Crash: Mammoth blunder had been coming for years

 

People have been saying they have never seen anything like it but the truth is the mother of all refereeing stuff-ups has been coming for years.

Ben Cummins' infamous "six more tackles'' call seven minutes from time in the NRL grand final between Canberra and the Roosters has proven once and for all the harder a sport looks for perfection in refereeing the less likely it is to find it.

Modern referees have become so used to relying on technology they lack an old-fashioned feel for the game and the confidence to use the whistle blower's most priceless weapon - common sense.

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Jack Wighton signals six again following the controversial grand final decision. Picture: Brett Costello
Jack Wighton signals six again following the controversial grand final decision. Picture: Brett Costello

They have so much talking in their ear telling them what to do it's almost as if they are in a state of permanent scrutiny and anxiety rather than controlling the game.

Say what you like about old fashioned referees from bygone eras but none of them would have changed a call mid-tackle like Cummins did when he initially gave the Raiders six more tackles from a ball he thought had come off Roosters fullback James Tedesco with the scores locked at 8-8.

Cummins changed his call within seconds after advice from his fellow referees but the damage was done and five-eighth Jack Wighton allowed himself to be tackled with the ball, believing he had another six tackles up his sleeve. The Roosters scored from the next set. Game over.

 

Referee Gerard Sutton signals last tackle. Picture: Ryan Pierse
Referee Gerard Sutton signals last tackle. Picture: Ryan Pierse

 

Cummins' historic midstream call change was actually a vivid statement not simply about rugby league but our wider world where every decision seems subject to appeal. In sport and life, there always seems a higher court to hear your challenge.

Week after week in rugby league, referees' decisions are overruled by technology referrals to the point where the initial call often seems like the basis of a negotiation rather than the final unchangeable call it was for the code's first 90 years.

In the early days of video reviews referees were acutely embarrassed when their initial calls were overruled. Now it barely seems to matter.

Cricket umpire Joel Wilson had eight decisions reversed in a recent Ashes Test, shrugged his shoulders and moved on.

 

Referee Ben Cummins changed his decision in the middle of the play. Picture: Matt King
Referee Ben Cummins changed his decision in the middle of the play. Picture: Matt King

 

Change and challenge has become the norm in sport.

Cummins just took it a step further. He overruled himself. On the run.

For years rugby league's technological revolution has been like a bubbling saucepan and this was the moment when the lid finally popped off as Cummins was trapped in a void between the decision he had made, the voices in his ear calling for change, and the video scrutiny that would expose his original call as incorrect.

Hearing two voices in his ear telling him he had made the wrong call Cummins tried to snatch at a life raft by changing his call when generations of whistleblowers could have told him that you cannot put a genie back into the bottle.

The cricket equivalent of what happened would be a batsmen hearing a no-ball call, swinging wildly and getting bowled in the knowledge he had a free hit, only to be told the umpire got the no-ball call wrong and he was out.

It wouldn't happen because you cannot shape a play with a call then reshape the call.

Referees boss Graham Annesley said that the referees ultimately got it right but that's not quite right because a wrong call plus a right one still means they got it wrong because of the confusion it caused.

The temptation is to say the poor call, the modest grand final entertainment, the confusion over the man of the match award soured the day but what is rugby league without drama?

The game has been a burning bushfire for more than a century.

Bring on next season.



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