Cowboys coach Paul Green was left confounded at the 49th-minute sin-binning of centre Matthew Wright in their 23-22 loss to Penrith that has left them fighting to hold onto their spot in the top eight.
With his side holding onto a slender 18-16 lead at the time, Wright was binned for a professional foul after teammate Michael Morgan brought down a runaway Jamie Soward deep in Cowboys territory.
A frustrated Green believed lead referee Gerard Sutton "didn't know what to call" when Soward got up to play the ball and it came loose.
"I'm a bit perplexed by it, to be honest. I honestly think that the ref didn't know what to call," Green said post-game.
"Because he'd actually let the play play. Look, if Matt Wright held him down too long, he shouldn't have let him play the ball and he should've sent him off [to the sin bin] there and then.
"But then Soward played the ball, and then Michael Morgan knocked it out of his hands, and then he sends [Wright] off for 10 minutes. So what was the professional foul?
"If it was a professional foul for holding him down, then that should've happened before he let play continue. It should've been sent off straight away. Otherwise if Michael Morgan was the professional foul, it should've been Michael Morgan that got the 10 minutes. I just think he didn't know what was going on."
The controversial call once again shone the spotlight on a refereeing squad three weeks out from the finals.
"Unfortunately I don't want to talk about that," Green continued. "We should be talking about two potential semi-final teams and what a great battle it was. Instead we're talking about, once again, poor ref decisions."
Frustrated skipper Johnathan Thurston said the decision to sin-bin Wright wasn't explained to him on field, and went on to express what he believed has been a deteriorating relationship between club captains and the game's officials.
"They just tell me to go away when I do. I was trying to concentrate on footy, [but] sometimes they don't give you the time of day," he said.
The NRL decided during the off-season that referees were not going to explain decisions to captains of defending teams immediately after a call, but Green believes it has now gone too far.
"There needs to be a good balance. Captains were probably annoying the refs a little bit too much previously," he said.
"But there still needs to be that avenue for our captains to be able to approach the ref and clarify what's going on. Otherwise it just leads to frustration and when frustration builds in a team, that's when games get scrappy and tend to get out of control a little bit."
The Cowboys, who remain in seventh spot on 26 competition points, will remain in Sydney this week in preparation for what now looms as an important clash against second-placed South Sydney.