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NRL head of football Graham Annesley has hit back at criticism by coaches, club officials and commentators over rulings made by the bunker during last weekend’s round 11 Telstra Premiership matches.

Annesley was incredulous that decisions to disallow a try to Newcastle centre Dane Gagai, penalise Manly winger Christian Tuipulotu for a high tackle on Parramatta opposite Hayze Dunster or rule South Sydney winger Taane Milne out after a head knock could be called into question.

Milne failed his HIA after being ordered from the field by the independent doctor in the bunker during Sunday’s 32-12 loss to Canberra in Dubbo but Rabbitohs coach Jason Demetriou told the post match press conference: “He has next to nothing wrong with him”.

Sea Eagles coach Des Hasler was even more critical after Friday night’s 22-20 loss to the Eels, describing the incident that Tuipulotu was placed on report over “a good tackle”, “a brave tackle” and a trysaver.

Bunker vital for captain's challenge success

Hasler then doubled down in media interviews over the weekend after Tuipulotu was not charged by the match review committee but Annesley said there was no doubt Perham was hit in the head just minutes before the Eels snatched a last gasp win against their arch-rivals.

A decision by the bunker to disallow Gagai’s try also copped criticism from Knights coach Adam O’Brien and the Fox commentary team but Annesley insisted that each of the three controversial decisions had been correct.

“I’ve heard people say we should get rid of the bunker or we should take the bunker out of general play and just have it rule on try scoring,” Annesely said.

“Could you imagine the drama we would have if referees were missing foul play, imagine referees trying to rule on some of the acrobatic tries that we are seeing.

“If we retain it just for try scoring situations that would mean we would have to throw out the captain’s challenge as well.”

In Newcastle’s 38-12 loss to Brisbane, Gagai appeared set to score just before halftime when he swooped on an Anthony Milford grubber but the try was overturned by the bunker as the Maroons centre lost the ball attempting to ground it.

Annesley showed Monday’s weekly media briefing a number of camera angles that clearly detected separation between Gagai’s hand and the ball as he attempted to plant it over the tryline.

He also backed a decision by the bunker to allow play to clear the Broncos of an obstruction in the lead up to the Selwyn Cobbo try that broke a 6-6 deadlock midway through the first half.

Annesley explains Bunker call around Cobbo try

Annesley also took umbrage with claims that Tuipulotu did not make contact with Perham’s head and showed two camera angles of the incident which left no doubt that he did.

Statistics released by Annesley revealed that 128 players had been penalised for high tackles this season but only 19 of those were charged by the match review committee.    

 “We don’t normally show high tackles but there has been so much said about this and there has been so much conjecture about whether he should have been penalised or not for high contact,” Annesley said of the Tuipulotu tackle.

“Of course, he slips. That is a mitigating factor and that is what the match review committee took into consideration, but the referees and the bunker just have to look at whether someone has been hit in the head or not.”

In the case of Milne, Annesley said the Fiji international had been ruled out of the match by the independent doctor in the bunker after exhibiting signs of motor incoordination.

Milne failed a HIA so would not have been able to return to the field even if the initial assessment of the independent doctor had been a category 2 head knock instead of category 1.

Rabbitohs prop Tevita Tatola also failed a HIA. 

Rabbitohs pair Tevita Tatola and Taane Milne failed HIAs against the Raiders
Rabbitohs pair Tevita Tatola and Taane Milne failed HIAs against the Raiders ©Gregg Porteous/NRL Photos

Video replays showed that Milne had hit his head on the ground as he was driven backwards in a tackle by Raiders players and he had staggered as he got to his feet and attempted to get in the defensive line.

“There was some criticism that in the case of Taane Milne, who was ruled out of the game with a category 1 HIA yesterday, that the player was okay, he could have played on and he can’t understand why he wasn’t allowed to play on,” Annesley said

“These are player health and safety issues. We can’t be led by the opinion of non-medically trained people or by the player himself.

“The independent doctor in the bunker is looking for indicators to suggest a player may have suffered a head injury and possibly a concussion.

“They make a decision based on observable indicators and one of those indicators is motor incoordination. For example, balance disturbance, clumsiness or fumbling with upper limbs struggling to get up. This player failed his HIA.”

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