Cronulla players and fans were fuming after a key decision handed Canberra a try to put the Raiders in front during an elimination final. But the NRL’s head of football said it was spot on.
It was in the 47th minute and the Raiders were trailing the Sharks when Andrew Fifita gave away a penalty within 20 metres of his defensive goal line.
Raiders star Jack Wighton took a quick tap while Fifita and other Sharks players, including Wade Graham, argued with referee Grant Atkins about the penalty.
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As their backs were turned Wighton tapped the ball, sprinted to the line and scored a try which put the home side ahead.
Atkins sent the try decision upstairs but only asked for the grounding to be checked, which was cleared easily.
Graham was livid at the entire sequence and argued that Wighton should not have been allowed to take the quick tap.
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GRAHAM: “I’m challenging and then you played on. I don’t understand.”
ATKINS: “I’ll explain it to you.”
ATKINS: “The six again.”
GRAHAM: “For ruck infringement?”
ATKINS: “Yep. When play breaks down we have to blow a penalty OK. That’s the first element. The second element is that he tapped the ball before any challenge.”
GRAHAM: “No. No. I yelled out straight away when Fifita was on the ground. I said ‘challenge.’”
ATKINS: “The third element. It’s ruck interference, which you can’t challenge. Ruck interference is six again.”
ATKINS: “No mate the penalty is for ruck interference.”
ATKINS: “You can’t challenge ruck interference. They tapped it before you challenged.
GRAHAM: “If I get up and challenge you don’t even respond to me.”
ATKINS: “Back you go.”
However, during his weekly briefing, NRL football boss Graham Annesley clarified that a penalty for a ruck infringement cannot be challenged and that the incident went from a six-again call to a penalty due to Andrew Fifita kicking the ball out of Wighton’s hands.
“(Graham) was under the misapprehension that by converting the six-again call to a penalty that then made it a challengeable decision. That’s not correct,” Annesley said.
“The point that Grant Atkins was making was that although he had initially signalled six-again, the moment play breaks down and the ball comes loose then obviously you can’t just play on… that converts it to a penalty but it’s still a ruck infringement, which can’t be challenged under our captain’s challenge rules.
“At this point the referee can’t just say play on, he can’t say pick up the ball and signal six-again. That’s what converted that from a six-again decision into a penalty. It’s still a penalty for a ruck infringement and it’s not a challengeable decision.”
Annesley also pointed out that Wighton’s quick tap was fine due to his position on the field.
“The final component of this is the quick tap… players can take a quick tap as long as they are more than 15 metres out from the opponent’s goal line.”
He does however understand Graham’s frustration during the moment.
“Although I can understand how frustrating this was for the Cronulla players at the time, in my view the rule is 100 per cent correct.”