NRL head of football Graham Annesley has appealed for coaches to avoid fuelling the misconception that lower placed teams receive less favourable decisions than those near the top of the Telstra Premiership ladder.
Annesley used his weekly media briefing on Tuesday to try to put an end to the growing narrative around contentious calls since Gold Coast coach Justin Holbrook spoke out about refereeing decisions against his team in their round one loss to Parramatta.
North Queensland coach Todd Payten echoed Holbrook’s comments after the Cowboys had three players sin-binned during their round four loss to Sydney Roosters.
Graham Annesley weekly football briefing - Round 6
With other coaches, commentators and journalists having since weighed into the debate, it has become an ongoing talking point but Annesley said the comments were misguided and called for coaches to take greater responsibility.
“We have got rules in place, and always have had, if coaches overstep the mark but this isn’t just coaches, it is members of the media and it does the rounds on social media,” Annesley said.
“It is just a growing noise in the background but when coaches are saying these things, they are respected people in our game and of course fans are going to listen to that and take some notice of it.
“Absolutely, coaches have got a responsibility to the game and I can’t put it in any other terms except to say it is misguided and it is a misconception.”
“Of course, people are going to be upset when close decisions don’t go their way but in most instances the other coach would be equally upset if the decision had gone the other way.”
Annesley played audio from the opening 26 minutes of Friday's Rabbitohs-Bulldogs clash before Jeremy Marshall-King was sinbinned, in which referee Gerard Sutton could be heard issuing repeated warnings to Canterbury after five six-again calls and two penalties.
Marshall-King in the bin
There was also controversy over whether Dragons forward Jayden Su’A had been off-side when he dived on a ball that had been tapped back by Zac Lomax from the kick-off after the centre had landed a 78th minute field.
Newcastle coach Adam O’Brien questioned the decision to play on, as did members of the Channel 9 commentary team, and fans shared screen shots on social media showing Su’A in front of Lomax when the centre contested the short kick-off.
However, Annesley said Su’A had got himself in a position behind or level with where Lomax had touched the ball when he dived on it so was onside.
“The referee could have easily ruled that off-side. I don’t think he would have been right if he did but it is so tight,” Annesley said.
“There has been a number of comments made publicly, in some cases after games by coaches and in other cases in the media, about teams at the bottom end of the ladder not getting the so-called 50-50 decisions.
“I want to try to put to bed this theory that is floating around. The referees when they make calls are just seeing something and reacting instantly. They simply respond to what they see.”
Knights attempt short kickoff
Annesley said that teams at the bottom end of the ladder often concede more penalties because they have less possession so are therefore doing more defending.
“You are much more likely to commit offences when you are defending than when you are attacking - you will be offside more and you are much more likely to be committing offences in the rucks.
“I could go to each of the eight winning coaches each week and ask them if there were things in their game where they didn’t get the decision they thought they should have got and I will guarantee that all eight will say, ‘absolutely, I’ll send you the tape’.
“Equally, I could go to the eight losing coaches and they will say the same thing. In some cases, they will say it publicly and I get that they are disappointed and looking for reasons why they lost.
“But that doesn’t mean when it comes to making individual decisions that anything is driving that other than the officials trying to make the right decision.”
However, Annesley said there had been inconsistencies between decisions made by the Bunker in Sunday's Roosters-Warriors match at the SCG- both of which favoured the home team.
Roosters forward Angus Crichton was ruled not to have played a role in Addin Fonua-Blake losing the ball, despite having his hand on the ball, but Adam Pompey was penalised when his foot dislodged the ball as Crichton was playing it.
"We have got two different outcomes for what are essentially the same type of offence," Annesley said. "I think in both cases they should have been penalties.
"You can't get away from the fact that the action of the defender in both cases played some part in the player in possession losing the ball."