Cameron Smith lashes out over NRL players' 'poor look' as league admits Dragons dudded

Smith's swipe came as the NRL confirmed the Dragons were hard done by against Manly.

NRL legend Cameron Smith has expressed his concerns over a growing trend of players going down to milk penalties, following a couple of eye-opening incidents on the weekend. Dragons five-eighth Kyle Flanagan was at the centre of one such incident against Manly, as well as a controversial try awarded to Sea Eagles second-rower Haumole Olakau'atu that the NRL has since admitted was an obstruction.

Flanagan was involved in both of those major talking points in the Dragons' 30-14 loss to Manly but it was the milking of a penalty by staying down after a tackle that earned the ire of Smith. The Dragons playmaker ducked low into the tackle from Olakau'atu in the 60th minute, and stayed down on the ground for several moments before his side was eventually awarded a penalty.

Cameron Smith says the NRL needs to crack down on players milking penalties by staying down in tackles following an incident involving Dragons star Kyle Flanagan against Manly. Pic: Fox League/Getty
Cameron Smith says the NRL needs to crack down on players milking penalties by staying down in tackles following an incident involving Dragons star Kyle Flanagan against Manly. Pic: Fox League/Getty

Olakau'atu was placed on report at the time but the match review committee ruled there was minimal contact with the head and he avoided suspension. Parramatta Eels second-rower Kelma Tuilagi also went down in an even more unbelievable incident during his side's loss to the Roosters on Saturday night. Tuilagi acted as if he'd been hit across the face in a tackle by Joey Manu and won a penalty for his side, despite replays showing the Roosters player tackled him across the shoulders.

In both cases, the tackles did not warrant penalties but the referees were essentially duped into awarding them because of the actions of the ball-carrier. And Smith says the NRL needs to crack down on what he and many fans believe to be a concerning trend of simulation by players that is becoming increasingly more prevalent in the game.

"It's slowly crept into our game," the NRL legend said on SEN radio. "If you fine someone, then I think that is a little bit harsh. I don't mind penalising the player for trying to milk it. It's not great and it's such a poor look for our game.

"Players are looking for any advantage... if they feel there is contact, they will absolutely stay down. If the Bunker gets involved and deems that there has been no head contact but the player is holding their head, why not give the defensive team a penalty?

"Players know the bunker will take a quick look. Bring in the HIA rule where if you stay on the ground and don't rise to your feet, you have to leave the field." In Flanagan's case that's exactly what happened, with the Dragons player having to leave the field late in the second half because he stayed down clutching at his head.

It wasn't the only major flashpoint for Flanagan during the contentious 16-point loss to Manly. The Dragons five-eighth, commentators and fans were all left baffled when Ben Trbojevic appeared to obstruct Flanagan from making a tackle on Olakau'atu for the Sea Eagles' second try. The Dragons were leading 10-4 at the time and the bunker's decision to award the try had massive ramifications as the Sea Eagles came from behind to win.

The NRL's head of football Graham Annesley admitted in his weekly address on Monday that the Dragons were in fact dudded and the try should have been overturned by the bunker. “The ball goes across the back of Ben (Trbojevic) and at this point there is contact between Ben and Kyle Flanagan and Haumole comes back through that gap,” Annelsey said.

On the right is NRL head of football Graham Annesley.
NRL head of football Graham Annesley says the bunker made a mistake by awarding Manly's second try because Kyle Flanagan was obstructed by Ben Trbojevic. Pic: Fox League/Getty

“You can see at this point that Kyle Flanagan has Ben between him and the ball carrier which he has to manoeuvre around. Ultimately he does get to Haumole but isn’t good enough to prevent the try from being scores. Ben stopped in the line. Not only does he make contact with the outside shoulder of Flanagan but he’s also stopped in the line. He hasn’t prevented Kyle from getting there but there’s definitely an impact on how he got there and whether he could have got in a better position to stop that try from being scored.

“The bunker decisions on obstruction are controversial at times, we admit that... It is obviously the opinion of the bunker when they look at the factors in each of these cases that they take into consideration to reach a decision. Admittedly we’ve looked at this many more times than the Bunker looked at this but that doesn’t take away from the fact that in our view, based on the way we’ve ruled on this in previous cases, that this try should have bee overturned (and disallowed).”