In what has been an incredible season of rugby league, refereeing errors have completely overshadowed some of the biggest games. All the talk following last weekend’s finals has been about the Kieran Foran knock-on call in Manly’s victory over North Queensland. It’s a shame, because it raised doubts about whether the Sea Eagles deserved to win and based on the rest of the game, they were clearly the better side.
I have always found through my playing days and now working in the media that your first instinct about what has just happened is usually right. When watching that game live it was fairly clear that the ball came from the hand of Foran and the try should be disallowed. The biggest problem we have is that the video referees look at way too many replays, slow-motion, and frame-by-frame, over and over again. All it seems to do is turn a logical decision into something far too complicated and as we’ve seen this year, the result is a decision which is often wrong in the eyes of the majority. If after watching it live and seeing one replay it looks like a duck, call it a duck and get on with the game. All year they have been watching replay after replay until finally the duck looks like it’s a goose.
Canterbury coach Des Hasler has suggested that the on-field referees should make these calls by looking at a sideline replay screen similar to what they use in the NFL. I think this is a great idea, because the referees on the field have a greater feel for what is happening out there. They will have already seen one angle each which is completely different to the television camera angles and will both have an opinion on what happened. They just need to check a replay to confirm that their instincts are correct. Officials will always make mistakes in every sport but the video referee system was introduced to remove the major blunders. Currently it is creating its own major blunders and taking the focus away from the players and what they are achieving on the field.
The real talking point of the Manly victory should have been the incredible performance by inspirational co-captain Jamie Lyon. Right up until Thursday last week he was set to miss the game out of fear that his dodgy calf would see him let his teammates down. He took the field and set about showing just how far ahead of his opposition he is when it comes to reading and dominating a game. He is one of the key reasons the Sea Eagles go so well in the big games at this time of the year, the other less obvious factor is the set of old heads they have up front.
Manly props Brent Kite and Jason King have been around for many years and know their jobs backwards. Kite is in career-best form this year, his running game and defence have been brilliant. King too has provided the forward foundation for much of their success. Off the bench you have Joe Galuvao, who has been playing the game forever and never lets anyone down.
I think Manly can come away from Melbourne with the win in what should be a ferocious battle between two clubs who have established one of the greatest rivalries in rugby league. They just have so many threats across the field with Daly Cherry-Evans, Lyons and Glenn Stewart attacking one side and Foran, Tony Williams and Steve Matai attacking the other. Behind both you have the lethal Brett Stewart waiting to pounce. It should be enough to see the Sea Eagles through to yet another grand final where I think they’ll face the Bulldogs.
Melbourne Storm showed two weeks ago that South Sydney’s defence can be exploited around Adam Reynolds, who defends at centre. On Saturday he’ll have Frank Pritchard and Josh Morris running at him with Ben Barba lurking to exploit the slightest slip. I’m expecting another huge game from Morris, causing the Rabbitohs all sorts of problems.
On the other side of the field Chris McQueen made a bad defensive error against Canberra last week, again at centre, where he is not used to playing. Centre is one of the toughest positions on the field to defend at as there are so many split-second decisions to make. The Bunnies had better get it right on Saturday night or the Dogs could run up a score against them. There should be a huge crowd at ANZ Stadium for this one and I just hope the referees get it right on the night as well.