Tigers injustice a result of rule-making on the run

The NRL posted a 26-25 win to the Wests Tigers over the Cowboys on its official website, nrl.com, on Sunday.

I know this because I was surreptitiously checking the scores on my mobile phone while at the MCG with my Essendon-supporting wife, watching an AFL game against Collingwood. (Equal opportunity in terms of game-watching forces many a sacrifice in a mixed sport marriage).

It was not until I called former Magpie/Sea Eagle Les Boyd after 6pm on Sunday that he filled me in on the officiating debacle that had allowed the Cowboys to kick a match-winning penalty goal after the siren.

“It was a disgrace,” said Boyd, echoing thousands of fans who disagreed with the decision by video official Ashley Klein to rule in favour of a Cowboys captain’s challenge in which they claimed winger Kyle Feldt had been run off the ball by Asu Kepaoa. “The Cowboys winger took a dive.”

Boyd is familiar with injustice against Wests at the hands of headquarters.

A Magpie player, he was suspended for four matches in 1978 after being refused the right to call witnesses to the NSWRL tribunal. He appealed to the NSW equity court on the grounds of being denied natural justice. The court overturned the decision. The NSWRL promptly retried him, found him guilty of the same charge and handed down the same suspension.

Shattered Tigers players digest the outcome after full-time on Sunday.Credit:Getty

Should Wests Tigers proceed with their threat to take legal action against the NRL to redress Sunday’s injustice, it will end the same way.

Rugby league officialdom never gives points back. It takes them away, as occurred in 1975 when a Wests versus Canterbury match ended in a 7-all draw. Wests forward Mick Liubinskas was deemed to be an illegal replacement because he hadn’t finished the reserve grade match and the Magpies lost their premiership point.

So, this latest NRL decision is simply deja vu to the Wests half of the joint venture.

When Wests Tigers fullback Daine Laurie dropped to the ground after taking the Cowboys kick-off with one second left on the game clock, the ex-players I spoke to assumed the penalty was for a voluntary tackle. But when was the last time you saw a player penalised for a voluntary tackle? Players routinely dive into the field of play after receiving a kick in order to avoid being trapped in-goal.

Some ask why Laurie didn’t run the ball to end the match. In the extremely unlikely event he could have been stripped of possession, you can’t be sure a consequent Wests Tigers captain’s challenge would have delivered justice. Based on the Bunker decisions I saw in Saturday’s Raiders-Warriors match, loose carries are deemed strips, and strips are ruled loose carries.

All of which demonstrates that there have been too many ill-thought-out rule changes in too short a time, most of them designed to draw more dollars from the telecasters. Most are contradictory. The six-again rule is designed to reduce the number of penalties and therefore produce more ball-in-play time. Yet the captain’s challenge results in stoppages. Instant replay means instant delay. OK, the captain has 15 seconds to lodge a challenge following a stoppage, which means the Cowboys appealed after the 80 minutes had expired. The NRL says this is permissible. After all, it doesn’t want to deny anybody natural justice.

Captains are having about 50 per cent of their challenges upheld but, interestingly, every NRL club lodges more challenges in the second half compared to the first, suggesting some of them are ambit claims.

We are constantly told that 50:50 decisions even out over the season, so if the captain’s challenge is running at half each for skippers and referees, with some second-half challenges made in desperation, why not abandon it?

The NRL’s explanation for its official website showing Wests Tigers winning 26-25 on full-time was that it is an automated response when the clock expires. If a game is drawn, the website will say full-time, despite the game proceeding to golden point. But the game wasn’t drawn. The clock thought it was over and so did everyone else.

Wests Tigers were owed two premiership points on Sunday but, as Magpie followers know, justice in rugby league is measured harshly.

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