Shane Flanagan could not have been more emphatic about the influence refereeing howlers had on the golden-point loss to the Wests Tigers: “In my books, we should’ve won”.
The Sharks coach watched in disbelief with the rest of us as Tigers five-eighth Benji Marshall crunched a 35m field goal under intense pressure in extra-time to clinch a 17-16 win for his team at its spiritual home of Leichhardt Oval.
A minute earlier, the Tigers had been penalised after a frantic start to extra-time when Sharks five-eighth Todd Carney’s kick-off hit the crossbar, allowing his side to regather.
Carney then lined up a match-winning field goal from in front and 20m out, only to have it charged down by Tigers forwards Aaron Woods and Chris Heighington from what looked to be an offside position.
Marshall appeared to knock on while diving on the loose ball, before referee Jared Maxwell blew a penalty, claiming the Sharks players were offside for being in front of the kicker.
It’s understood that a review of the incident by the NRL today will find that any penalty should have gone to the Sharks, or at the very least they should have retained possession and possibly had another chance to win the game.
But, soon after, Marshall landed the killer blow.
It was a critical call and when Flanagan walked into the post-match press conference he didn’t need much prompting to let his feelings be known.
“I’m going to have to go and check the rules, because if they charge down how can they be offside?” he asked.
“Benji Marshall knocked it on anyway; I thought once they’re charging it down, making a play at our kicker, we’re onside. Even saying that, Benji knocked it on first, and then we played at the ball.”
Then Flanagan squared up Maxwell for his decision to immediately disallow a try to centre Colin Best in the 64th minute for a supposed double movement instead of referring the decision to video referee Steve Clark. Adding to the coach’s frustration was that Clark then admitted it was a clanger and a try should have been awarded.
“What about the Colin Best try?” Flanagan said. “That’s a try every day of the week. The video ref was two boxes up from me and he said it was a try.
“You’ve got the video ref, but you don’t use it.
“If you’re not going to use them, get rid of them. Save some money. Give it to junior league.”
Best was adamant he’d crossed for a legitimate try. “I scored,” he said. “We can’t change it now, but it would’ve been nice if he sent it upstairs. He ruled straight away and said no.”
Referees boss Bill Harrigan was reluctant to weigh into the drama when contacted last night because he had not seen the match – although Maxwell will surely be lucky to earn first-grade selection next weekend given the significance of his rulings.
“But I can say that once a ball is charged down, the players in front of the kicker are no longer offside,” Harrigan said.
The decisions were two pockmarks on an otherwise thrilling match, which was played in oppressive heat that sent player after player down with cramp like a sniper had been sitting on top of the old scoreboard on the hill.
Having done precious little in the first half, Carney had inspired a Sharks comeback down the stretch of the game and with four minutes remaining they led 16-12.
Then the ball was flung out to Tigers winger Beau Ryan, who grubber-kicked along the sideline and buried a try in the corner – his second for the day – to level. Marshall’s conversion attempt to win it narrowly missed.
Tigers coach Tim Sheens was adamant his side had rightfully won despite the two wrong calls from the officials. “I feel for the Sharks but that’s football,” Sheens said.
“Those things happen to all of us at some stage.”
by Terrence Johns