Almanac Rugby League – A costly call

I write this feeling like a bitter and twisted man. Hopefully by the end I have come round.

The Warriors have had their season ripped apart by the most abhorrent refereeing decision of the year. Sorry if that sounds a bit over emotive but that’s what it feels like for a Warriors fan that will try and stay away from conspiracy theories about trying to keep the premiership in Australia.

The build up to the game was a little stressful, living in Hong Kong the Setanta channel shows approximately five live NRL games a week, so unfortunately if your team is playing in the other 3 you have to look at other options.

I have been In Hong Kong about two months and this was the first weekend the Warriors weren’t featured on Setanta. Fortunately there is LIVENRLTV which is a subscription service which lets you watch the games live that aren’t featured on Setanta.

It’s a regionally dependent service depending on what NRL the local Pay tv is showing. This week I tried to get subscribed all in time for the Warriors game on Sunday, however, the website wouldn’t let me.

“Service not available in your region” it said. That is total and utter nonsense as I know it is available and I can access it at work. I spend enough time at work that I don’t want to go in there on a Sunday to watch my football, a flurry of emails were sent back and forth between LIVENRLTV and myself essentially trying to work out why they wouldn’t allow me to use the service with my ISP address.

I was resigned to listening to the game via net radio: Bozo, Blocker, the Big Marn and that Andrew bloke (who I incidentally think is a brilliant commentator).

However half an hour before kick-off I found a stream. I had no ethical problems with it. I had tried my hardest to see it through legal means. I combined the stream from my computer with the call from the continuous call blokes and it was surprisingly well synced. The broadcast was scratchy but adequate for a streamed feed seven and a half thousand kilometres away.

I was excited about the game and gave the Warriors a good chance against a Dragons side which you could tell was splitting at the seams after five losses on the trot.

The Warriors started well playing some of their best football of the season in the first twenty minutes to rush out to a 10-0 lead. Krisnan Inu, replacing the injured Manu Vatuvei, casually put the ball down in the left hand corner first and this was followed by an amazing try by little Kevin Locke a bloke in absolutely vintage form. His footwork and speed was a sight to behold, bobbing and jagging through the middle of the Dragons forward pack.

The Dragons were being demoralised. Stupid errors like kicking dead on the full from the kickoff and then doing it again from the next restart are signs of team which just can’t get anything right. Team sports are a funny thing. You waste so much energy trying to work out why things aren’t going the right way for you and then you forget to do the basics right. It really is a vicious cycle.

The Warriors first 20 minutes filled me with excitement. This side is a good football team but there biggest weakness is being unable to focus for 80 minutes or at least close to. This looked like it could be the day and the Dragons, a team falling apart from the inside out, was a good side to do it on. The Warriors last couple of wins against the inferior Panthers and Knights were done with the Warriors only really clicking for 20 minutes of the game.

Then with the game looking like it was going to the perfect script I had running in my head, Ben Cummins makes the worst refereeing decision of the season. A Dragons forward standing in the tackle with three Warriors holding him for four seconds offloads to Mark Gasnier, who scores an easy try with no defenders even attempting to stop him, because the Warriors players knew like the other 15,000 people in the stadium, the hundreds of thousand watching on television and a bloke in Hong Kong watching on a scatchy illegal feed through the internet that the Dragons forward was held and then needs to play the ball. He doesn’t. He offloads and should have been penalised. The referee has no excuses.

The ramifications of the decision are huge. It changes the whole complexion of the game and the NRL season. Game-wise the Dragons get back into a game and more importantly get a psychological boost, they were heading for a 30 to 40 point thrashing before Cummins’ decision. The Warriors now won’t get a home final which means I don’t believe they are really title contenders this year. The Dragons will get a bit of a leg up but I believe there are deeper underlying issues at the club and that will only be lightly plastered over by Cummins’ rubbish decision. They aren’t premiership contenders for mine.

After I let out a loud bout of swearing and blabbering made-up English words, Brett Morris scores a tremendous “Kangaroo” try, tip toeing along the sideline and acrobatically placing the ball. The try will be replayed many times this week and until the end of the season and so it should be, an amazing try. We have seen a lot of these acrobatic trys in the corner over the last couple of seasons and these can be put down to the simplification and adjustment of the corner post rule. A credit to our games rule makers. Soward misses the conversion 10-all and the Dragons are back in it.

