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The feeling is unanimous among league circles that when two clubs face off in a grand final ? the players should decide the outcome. Sadly, last night, the outcome was prevaricated by a sub-standard refereeing performance from a sub-standard referee.
Amid the Andrew Johns controversy, I was willing to support the referees. After all, they have the toughest gig in the business and that?s never made easy by constant media and public scrutiny.
But last night?s farcical and diabolical effort from Paul Simpkins and co was nothing short of an indictment on our great game. Let?s face it. We weren?t only on show to millions of viewers across Australia; we were on show to the world. NRL Grand Final day is our one annual opportunity to capitalise on an event rather than just a match. We were hampered by an ever-diminishing playing standard and an even more inferior showing from the officials.
I?ve maintained all along that Sean Hampstead is a more capable referee than any other at the moment. Strangely, his presence wasn?t felt past week one of the finals series.
Had Hampstead officiated in last night?s decider, we would not have had such a contrived and egotistical showing from the officials.
Bulldogs coach Steve Folkes warned us after his side?s round 25 defeat to Manly, that sooner or later, a grand final was to be decided by the recurring trend of mediocre refereeing. Unfortunately, it only took Folkes?s prediction six weeks to come to fruition.
A number of decisions from Simpkins and co could be seen as controversial to say the least. These contentious calls included:
- Matt King?s disallowed try in the 66th minute. Video referee Bill Harrigan ruled that Melbourne?s Ryan Hoffman knocked the ball forward from his arm onto his head. It didn?t appear this way on the vision and the most alarming fact is that Harrigan refused to utilise his powers of looking at as many replays as required to calculate his verdict. Harrigan was known not to use the aid of technology during his refereeing days, and one gets the feeling that his own ego overshadowed the whole purpose of having the video referee ? to get the decision right. The two points would have been added from right in front.
- The Broncos were awarded a scrum feed on halfway when Justin Hodges appeared to touch a Slater pass before it went over the sideline, robbing Melbourne of a vital opportunity.
- And a stripping penalty against Slater which led to the Broncos? opening penalty goal. Not only were the Broncos gifted two points, Slater could have created something out of nothing with the Brisbane defensive line divided and unaware of its surroundings.
If I was a Melbourne supporter I would be filthy today. The Storm side finished four wins clear of the second placed Bulldogs, and six victories superior to their eventual grand final opponents, the Brisbane Broncos. They went on to win their two finals matches before succumbing to the Brisbane Broncos and Paul Simpkins last night.
A loss like last night only revives memories of Parramatta?s dominance in 2001 before losing the grand final to Newcastle, and a similar situation for Manly in 1995 before succumbing to the Bulldogs in the decider.
But at least the Storm may participate in another grand final; I think we can safely say that similar sentiments won?t correspond with Simpkins.
However, we must congratulate the Brisbane Broncos on becoming the 2006 Premiers. This is a fitting way for Shane Webcke, a true legend of the game and a terrific example for aspiring young players, to be farewelled. Darren Lockyer was outstanding last night and by all rights should have claimed the Clive Churchill medal. Why he didn?t is beyond me.
We now look ahead for these sides and don?t be surprised to see the Melbourne Storm in another grand final next season. They have a tremendous nucleus of young talent which will take them a long way towards back to back appearances.
As for the Broncos, Shane Webcke will be as tough to replace as Brad Fittler has been for the Roosters in the last couple of seasons. But as they have proven this season, they can never be discounted and they?ll be thereabouts when they whips are cracking come September, or maybe October next year.
On another note, the Australian Tri-Nations squad was named today ahead of the series against Great Britain and New Zealand to be played in Australia and New Zealand over the next couple of months.
There were two real shocks in the selection room. The first being Anthony Tupou?s inclusion ahead of Steve Price. There is simply no logic whatsoever behind this decision and you must question whether the selectors do in fact watch games of football before deciding on teams or whether they just pick their favourites? I think the answer here is fairly obvious.
The other is the selection of Johnathan Thurston ahead of Cooper Cronk. Thurston has played one match in about three months, whereas Cronk has been the form halfback all season. Nevertheless, the forthcoming series will be intriguing and help ease the pain of what should be an elongated and tedious off-season.
I will finish the year with a bold prediction for the 2007 Premiership. Don?t be surprised to see Ivan Cleary and Steven Price hoist the trophy aloft at this time next year with the Warriors to claim their first ever NRL title.
That concludes ?Rammo?s rant? for season 2006. I?d just like to thank Matt Starkey for allowing me to post my thoughts each week, as well as the loyal band of readers that keep this website up and running.
Congratulations again to the Brisbane Broncos.
Until next year, enjoy your footy!