An apologetic Ben Cummins was of cold comfort to Broncos coach Anthony Griffin after a monumental blunder by the chief whistle-blower caused a seismic shift in Brisbane's do-or-die clash with the Dragons on Friday night.
Cruising at 24-4 after scoring three tries in the space of 12 minutes in the latter stages of the first half, Brisbane had their pants pulled down by a Benji Marshall quick tap midway through the second term and then their bums kicked by referee Cummins' decision to send Matt Gillett to the sin bin for a professional foul in the 54th minute.
Cummins incorrectly ruled that Gillett had come from an offside position to make a tackle on Dragons fullback Gerard Beale when in fact the play hadn't broken down following Marshall's 40-metre run into Broncos territory.
There was an awkward moment in the immediate aftermath when Cummins appeared to realise the error of his ways but refused to change his decision on the sin-binning, apologising to Gillett upon the back-rower's return to the field.
The apologies continued after full-time when a representative of the referees was sent to the Brisbane coach's box to admit their error to Griffin himself, the final 30-22 result helping to temper his disappointment in his final coaching appointment at Suncorp Stadium as Brisbane head coach.
"I would have been shaking [my head] harder if we didn't win. I was shaking me head about that try before that too when [Jason Nightingale] propelled the ball forward and it's called a no try, surely there's enough evidence to say it's a no try. Despite all of that we ended up getting the job done.
"[Cummins] sent some representative of the referees up to me after the game to apologise. I'm just glad it didn't cost us our season. We still contributed to our demise in the middle of that second half but you don't want to be 12 men down and a penalty you should never have conceded.
"I think we all realise he made a mistake and he realises he made a mistake if I could fix it I would but I ain't got that authority."
Broncos co-captain Justin Hodges, who was again superb in his rediscovered role at fullback, said that the challenge after such a setback was to refocus the team on the task at hand, a feat they struggled to accomplish as St George Illawarra surged to get back to within two points during Gillett's time in the sin bin.
Peter Mata'utia scored as Gillett re-entered the fray to set up a pulsating final 15 minutes before Hodges and Gillett combined to set up an assignment against the Storm in Melbourne next week for a place in the finals.
"I was just trying to get the boys to stay composed. The decision was made so we couldn't change it, we just had to try and get on with the job," said Hodges, who ran for 98 metres and had two try assists.
"As everyone knows in footy there are decisions that can go both ways so I just told them that we didn't want that to be an excuse for us losing the game. We had a good lead and we had to stay composed and sometimes in big games that's going to happen. You've just got to find a way to win."
Propelled back into the eight until at least Saturday afternoon, the Broncos have now won three of their past four but must break a seven-match losing streak against the Storm to play finals football, a scenario that is welcomed by Hodges.
"The way the competition is, it's wide open for anyone to win," said Hodges. "All you need is a bit of luck to get inside the eight and we just need to get in there and as finals football shows anyone can win once you're in there, it doesn't matter whether you come first or eighth.
"This is what we play for. You're playing for your season and there's no better place than taking on Melbourne down there. It's the biggest challenge probably of the season for us so it's going to be an exciting week; can't wait for it."