The captain's challenge trial didn't raise an eyebrow in the Newcastle Knights' heartbreaking 28-26 loss to the St George Illawarra Dragons on an emotional Saturday afternoon at UOW Jubilee Oval.
Jeremy Smith's final act
It's not the way Newcastle warhorse Jeremy Smith deserved to end his NRL career. The retiring Knights co-captain was controversially penalised in the final minute with scores level at 26-all when Dragons winger Kurt Mann attempted to play the ball on Smith's foot. The result was Red V counterpart Gareth Widdop kicking a penalty goal from 40 metres out to win the game.
"In the context of the game, she was no penalty that one," Knights coach Nathan Brown said post-game. "It's not what lost us the game but it wasn't a penalty at all. It was disappointing."
Smith added: "[The referees] didn't say much. I said more than what he was saying. [Mann] put the ball on my foot as I was getting up. It's the story of our year."
Widdop ends Dragons' season on a high
Widdop's penalty goal ended the Dragons' year on a positive note in an otherwise bleak season. Plenty of Widdop's teammates and the Red V skipper himself were well below their best this season and that translated to their point-scoring struggles. Only Newcastle scored fewer points than the Dragons this year (305 to the Red V's 341). A season marred with dramas on and off the field, Dragons coach Paul McGregor assessed his team's season.
"I'm going to do a complete review starting next week but obviously outside pressures had a fair influence on the inside," McGregor said.
"The uncontrollable we certainly let control a few things too many. We have to do that better adversity-wise. Football-wise, the fundamentals we just weren't good enough at."
A quiet trial for the captain's challenge
Neither teams' skippers opted to challenge any of the tries awarded. A reason behind it was UOW Jubilee Oval's big screen always showing Dragons graphics rather than replays of try-scoring plays. A massive inconvenience for all involved, the 20 seconds allowed for captains to challenge proved too little due to players' inability to view the play in the allocated timeframe. McGregor said the initiative should be utilised to involve other aspects of gameplay.
"I don't mind it. But I think still that referees have the opportunity to go upstairs. I'd like to use it in other areas of the games more," he said.
"It's a thing still under the watchful eye. Trials would be the best opportunity to do it again. There's no pressure on when you can actually use it with less worry."
Mullen hooker stint not as a makeshift as it seems
Brown said Jarrod Mullen would've played at hooker much earlier if it weren't for his early-season hamstring woes where he missed 10 games. With Tyler Randell (ribs) ruled out after Friday's captains run, Mullen was thrown into the deep end and impressed all the right people.
"It's definitely something as a club we can look at," Brown said of Mullen's hooking prospects moving forward.
"We have some good young halves coming through so it gives us some flexibility. I thought defensively he was great, his commitment and effort were great.
"He certainly did a lot more than what he's used to doing on back-to-back occasions. His kicking game out of there is good but we never really had the best chance to see him attack."
Departing Dragons' one final hurrah
Ben Creagh, Mitch Rein, Benji Marshall and Mike Cooper all played their final game in Dragons colours on Saturday afternoon. While Creagh will retire and Cooper will head home to the Warrington Wolves, Rein and Marshall's next moves are yet to be confirmed. McGregor praised the quartet of departing Dragons.
"It was about four men out there. [Creagh] is an outstanding man. He's a character leader and a humble man. Unfortunately he couldn't play so for him to lead the boys out at Kogarah where it all started for him is pretty special.
"Then there's Benji Marshall who has played at the highest level and been an extreme athlete for a long time. He changed the game in some respect for young children when he first started playing.
"Mike Cooper came over here for an opportunity and leaves here an international and last but not least there's Mitch Rein, who's a local junior who came through the 20s. Every time he took the field he played with a great passion and purpose."