Canberra coach Ricky Stuart has accepted responsibility for incorrectly sending 18th man Xavier Savage into action against St George Illawarra and admitted the mistake may have cost the Raiders two competition points if they had won.
The Dragons snatched a 22-20 win after Corey Norman scored a late try but Canberra have been asked for a please explain by the NRL after using Savage for 12 minutes.
The 19-year-old, whose mother Erica and sister Jaidah made the trip from Cairns to Wollongong after he was chosen as 18th man, replaced centre Sebastian Kris at the start of the second half.
Kris had been forced from the field in the 39th minute for a HIA after a tackle in which St George Illawarra second-rower Jack Bird was placed on report.
The rookie centre, who also received a poke in the eye from Mikaele Ravalawa in the same tackle, passed his HIA but was ruled out with blurred vision.
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Stuart said that he believed the Raiders were able to use an 18th man as Bird was placed on report.
However, they were only entitled to a free interchange as the 18th man can only be utilised if an opposition player is sin-binned or sent off.
“In regards to that mess-up at the start of the second half that was my fault,” Stuart said.
“I thought that if a player gets put on report, I could use my 18th man so I had an outside back on the bench and I thought I will.
Whitehead steps through the line to set up Kris
“There is a lot of confusion goes on, there has been a lot of rule changes this year and I get the mistake. I made it, so that is how that occurred.
“I suppose fortunately we didn’t win.”
Canberra football manager Matt Ford was advised by the NRL ground manager at WIN Stadium that Savage was an illegal replacement and he was called from the field.
The NRL have asked the Raiders and officials at the ground for a full explanation before deciding what action to take but if Canberra had won it is likely they would have been stripped of the two points.
However, Stuart argued that teams should be entitled to an 18th man if a player is ruled out due to an incident of foul play – regardless of whether it involves a sin-binning or send off.
“If you want to look at it as a broader issue, that is how the rule should be,” Stuart said.
“When you lose a player to foul play you should be allowed to enact your 18th man. But again, it was an error and I apologise."
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The NRL announced an investigation into the incident was underway.
“The rules are clear that an 18th man can only be activated if a player is sin-binned or sent off – or a team has three failed HIAs,” an NRL spokesperson said.
“The Raiders incorrectly activated the 18th man at the beginning of the second half.
“The NRL has asked for full reports from the Raiders as well as our staff on duty at the ground to ascertain the circumstances which led to the 18th man being incorrectly activated.”
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