The NRL is copping it from all corners after one of the most baffling decisions seen on a footy field as the North Queensland Cowboys claimed a 27-26 win over the Wests Tigers on Sunday.
Controversy erupted when the Cowboys were handed a penalty for an “escort”, after they were allowed to use a captain’s challenge despite there being no reason for a stoppage in play.
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Bunker official Ashley Klein ruled Asu Kepaoa had deliberately impeded Kyle Feldt and awarded a penalty, allowing Valentine Holmes to kick the matchwinning penalty goal for the Cowboys.
The finish sent footy fans into meltdown, with commentators describing it as a “robbery”.
In April, the NRL had to crack down on players giving away penalties in order force a stoppage and a captain’s challenge.
At that time, NRL football boss Graham Annesley said: “The captain can only challenge decisions by the referee, which cause play to stop (ie any decision by the referee to ‘play on’ cannot be challenged).”
In the aftermath of Sunday’s firestorm, the NRL claimed there was a “short whistle” from referee Chris Butler, despite time elapsing on the game clock There was only one second remaining in the game when the Cowboys kicked off for the final play.
The Daily Telegraph reported an NRL spokesperson claimed the decision to give North Queensland a captain’s challenge was justified.
“Butler blew a ‘short whistle’ to stop the game but full-time hadn’t been called at that point,” the report stated. “That, claim the NRL, was why the challenge was permitted.”
However, the claim has left plenty of fans and commentators baffled, with many saying they’d never heard of a “short whistle” before.
Fox Sports commentator Warren Smith tweeted: “I’ve been watching, playing or calling rugby league for 50 years, and I’ve never heard of the term ‘short whistle’.
“The whistle gets blown for all manner of reasons, but a short whistle???
“There’s been some great smothers in the past – this is up there with the best of them.”
Fellow commentator Dan Ginnane said the “short whistle” comment was “an all-time quote” that “will do nothing to douse the flames”.
Speaking to Andrew Voss and Penrith legend Greg Alexander on SEN’s Breakfast with Vossy and Brandy, The Daily Telegraph’s David Riccio said he couldn’t recall wider condemnation of a decision.
“Short whistles? I’ve never heard of a short whistle,” he said. “That’s a greater smother than Norman Gunston’s hair.”
Alexander interjected: “I agree Dave, when I read that, I didn’t know what I was reading. What do you mean the short whistle?”
NRL great Matthew Johns said he didn’t have a problem over the whistle question, but rather the fact they got it wrong even when it went up the Bunker.
“It was just a diabolical decision, no other way to put it,” Johns told SEN on Monday morning.
“By the cold light of day, there’s no way he would have come to that decision.”
Storm legend Cameron Smith said it was “awful” and “an absolute shocker”.
Smith, a former captain who had to use the challenge during his career, said he believed you had to have a stoppage in order to use it.
He added he didn’t believe captains knew when they could challenge, saying even referees didn’t know.
However, AAP’s Scott Bailey said the short whistle was legitimate as referees have used it in the past before calling full-time.
‘Where’s the stoppage?’: NRL confusion reigns
There was complete confusion on the field at the death of Sunday’s clash. Alexander had no idea how there could even be a review, and was even more stunned when Klein ruled against the Tigers.
“Oh my god … are you serious? He’s had a shocker in the box today, Ashley Klein, an absolute shocker,” Alexander said in disbelief.
“Was he saying Kepaoa went sideways (to block Feldt)? That is garbage. He’s running towards the ball, that’s why he went sideways.
“Wow, that’s a massive call from the Bunker. He’s made some strange ones this afternoon on both sides.
“What I was trying to say before, Daine Laurie caught the ball. Where was the stoppage? Who stopped play? The referee didn’t.
“He can only stop play if he blows a penalty, so why was the game stopped? You can’t challenge when play is flowing.”
Tigers officials are reportedly looking at all avenues to appeal the result.
“We are outraged by the decision. We are exploring all options available to us,” Tigers chairman Lee Hagipantelis told the Sydney Morning Herald.
The NRL has never reversed a result and it appears that won’t be changing, with the NRL defending the captain’s challenge.
An NRL spokesperson said: “The captain’s challenge was permissible in these circumstances.
“Although the referee had blown his whistle to stop the game after the last tackle was completed as time had expired, he had not yet called full-time.”
However, the NRL has reportedly privately conceded the decision to penalise Kepaoa may have been wrong.
Stand-in Tigers coach Ben Gardiner couldn’t get his head around the decision but gave a classy response after the game.
“It was a moment of elation and a moment of deflation,” he said. “I felt I wasn’t quite sure on why the decision was made.
“My understanding is when the Bunker comes into play when there is a challenge made, it has to be when there is an indiscretion in the play, when there is a breakdown in the play.
“My understanding is we caught the ball, the game was over, and that’s where it should have ended.”
Cowboys coach Todd Payten admitted his side got lucky.
“If I look back at the season gone so far, we had a try taken off us last week which was huge. Even back in round one, Hamiso (Tabuai-Fidow) got a try taken off him with a couple of minutes to go which cost us a game,” he said.
“What goes around comes around, we got one tonight. We got a call at the end.
“Sometimes you get them, sometimes you don’t. Tonight we got one.”