wrong shortly afterwards because he did apologise. But they do not go out there to make mistakes. They are trying to get all decisions right.

“But the bunker cannot intervene with general play. It’s a fallacy the bunker is forever tipping referees during games. They can only intervene if the referee stops play for a review, if there’s a captain’s challenge, or if they think there has been foul play.”

Grant stayed down after Walker made contact with his head and even asked Klein to review the tackle.

Harry Grant is caught high by Sam Walker.Credit: Getty

The Storm trailed 13-12 at the time and a penalty would have given them a chance to take a shot at goal to move back in front. Had the Storm lost, the Walker tackle would have been a hot topic. The Storm were convinced the tackle was potentially worse than Paul Momirovski’s high shot on Cameron Munster approaching the hour, which was penalised.

“That tackle could have been ruled a penalty; there was contact to the head, and while we try to ensure contact with the head is acted upon, sometimes it gets missed,” Annesley said.

“Again the bunker could not intervene. We changed the rule from last year, which now requires the bunker to only intervene if they think a tackle needs to go on report. That was done to discourage players staying down and feigning injury, which we were seeing a lot last year.

“Because the bunker couldn’t intervene, Ashley could not go back and rule a penalty. Nor can we have referees looking at the big screen and suddenly becoming a ‘second bunker’. He can only rule what he sees in the moment.”

Klein sensationally apologised to Tedesco for missing the Grant knock-on, which allowed the Storm to march down the field and score, rather than allow the Roosters to remain on the attack.

“I thought he got his arm underneath it,” Klein said to Tedesco on the field.

Tedesco said: “That wasn’t even close … and they could have challenged it. Sir, you’ve got to give us the benefit of the doubt. That was obvious.”

Klein responded: “I only call it as I see it, OK? I apologise.”

Roosters coach Trent Robinson said after the game: “It was pretty clear that it was dropped. He was right there, it hit the ground, what can you do? It was an error, and then they went down the other end and scored.”

Storm counterpart Craig Bellamy agreed Grant had knocked on, and said it was a “big call, or big non-call”.

“But having said that, it’s hard to blame the referee for everything,” Bellamy said. “He’s got touch judges and guys in the bunker and that sort of stuff.”

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