NRL fiercely defends bunker over latest incident, claims scrapping it will create ‘more controversy’n

The NRL bunker has dominated discussion this season and Round 9 proved no different, with several incidents leaving viewers confused.

Just days after Raiders coach Ricky Stuart called for the bunker to be scrapped, the Eels and the Cowboys were also left frustrated with the “inconsistency”.

NRL head of football Graham Annesley on Monday afternoon conceded one error but fiercely defended another contentious call.

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Cowboys coach Todd Payten was certain Jason Taumalolo was robbed a try in their 36-16 win over the Knights on Saturday night.

The rubbed out four-pointer didn’t impact the result but Fox League expert Michael Ennis was nonetheless stunned Jeremiah Nanai was ruled to have obstructed Lachlan Fitzgibbon.

“Jeremiah Nanai initiates contact on Lachlan Fitzgibbon and the Cowboys gain an advantage,” the Bunker ruled.

“No he doesn’t, no he doesn’t, you can see Nanai runs that line, you can see in the eyes of Fitzgibbon he was coming in to make the stop,” Ennis said.

TJason Taumalolo of the Cowboys reaches out for the try line. Getty ImagesSource: Getty Images

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Payten echoed that sentiment and called for greater consistency from the officials.

“I was really disappointed again that it was taken off us. It’s consistently ruled too inconsistently,” Payten said.

“It’s different from game to game and that’s what I don’t like.”

But Annesley went into bat for his referees on Monday.

“Ultimately this is a judgment decision that needs to be made by the officials,” he said.

“Ideally it fits neatly into one of the categories, outside shoulder, inside shoulder, obstruction or not obstruction. But there are others where there is much more judgment involved.

“Does he run through the line? No. Does the defensive play move anywhere other than holding his line? Does he take a step to one side or the other to try and tackle the lead runner? I don’t think so, and as a result there’s a collision and the defender has no opportunity to try and plug that hole that has just opened up to his left because he’s on the ground.

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“There’s no right or wrong answers on this rule, well I think there is but there’s plenty of other people who will take the alternate view that he sold him the dummy and he accepted it and took the tackle and didn’t deserve the opportunity to do anything else. There are plenty of others who say he’s been given no opportunity.

“By not running through that line it has created a collision where a defender has just been knocked over.

“To overturn a decision in the first instance you have to be absolutely sure the referee got it wrong.

“If we don’t get the bunker involved in these decisions, we’ll have lead runners running left, right and centre and we’ll be left with the mess to sort out on his own and we’ll be having many more of them and much more controversy.”

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Annesley also offered an explanation for the blatant knock on by Panthers star Viliame Kikau that was missed against the Eels, but acknowledged the mistake.

Kikau dropped the ball cold early in the tackle count but it was missed and the set ended with winger Taylan May crossing over for a crucial try on the stroke of half-time.

“The bunker can’t intervene there, by the time the bunker even gets a chance to comment on this the play has been allowed to continue,” Annesley said.

“It’s not something we use the bunker for anyway, general play.

“I think there was some confusion between the officials, the touch judge says play on, he thought it was a knock back and whilst he’s closer than the other referee, he’s actually got a couple of players between him and Kikau.

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“If he was unsure or unsighted then he probably should have just allowed play to go without offering an opinion but in this case he has made a call to the referee.”

Also in that match, Panthers winger Brian To’o was denied what seemed a certain try after Dylan Brown was ruled to have been obstructed by lead runner Liam Martin.

The Eels playmaker stood still behind the runner and was still able to get in front of To’o before the tryline to make a tackle attempt.

Annesley didn’t speak on that incident.

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