Cameron Smith and Paul Vautin left fuming as NRL rocked by more Magic Round controversy

The Titans and Cowboys both appeared to be hard done by on the second day at Suncorp Stadium.

The NRL's much-maligned Bunker is once again copping it from greats of the game after a number of controversial calls on the second day of Magic Round.. The three-day event at Suncorp Stadium has been marred by some shocking calls, and the drama continued on Saturday.

The Gold Coast Titans appeared to be completely dudded when the Bunker found a knock-on from Brian Kelly to deny them the match-winning try against Newcastle. Titans coach Des Hasler was furious in his post-match press conference and called NRL head of football Graham Annesley for a 'please explain'.

And the situation descended even further in the final game on Saturday night when Cameron Smith and Paul Vautin were both perplexed that the Cowboys were denied a try to Jeremiah Nanai. The Cowboys second-rower burst through some feeble defence to put the ball over the line, but on-field referee Peter Gough sent it to the Bunker as 'no try'.

Paul Vautin and Cameron Smith, pictured here alongside Jeremiah Nanai.
Paul Vautin and Cameron Smith both disagreed with the call to disallow a try to Jeremiah Nanai. Image: Getty/Channel 9

The Bunker agreed with Gough that Viliami Vailea had obstructed Alex Johnston from tackling Nanai because he'd gotten in front of the ball and impeded the Souths winger. But Smith and Vautin both pointed out that Vailea was a support player looking to receive the ball, rather than a decoy, and Nanai didn't run behind his teammate.

The officials also seemed to miss the fact that Vailea only got in front of the ball because Johnston made contact with him first and tackled him without the ball. Gough told Cowboys captain Tom Dearden: “Once he’s in front, he can’t stop the guy coming across.”

Viliami Vailea, pictured here colliding with Alex Johnston.
The Bunker ruled that Viliami Vailea obstructed Alex Johnston.

Melbourne Storm champion Cameron Smith said in commentary for Channel 9: “This is a really difficult situation because what if Nanai can get a ball away to Vailea. He is a support player.

“Vailea is just pushing through into the space. That is his job. He is asked to do that by his coach. You see Nanai looks to pass and there is an option there to pass and he chooses to hold onto the ball. He has got every right to be there to support his teammate. That is what the game is about.”

Vautin added: “No, he wasn’t denied because what Alex Johnston did was to grab hold of that particular Cowboys player instead of trying to make a tackle. That’s a stitch up, that’s a try. And Johnston milked that by simply going for him and hanging onto him knowing that he was not going to get there anyway.”


Luckily for the Cowboys the call didn't cost them the victory, but the same can't be said of the Titans. Kelly appeared to ground the ball cleanly for a try that would have levelled the score at 28-28 with a conversion attempt to come.

On-field referee Gerard Sutton awarded the try initially, but the Bunker overruled him after seeing a slight bobble in the put-down. There didn't appear to be sufficient evidence to saw Kelly definitely knocked on, but the Bunker official denied the try anyway.

Brian Kelly, pictured here during the Titans and Knights clash.
The Bunker found a slight knock-on from Brian Kelly. Image: Fox League

“Try every day of the week,” Hasler said in his post-match presser. “The Bunker, it’s crazy. Hand never came away from the ball and if it did it is a penalty for a strip isn’t it? They don’t know. They don’t know.”

Kelly told reporters: "Bloody oath it was a try, I feel like I had control of it. My arm was still holding the ball as well as the two Knights players on the ball. Frustrating but it’s another tight one we’ve let slip away." Fans and TV viewers were incredulous over the decision on social media.