Cronulla have left Canberra’s finals hopes hanging by a thread and boosted their own top-four chances with a controversial 28-24 NRL defeat of the Raiders.
After the Sharks led 22-6 at the break on Friday night, Canberra centre Joey Leilua crossed twice to narrow the gap to four early in the second half before Cronulla were awarded a contentious try in the 57th minute.
As Cronulla spread the ball right, the ball brushed past the upper arm of centre Jesse Ramien, which appeared to prompt touch judge Rick MacFarlane to put up his flag despite no one crossing the sideline.
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Referee Gerard Sutton then put the whistle to his mouth – at which point the Raiders’ defence stopped – but didn’t blow it, allowing Sione Katoa to cross and make it 28-18.
The play was sent to the bunker as a no-try for a possible Ramien knock-on, but none was found and the on-field call was overturned.
59th Min: #NRLSharksRaiders
No touch by Ramien. Katoa stays in the field of play and the ball is grounded in the goal.#NRL
— NRL Bunker (@NRLBunker) July 20, 2018
Stand-in Raiders skipper Josh Hodgson politely criticised a number of referee calls after the game, calling it “frustrating”.
Braith Anasta took it one step further, calling the referee’s effort “diabolical”.
Meanwhile, coach Ricky Stuart had a measured response in the post-match press conference.
“I just criticised my players in there for not playing the whistle. Then they tell me the flag went up and the referee called knock on,” Stuart said.
“So what are they meant to do?”
Hodgson said it was a natural reaction for the players to stop in the line.
“You saw the touchie’s flag. He put it up and half put it down … as soon as you see a flag you stop on your feet,” Hodgson said.
“We were all just waiting for the whistle and they ran through and scored.
“He called no try, and I don’t think there was definitive proof he didn’t touch it.”
The NRL admitted after the game the touch judge had erred and the bunker’s decision would also be the subject of an investigation.
“It wasn’t out. The touchie shouldn’t have put his flag up,” an NRL spokesman said.
“The subjective part about bunker decisions around the review (of the try) is going to be reviewed.”
“One of the worst refereeing performances I’ve seen in the history of the game,” Anasta said on Fox Sports.
Unsurprisingly Raiders fans were blowing up.
Haven’t been this angry with the one sided reffing as I am tonight! It’s beyond ridiculous! #NRLSharksRaiders
— Phoebe #Raiders4Life (@P_Glo) July 20, 2018
These refs are absolutely awful. Regardless of if it touched Ramien or not, the touchie throwing his flag up briefly and the ref putting the whistle to his mouth completely changes the Raiders' thought process. #NRLSharksRaiders
— Dylan (@veganvaleska) July 20, 2018
The touch judge called the knock on and the Raiders defenders stopped! That's ridiculous! #NRLSharksRaiders
— Raidercast (@RaidercastRNA) July 20, 2018
— SaintMoe (@SaintMoe16) July 20, 2018
— Andrew Voss (@AndrewVossy) July 20, 2018
Wow that touch judge should be dropped for the rest of the year!! Just costs Canberra their season..have some common sense referees!! Stop the play!!anyway well done we’ll b talking bout you guys instead of our game!! Again!!
— Willie Mason WMM 💯🇦🇺🇹🇴 (@mase21) July 20, 2018
I’ve been saying for months @Todd_Greenberg needs to dismantle his football department, sack the ego maniac Bernard Sutton, and start again. I’m very happy @Cronulla_Sharks won tonight but @RaidersCanberra were clearly dudded.
— BUZZ ROTHFIELD (@BuzzRothfield) July 20, 2018
Radio presenter, Mark Levy, took to Twitter to reveal the touch judge at the centre of the incident, Tony McFarlane, would be thrown under the bus for his mistake.
BREAKING — my info is Bernard Sutton took a call from Tony Archer at fulltime and they're in damage control. Sutton tried to organise a meeting with Ricky Stuart before his press conference. They're going to throw touch judge Ricky McFarlane under the bus. GREAT LEADERSHIP!!!
— Mark Levy (@marklevy2gb) July 20, 2018
BREAKING — Canberra confirm Ricky Stuart declined offer to meet with Bernard Sutton before the post game press conference.
— Mark Levy (@marklevy2gb) July 20, 2018
Raiders fullback Brad Abbey was then denied a try with 10 minutes to go as Canberra looked to mount a comeback despite the ball appearing to have been thrown backwards.
Jordan Rapana then crossed with three minutes to play, but the Sharks held on to win after having 60 per cent of the ball.
The result moves the Sharks to 26 competition points after they entered the round in sixth spot, and in a position to push for a top-four finish with the softest run home of the teams around them.
Canberra can now likely afford only one more loss this year after entering the weekend four points behind Brisbane, with five games still to play against top-eight teams.
Valentine Holmes and Wade Graham were earlier superb for the Sharks as they enjoyed 67 per cent of possession in the first half, although the latter injured his groin at halftime and did not return.
The pair scored crucial tries just before the break after Cronulla looked as if they were going to carry only a six-point advantage into halftime.
This was despite the Sharks having all the ball and at one stage playing against a 12-man team, with Rapana sin-binned.
Holmes also finished the night with three linebreaks and one try-saving tackle on Josh Hodgson, and Andrew Fifita and Ramien crossed in the first half.