NRL head of football Graham Annesley has released previously unheard audio of review officials discussing whether to award a match-winning try to Cronulla centre Bronson Xerri on Sunday that he says confirmed the Bunker made the right call.
While post-match discussion focused on Sharks forward Wade Graham’s admission that the ball glanced his arm as it bounced up after a Shaun Johnson kick, the Bunker decided it had not been propelled forwards and Xerri was onside.
The confusion was caused after senior review official Jared Maxwell was heard on the broadcast to say: "We're just looking to determine any possible breach by Wade Graham."
Cronulla leapfrogged Penrith into eighth on the Telstra Premiership ladder after their controversial 18-12 defeat of St George Illawarra, sparking concern that a Bunker error could impact on the make-up of the finals.
However, Annesley released audio of the full conversation between Maxell, review official Bryan Norrie and match officials to highlight the value of the Bunker to the game.
"I think the process they went through and the reason they reached the decision they reached hopefully demonstrates why we have video replays and why in this case we spent the best part of two minutes trying to make a decision which was critical to the make-up of the finals and both teams playing in the game," Annesley said.
"If you transfer that incident into a final or potentially even a grand final, I guess it just demonstrates the value of reviews, why we do them and how close they can be."
Initially, touch judge Nick Morel had advised referee Adam Gee to disallow the try but the linesman closest to the incident, Chris Butler, told him: "I’ve got it coming off his head and [Xerri] gets it behind him."
Gee asked Maxwell to confirm which direction the ball had travelled after deflecting off Graham but initial replays suggested he had not touched the ball as it bounced between his outstretched arms.
Maxwell asked Norrie if the ball had come off Graham’s left hand and agreed with him that the NSW Origin star didn’t appear to have touched it.
After watching a further camera angle Maxwell wasn’t sure so he suggested they focus on whether the ball had gone forward and if Xerri had been in front of Graham when he caught it.
"What we need is something from the side, so if it does touch him and goes backwards it won’t matter," Maxwell said.
The 76th-minute try was awarded after footage showed Graham was on the 20-metre line when he touched the ball and Xerri was standing behind him.
"Bronson Xerri is onside from the kick-chase. There’s no breach by Cronulla in the lead-up. We’ve got a live ball to this point. And he ground the ball in the in-goal. We have a decision," Maxwell said.
Annesley said broadcasters only had access to audio from video officials when Maxwell pressed the Live Bunker Comms button so the full conversation had not been previously heard.
"There was some doubt initially about whether the ball touched Wade Graham or it didn’t, they then reached the conclusion that potentially it did," Annesley said. "They then changed their focus to whether the ball was knocked forward from that deflection or went backwards.
"From my perspective and the perspective of the NRL, after we reviewed this today we believe the decision was correct.
"I think that the clear assumption that many people made was the video referee reached the conclusion that the ball hadn’t touched Wade Graham when in fact that wasn’t the key point in reaching the decision.
"When you review it in the context of the audio that is available I think it presents a very different picture about the incident and the ultimate decision."
The Bunker discussion
Adam Gee (head referee): “What’s your live decision?”
Chris Butler (touch judge): “I’ve got a try. I’ve got it coming off his head and he gets it behind him.”
Gee: “OK. Jared. Tackle Six. We have a try. Can you confirm if the deflection goes forward for a knock-on or if it’s backwards?”
Jared Maxwell (senior review official): “Ok mate, thank you.”
Maxwell (Live Bunker Comms]: “The Cronulla left-side kick-chase is cleared as onside.”
Maxwell: “Can we go to camera six please mate. Ok, Graham doesn’t touch it. What about before then? Yep, just go down.”
Unidentified on-field match official: “Wade definitely touches it.”
Maxwell: “OK does it brush his head there? OK ‘Ads’ go to [camera] 6 please mate. We’ll clear any breach off Graham so it doesn’t touch his hands mate. What about that left hand there, Noz [review official Bryan Norrie]?”
Norrie: “I don’t think it does”.
Maxwell: “Ok, no, no I don’t think it does. Back to [camera] 3 mate. Ok go again, go again. Ok.”
Hawkeye technician: “I want to show you one more. There’s a couple more if you want to have a look at them”.
Maxwell (Live Bunker Comms): “We’re just looking to determine any possible breach by Wade Graham.”
Hawkeye technician: “And there’s the poles as well [in-goal cameras on poles].”
Maxwell: “Ads [Gee], what we need is something from the side, so if it does touch him and goes backwards it won’t matter. Nah, that’s back. You thinking, Noz? He’s on the line.”
Norrie: “Yep I agree mate”.
Maxwell (Live Bunker Comms): “Bronson Xerri is onside from the kick-chase. There’s no breach by Cronulla in the lead-up. We’ve got a live ball to this point. And he ground the ball in the in-goal. We have a decision.”