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NRL head of football Graham Annesley has confirmed that the Titans were incorrectly permitted to use the captain’s challenge twice last weekend, and declared that players would not be allowed to control the game.

A week after warning that players risked being sin-binned for deliberately conceding a penalty in a bid to make a captain’s challenge, Annesley has re-enforced the edict following the Titans-Eels match.

The NRL does not want the game to become like NFL, with constant stoppages to review each play, and the captain’s challenge is only permitted to contest a decision by the referee. They include:

  • Offside - kick chase
  • Re-start infringements
  • Stealing the ball
  • Foul play
  • Obstruction
  • Mid-air tackle

Incidents not detected by the match officials can't be challenged if there is no stoppage and players cannot deliberately force play to stop so they can call for a captain's challenge.

Annesley's strong message for players stopping the game on purpose

Gold Coast halfback Toby Sexton and centre Patrick Herbert could both have been sin-binned for a professional foul in last Saturday night's 26-20 loss to Parramatta at Cbus Super Stadium.

Sexton deliberately flopped on Reed Mahoney in the 50th minute to force referee Peter Gough to penalise him and then asked to challenge an earlier knock on.

Herbert adopted the same ploy soon after when he held Mahoney down and refused to let go off him, before claiming he had been interfered with before possession was turned over.

The match officials had missed both incidents, but Annesley said Gough should not have allowed either captain’s challenge.

"We can’t have a situation where players take control of the game out of the referee’s hands and that is exactly what they are doing here," Annesley said.

Instead, Sexton and Herbert should have been penalised and Gough could also have sinbinned them – as Broncos hooker Jake Turpin was a week earlier.

Parramatta captain Clint Gutherson complained to Gough that Annesley had last week outlined how referees were to follow the lead of Chris Sutton, who ignored Turpin’s request for a captain’s challenge and despatched him to the sin-bin.

However, Gold Coast captain Tino Fa'asuamaleaui said the Titans had seen the ploy used by other players, such as Cameron Munster and Damien Cook, and spoke about adopting it.

“It is obviously new and we are still learning but the boys watch football every game, every round and you just learn off other teams and obviously discuss it at training," Fa'asuamaleaui told last Saturday night's post-match press conference.

Annesley said players and coaches should now get the message as referees will take a consistent approach.

Referee Peter Gough sinbinned Eels prop Junior Paulo for a high shot
Referee Peter Gough sinbinned Eels prop Junior Paulo for a high shot ©Grant Trouville/NRL Photos

“Whether it is at the initiative of the player or it is something they are coached to do, I don’t think the players - or perhaps their coaching staff - understand the risk they are running,” Annesley said.

“Either [Sexton or Herbert] in isolation could have been viewed by the referee to be a professional foul.

“It’s such a high-risk strategy because if the referees are now going to be telling players they can’t challenge that the only possible outcome in addition to a penalty is the sinbin.

“Players are going to be running a huge risk by conceding a penalty in order to get a challenge.

“If I can get one point through to players today it would be that your effort will be completely wasted because you won’t get the challenge anyway, and the only thing that you could get apart from a penalty is that you could find yourself in the sinbin.

“I would say to any club that wants to continue with the full complement of players on the field by trying to challenge something that is not a challengeable decision, it is a very, very high risk, high penalty strategy.”

Match Highlights: Titans v Eels

Annesley said while the Titans were "ultimately right" because the match officials had missed the incidents they wanted to challenge, there was a danger that the game would be constantly stopped.

“If we don’t have rules about what you can challenge and what you can’t challenge, and how far you can go back, we will get these situations occurring all the time and players will be deliberately breaking down the play to challenge decisions," he said.

“It will become like NFL and we will be stopping after every play and reviewing things. If the referee had followed the correct procedure the challenge wouldn’t have been allowed."

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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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