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Graham Annesley says the NRL could refine the circumstances under which a captain's challenge can be mounted to prevent the rule being "too loose".

The NRL's head of football flagged an end-of-season review into the intricacies of the rule - for instance, the time limit for challenges to be lodged and the scenarios where they are applicable.

It comes after Eels captain Clint Gutherson appeared to deliberately break down play in the first half of Saturday's win over the Cowboys in order to give away a penalty so he could submit a challenge.

After North Queensland winger Valentine Holmes dived on a loose pass, Gutherson wrestled with his opponent and knocked the ball from his grasp as referee Ashley Klein called held.

Gutherson challenged a knock-on against Holmes but the NRL Bunker instead penalised the Cowboys star for illegally shoving Parramatta hooker Joey Lussick as they jostled for possession.

Graham Annesley weekly football briefing - Round 23

The Eels then advanced downfield and scored a couple of sets later. Klein warned Gutherson he would have been sin-binned for deliberately breaking down the play had the challenge gone against him, though the fullback denied any gamesmanship.

And there have been several examples of teams winning a challenge despite their reason for calling a review being wrong after the Bunker spotted a separate infringement or error in the play.

Overall, however, Annesley is "comfortable that [captain's challenges are] operating in the way the rule is currently structured".

"These are new rules, they’ve only been in play for a couple of seasons, and I think that we need to review how they’re operating.

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"As time passes, sometimes there are parts of a rule where you think, ‘We probably need to tweak that a little bit’.

"But are they operating as they are currently allowed to operate under the rules? Yeah, I think that they are.

"Whether we need to change that or not is something that we need to look at at the end of the season.

"I think there will always be an opportunity to use the rules to your own advantage at times as long as that's not being abused.

"And I think we have to remember the overriding intention of captain’s challenges is to try and get decisions right.

"We need to find that happy balance between allowing players to challenge if they think the referee’s got a decision wrong, but then not having the scope so wide that we're going back and challenging things that we've moved on from, for example."

Annesley believes the rule could use some tightening up but pointed out that "every circumstance is different".

Get Caught Up: Round 23 must-see moments

"If the footage from the Bunker is inconclusive, it doesn't change the decision but you don't lose your challenge," he added.

"I think that's probably perfectly reasonable. Now some people would say, 'Well, if your challenge doesn't show that you were right in your challenge, then you should lose it anyway'.

"But again, we're trying to get these decisions right. It's not a matter of trying to take challenges off teams because you'd like to think when they use them, we need to use them."

Every try from Round 23

In a controversial round, Annesley mostly stood by the officials' decision-making and clarified several contentious incidents.

He went into detail about the downtown offside rule after Rabbitohs prop Mark Nicholls was penalised against the Panthers having run past the previous play-the-ball before chasing a kick downfield.

Stephen Crichton made an error but because Nicholls collected the ball, Penrith gained a penalty and subsequently added two more points through the boot of Nathan Cleary.

"A couple of decades ago, probably, it was common practice that players – even before the ball was played, in some cases – would already be on their way down to the other end of the field for exactly the purpose this rule refers to," Annesley said.

"Which is obviously to make sure the receiver of the ball doesn’t get any room to run the ball. And it was becoming quite endemic.

"So this rule was introduced and it's gone a long way to eliminating the practice. The referees have got some discretion in not to pull it up. The Bunker doesn't get involved in these unless it's a review.

"But in general play, the referees have got some discretion in allowing it to go if the player who has moved past the play-the-ball before the kick passes [that point] doesn't get involved in the play.

"If he's out of play, they can decide to turn a blind eye to it, but in this situation that didn't happen."

Annesley made clear that it was the touch judge, not the Bunker, who tipped up referee Grant Atkins about Nicholls being downtown.

Meanwhile, Annesley confirmed it was the wrong call to clear a try to Panthers winger Brent Naden because Moses Leota caught the ball on the inside shoulder of Scott Sorensen, constituting an obstruction.

Bunker awards try to Aitken

But he backed the decision to disallow a Wests Tigers four-pointer because a Sharks player was illegally held in the scrum and had no issue with Warriors second-rower Euan Aitken's late try on Sunday.

There was confusion as to whether Aitken had grounded the footy before Broncos winger Xavier Coates but Annesley was satisfied he'd won the race going off footage from the corner post camera.

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National Rugby League respects and honours the Traditional Custodians of the land and pay our respects to their Elders past, present and future. We acknowledge the stories, traditions and living cultures of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples on the lands we meet, gather and play on.

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