The NRL could never be accused of ignoring criticism. Quite the opposite.
Last week the League copped plenty from fans when Storm forward Nelson Asofa-Solomona avoided the sin-bin after a blatant swinging arm to the head of Parramatta’s Makahesi Makatoa.
This week over-use of the bin bordered on the farcical.
Whether the Asofa-Solomona fiasco had anything to do with it will never be known outside the walls of League HQ , but you have to wonder.
After all, the NRL has never been known to take a softly-softly approach when instructing its referees.
Matter of fact, round four had all the hallmarks of last year’s infamous Magic Round Massacre when players would have been sent to the sin-bin for brushing a mosquito off an opponent’s collar.
On Saturday night Cowboys halfback Chad Townsend was sent to the bin for only slightly more.
Chad Townsend (to right of referee) and Griffin Neame were both binned against the Roosters for offences that were barely worth a penalty, let alone playing a man short for 10 minutes
If Townsend deserved 10 minutes off the field for his swat to the neck of Roosters’ forward Lindsay Collins, then Newcastle’s Mitch Barnett should have got life for his elbow to the face of the Panthers’ Chris Smith the week before.
Making the Townsend sin-bin even more painful for Cowboys’ coach Todd Payten, was the fact that it was the third for his team on the night.
Two of them, the slap by Townsend which didn’t even put Collins off his stride, and a late hit by Griffin Neame on Roosters’ playmaker Sam Walker as he took the ball deep into the line, were 50:50 calls at best.
Had they gone the other way, it wouldn’t have altered the final outcome – the Roosters were red-hot all night and thoroughly deserved their 28-4 win – but having to play 30 minutes with only 12 men made the Cowboys’ task impossible.
Tom Flegler got his marching orders for a supposed cannonball tackle against the Warriors that was completely legal, with referee Chris Sutton (right) making a laughable call
Flegler gets up after the shot that saw him get a 10-minute rest. The NRL Match Review Committee refused to cite him over the incident
It was the same with the Broncos who were woeful in their 20-6 loss to the Warriors. They were out-skilled, out-enthused and out of their depth but even so, the 10 minutes in the sin-bin handed to their hot-headed forward Tom Flegler for an alleged ‘cannonball tackle’ on Josh Curran was a joke.
A cannonball tackle is when the ball carrier is held by two opponents and a third comes in and hits him below the knees.
Referee Chris Sutton must have missed school the day they did anatomy because there is no way Curran was hit below the knees. The tackle by Flegler was around the hips, as confirmed by the NRL Match Review Committee which didn’t proceed with the citing.
In fact, Flegler should not have even been penalised for the tackle let alone sent to the bin, not that having 13 players on the field for the entire 80 minutes would have helped the Broncos.
They have been so bad for the past two weeks that it is hard not to feel sorry for their prized signing Adam Reynolds who, after two grand finals, a premiership and three years under coach Wayne Bennett at South Sydney, must be wondering what he has gotten himself into.
The Broncos have been so woeful in losses to the Cowboys and Warriors that star signing Adam Reynolds must be scratching his head and wondering what he’s got himself into
You have to wonder how long before he starts looking at his giant pay packet, the big house in the outer suburbs with the kids splashing in the pool in the beautiful Queensland weather and thinks, ‘What the heck, why am I even trying? Maybe I should just chill out and enjoy myself.’
It sure looks like a lot of other players are doing that, and not just at the Broncos.
We are only four rounds down in a long season but already it seems like the contenders and the pretenders are taking up their usual positions.
Despite all the big-money signings and rearranging of the deckchairs, it is still the familiar faces at the pointy end of the competition and the perennial also-rans down the back.
Penrith have picked up where they left off on grand final night. The Storm are the Storm as always, Roosters and Manly are gaining momentum, the Eels were awesome against the Dragons, and Souths will be there or thereabouts. Sound familiar? It should. It’s the top six from last season.
The only possible gatecrashers are the Sharks. They looked 10-feet-tall and bullet-proof against the Knights on Friday night. They’ve already beaten the Eels and give every impression that they will be able to mix it with the big boys later in the season.
Cronulla (pictured celebrating during their win over the Knights) have come on in leaps and bounds under new coach Craig Fitzgibbon and are the one team that can gatecrash the top of the table
Debacles like the almost unwatchable Tigers vs Titans game last Thursday night show talent is spread perilously thin in the NRL – and the Dolphins won’t help when they kick off in 2023
As for the others, the obvious drop in depth towards the bottom of the ladder raises big questions about how the code can possibly find enough talent to fill a new club next season.
You only had to look at some of the scores over the weekend – and the abysmal quality of the Tigers-Titans debacle – to have serious doubts that the Dolphins, or the clubs they get their players from, will be competitive.
Things got so bad towards the end of the Eels annihilation of the Dragons on Sunday night that referee Todd Smith and the bunker invoked the NRL’s version of US baseball’s ‘Mercy Rule’.
With three minutes remaining and Parramatta leading 48-14, Dragons backrower Blake Lawrie became involved in a scuffle on the ground with Eels’ winger Bailey Simonsson and gave him a left-hand jolt to the face after hitting him with a chicken-wing tackle.
Dragons prop Blake Lawrie (second from left) gets put on report for whacking Eels winger Bailey Simonsson in the face – leaving commentators stunned that he wasn’t binned
When referee Smith called Lawrie out, Fox commentators Greg Alexander and Andrew Voss had no doubt he was about to join the long list of players sin-binned over the weekend.
‘He’s not going to stay on,’ said Alexander.
‘They can turn the showers on now,’ said Voss.
To their amazement Smith placed Lawrie on report and let him see out the game.
‘He survived,’ said a stunned Voss. ‘All the players sin-binned over the weekend will be shaking their heads.’
They weren’t the only ones.