Dragons fans will tell you the finish to Sunday’s game against the Raiders was a square-up after what happened in Wollongong earlier in the year, but the NRL is adamant the officials got the call right to not award St George Illawarra a penalty from 15m out which would have sent the match to golden point.
The Dragons were down 24-22 when Mathew Feagai broke into the clear, only to be chopped down close to the line as time was about to expire.
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The winger tried to get to his feet, but was held down by Corey Harawira-Naera and the ball then came free just as the referee blew his whistle, leaving the Red V with virtually no chance of making the finals.
Players were incensed that they weren’t given a penalty, and they were left to rue a shocking captain’s challenge at the start of the second half which meant they couldn’t send the play to the Bunker to have it reviewed.
It brought back memories of the farcical finish to the game at WIN Stadium when the Green Machine weren’t given a penalty when down 12-10 because the referee had called full-time.
However, NRL head of football Graham Annesley said the decision on Sunday was the correct one and that the Dragons would’ve been doubly disappointed even if they still had a challenge up their sleeve, because time had expired before the second movement by Harawira-Naera which pushed Feagai off his feet.
“The ball is not in play,” he said.
“There’s no possibility for the ball carrier to get up and play the ball in order to get another tackle.
“Regardless of any infringement that might take place by the defender – other than foul play – it’s irrelevant because the ball hasn’t been brought back into play and the referee can’t extend the play for a technical infringement to award a penalty.
“They could’ve mounted a challenge had they had one left because the game is not finished at this point, even though time has expired and the referee has blown his whistle to indicate that he’s stopping play.
“He hasn’t at this point blown his whistle to say it’s full-time, so although the game could not have continued because of that technical infringement, it would not have prevented the Dragons from asking for a captain’s challenge.
“However, they would have lost the captain’s challenge because time had expired and we couldn’t restart the game for a technical infringement.
“It’s all very, very precise in terms of what can and can’t happen, and it needs to be that way because you can’t have another tackle after time has expired if the ball’s not already in play.”
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The incident was similar to the wild finish in Townsville a few weeks ago in that the Dragons would have technically been challenging the decision to end the game, just as the Cowboys did to snatch victory from the Wests Tigers.
“Not only could we not have restarted play because the tackle had been complete and hadn’t restarted, but we also couldn’t have restarted play because they’d knocked on in the ruck,” Annesley said.
“They would’ve been challenging the referee’s decision to stop the game in order to call full-time, similar to what happened with the Wests Tigers.
“They would’ve effectively been saying, ‘No, you can’t call full-time because we want to challenge what’s just happened.’
“But had they had a challenge and had it taken place, the Bunker would’ve had no choice but to deny the challenge because of not only the lost ball, but also play had not recommenced before time had expired.”
It was one of those weekends in the NRL, with a number of murky decisions.
Annesley said the Bunker made the right call to award a try to Bradman Best because the contact on Adam Reynolds wasn’t enough to prevent the try.
But he did concede the bunker got it horribly wrong at the SCG when Sam Verrills strolled over even though teammate Matt Lodge clearly held Griffin Neame back in the scrum.
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“The contact caused Neame to do a 360, and Verrills has gone past,” Annesley said.
“It happens very quickly in real time, but I think there’s enough on this in replay that the Bunker had the opportunity to look at.
“There’s enough of a hold after the ball is out of the scrum to say that that would be a breach of the rules, and in normal circumstances, would result in a penalty to the Cowboys.
“However, in this particular case, it wouldn’t have resulted in a penalty to the Cowboys because of the off-side at the scrum, which was the first offence.”