When does a bad refereeing decision really count?
When Fuifui Moimoi was penalised for
stripping the ball from holding on to Billy Slater in last night’s NRL grand final, it brought a sudden halt to a late surge by the Eels with four minutes to play.
Moments earlier Moimoi had scored in the corner, carrying two Storm players over the line with him on his hulking frame after barging through the defence in a 22m run. It marked the apogee of the Eels’ resurgence against a Melbourne side that was in control for most of the game.
Before the penalty, the Eels needed a converted try tie the game and force extra time. The way they were playing it looked possible. But with ball now in hand, the Storm kicked downfield and calmly positioned themselves for the field goal. Greg Inglis delivered. Job done for the Storm; fairytale over for the Eels.
Like most Sydneysiders I had nothing but good will for the Eels, who played thrilling football during this finals series.
The penalty against Moimoi was one of those moments in sport that makes you think the referee is playing for the other team.
It came just as the Eels were dominating the Storm so much they looked like they could pull off an astonishing comeback. They had a spring in their step and there was hope in the air.
But at such moments, an official’s whistle can be an elephant gun to the stampede. And Tony Archer pulled the trigger.
Referees have a strong hand in the writing of sporting annals across codes. In football, England’s legendary 1966 World Cup win hinged on a controversial goal in extra time, while Diego Maradona’s “goal of the century” against the Poms in 1986 is forever marred by the fact that he had handled the ball into the net just minutes before - and the ref had missed it.
It hasn’t been a good year for the NRL referees. A fan got a lifetime ban from the game for tackling a referee who had controversially sin-binned Wests Tigers star Benji Marshall.
There were other game-deciding refereeing controversies, but one in particular stands out. In the first State of Origin game, when NSW fullback and Eels star Jarryd Hayne danced down the touchline to score but was adjudged to have trod on the line with his boot and the try was disallowed.
Of course, everyone in NSW could see the blade of grass between his boot and the line. The video referee couldn’t see it despite repeated replays.
The decision killed NSW’s early momentum in the game. Queensland went on to win it and the series.
But that’s sport. Infringements go by unseen by the refs; penalties are awarded, like last night, when it’s possible no foul has been occurred.
Some will say the call last night cost the Eels the game. But the result was a fair reflection of the teams on the park. The Storm outclassed the Eels for most of the game and, all things being equal, deserved to win it.
What do you think?
Now if only someone can figure out what to do with all the gold and blue paraphernalia sold in Sydney last week.
UPDATE: The referee involved said later the penalty was not for stripping, but for holding on. First paragraph amended.
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