NRL head of football Graham Annesley has put the spotlight on Canterbury’s spoiling tactics in last Friday’s 14-6 loss to South Sydney and warned that teams attempting to slow play-the-balls risk heavy penalty counts against them.
Annesley produced statistics at his weekly media briefing that showed a whopping 38 per cent of play-the-balls by Rabbitohs players had been in excess of four seconds – a figure which supported Souths coach Wayne Bennett’s accusation that the Bulldogs had set out to interfere in the ruck.
Rejecting suggestions the negative tactics had started creeping into games across the Telstra Premiership, Annesley said the Canterbury-Souths clash was the only game in which play-the-ball speeds had not been at an acceptable level and it was only one team which consistently infringed.
In contrast to the statistics for the Rabbitohs, just 24 per cent of play-the-balls by Bulldogs players had been beyond four seconds.
This is comparable with the 26 per cent average for matches so far this season, which is between last year’s average of 24 per cent of play-the-balls taking longer than four seconds and 27 per cent in 2017.
Match officials consider anything higher than 30 per cent to be an unacceptable level.
As a result, referee Henry Perenara was forced to award 20 penalties in the match and Annesley laid the blame for the stop-start nature of the game on the players and coaches.
Annesley said he wanted referees to stay out of matches as much as possible and had encouraged them to minimise their involvement, but also insisted they would referee what was in front of them.
“The extent to which the referees can stay out of the game will largely depend on the approach that the coaches and players take into each game,” he said.
“We have seen some games with less than 10 penalties and we have seen other games where they are up around the 20 mark.
“The referees have got a responsibility to judge each game on its merits and to adopt the approach that is required for that game.
“The referees know that is their responsibility and they know that if clubs are going to try and get an unfair advantage by the approach they take to a game then they have to be prepared to suffer the consequences.”
The 12-8 penalty count to Souths coincided with a spike in penalties, with 113 awarded across the eight matches last weekend compared to 86 the week before and 88 in Round 4.
The previous highest numbers of penalties for a round this season was 103 in Round 2.
“If that is because coaches and players are starting to feel that they can push the envelope and they can get away with it, this again demonstrates that they won’t be permitted to do that. The referees will judge that game by game,” Annesley said.
“We want to give the game back to the fans, we don’t want the referees involved in the games but the players and the coaches have to help us with that. If they are not prepared to do that we will see penalty counts continue to rise but we have to judge that on each game.
“It’s the players and the tactics that dictate that so we are not going to let anyone off the hook with this.
“We are not going to have a rule-of-the-week, we are not going to have a clamp down … but for clubs that go out with a plan to slow the game down, to be all over the opposition … they have to take responsibility for the consequences of that because we are not going to.”
Annesley said he had no plans to speak to Canterbury coach Dean Pay or any other coaches about the impact of go-slow tactics but they needed to be aware of the consequences.
“If they think they can get an advantage by interfering in the play-the-balls and slowing games down, they roll the dice on that,” he said.
“I am not going to be accountable when they come whinging about being penalised because if you do the crime, you do the time, basically.
“The job of a coach is to win football games and they will take tactics into a game that they think will help them win … but I don’t want the blame to be put back on to referees or the administration for decisions that are solely in the hands of the players and the coaches.
“If they try to breach the rules to an unacceptable level to win games then they run the risk that they are going to be disadvantaged by the outcome of penalty counts.”