About five minutes before half-time the Warriors put together some good football with Feleti Mateo featuring heavily to put Bill Tupou over in the right hand corner. The Warriors go in at half time 16-10 up,

I’m a bit disappointed, we should have been up by a lot more. I go up to make a cup of tea and have a banana wearing my wireless headphones listening to the Continuous Call Team remonstrate about the single biggest moment of the first half. Ben Cummins’ non-decision. However, I still feel if the Warriors are good enough and genuine premiership contenders they should be able to wipe the floor with the Dragons team with plenty of problems.

The second half starts horribly with Darius Boyd scoring. I can’t remember how it happened, I wasn’t focussed on it, I was still fuming about Cummins’ decision. Looking back at my League Live app though, Soward converted, apparently. Dragons then got a penalty. I switch back to the Fox Sports commentary through the stream because the Continuous Call Team goes out of sync with the stream video for some reason.

The next try Jason Nightingale scores after an all too common Warriors blunder. Bill Tupou has to go back for a grubber makes a meal of it and Nighingale crawls over the line to score an easy one. Billy Tupou has really won my affection recently but I only have so much tolerance for those sort of “coach killing/ Nigel Vagana at fullback for the Kiwis” type of errors. The game is gone from that point for the Warriors, if it wasn’t when Cummins made his non-decision. The eight-point buffer rips my heart in two. It likes hearing your missus cheated on you with Ben Cummins.

The Warriors score another try through Feleti Mateo to keep the last seven or eight minutes interesting but at the end of the day the Dragons desperation to finally get a W on the board means we are flying back to Auckland potentially in seventh  place. We will beat the Tariq-less Cowboys next week, and then have to travel to Australia for the first week of the finals. Hopefully against the Broncos, we can beat them. I don’t want to have to come up against the Tigers being directed around the field by the “Maori Prince” Benji Marshall.

I have settled down since beginning to write the article. The Dragons won fair and square and congratulations on breaking the losing streak. As said earlier the Warriors need to concentrate for longer periods preferably 80 minutes if they can do that they will be able to push the good sides. That sort of stuff generally doesn’t happen overnight though; it has to be hardwired into a team through the culture of the team.

Dragons 26 (Gasnier, Morris, Boyd, Nightingale tries Soward 3 conversions Soward 2 penalty goals)
Warriors 22 (Inu, Locke, Tupou, Mateo tries Maloney 3 conversions)

Votes: 3-Locke, 2-Merrin, 1-Boyd

Footnote: The Sea Eagles-Storm game on Friday night will obviously have a lot of publicity over the next week. The brawl wasn’t a good look for the game, however we love Rugby League because of the tribalism and physical warfare the game entails. Passions and loyalty to your team mates will sometimes spill over to the odd punch-up. It’s entertainment and has to be managed well by the governing body. If what happened on Friday night happens every season let alone every week or round we would have a problem. The fact is. it doesn’t.

I live with a big AFL fan. I was discussing the issue with him. What I got out of the discussion was that AFL is not quite the same for him after AFL went on this crusade to make the game accessible to the mums and dads out there and lost an important fabric of their culture, which they will never get back. In the mid 2000s brutal physicality had almost entirely been eradicated. Now they are left with grown men shouldering each other like cowards, which really is embarrassing. This could be a big week for Rugby League, I am not condoning violence or grievous bodily harm on a football field but let’s keep our special game close to its roots for as long as possible. Suspensions and fines need to be dished out by the judiciary and governing body but it needs to be done with some thought and substance which will allow our game to continue the way we like it. This is at least one lesson we can learn from AFL.

Jack Muir

About Nick Tedeschi

Nick Tedeschi was the chief rugby league writer at Punting Ace for five years after a career in politics and bookmaking. He has written freelance for a number of organisations including Back Page Lead, Crikey and Betfair and now runs his own website. He writes an annual NRL betting preview and is a diehard Canterbury fan who lists Craig Polla-Mounter, David Stagg, Tony Grimaldi and Daryl Halligan as his favourite players.

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