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The Penrith Panthers have hit back at accusations of 'cheating' in their semi-final win over Parramatta, which have centred around a trainer calling for play to stop in the dying minutes.
The NRL on Tuesday slapped the Panthers with a $25,000 fine and suspended trainer Pete Green from accessing the field of play and sideline for the remainder of the finals campaign.
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Fellow Panthers trainer Hayden Knowles has also been issued with a warning for his part in the drama, with the Panthers given five days to appeal the decision.
It comes after the NRL confirmed on Monday that the integrity unit was investigating whether Penrith were right to stop play for an injury to Mitch Kenny late in the 8-6 semi-final win over the Eels.
Penrith will be allowed to use an alternate trainer in the absence of Green, who was also at the centre of a similar incident against Cronulla in round 14.
Green was heavily criticised by the likes of Phil Gould and Paul Kent, both of whom suggested the trainer's priority had been to stop the game, rather than immediately attend to the players.
In an interview with the Sydney Morning Herald, Knowles came to his fellow trainer's defence, arguing the Penrith bench had believed Kenny had broken his ankle.
“How can you argue with a medical opinion from someone who was standing there fearing he had just seen a player break his ankle?” Knowles said.
“Because the play was stopped at such a big moment in a big game, the whole world has turned on the one trainer. He was doing his job.
“Mitch Kenny’s ankle is like a balloon and black. Even between his toes are black – the bleeding has run all the way down the side of his feet to his toes.
“Mitch’s character is you get back and defend. But he couldn’t. There was no way he could have. He didn’t stay down. And how can you argue otherwise? Who knows more than Pete Green in this situation?
“If the same thing happened again you would get the same outcome.”
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According to the NRL Laws & Interpretations, trainers are only permitted to stop play if there are genuine and serious concerns for the player in question - with many believing this was not true in Penrith's case.
Speaking on Fox League’s NRL 360, Kent all but accused the Panthers of deliberately using a dodgy tactic to gain an advantage in the contest.
“Rather than run on and assess Kenny like he’s supposed to, and then tell the referee he needs the game stopped, he actually ran up the sideline … to the linesman where he’s saying, ‘Stop the game, stop the game’,” Kent said on Monday.
“He was 30 metres away (from Kenny).
“When you twist an ankle, you don’t stop the game.
“His priority was not to get to the injured player; it was to go up the sideline and tell the touch judge to stop the game.
“I don’t want to say it’s coached. I suspect it is, because every club does it. It happens all the time in the game.”
— Fox League (@FOXNRL) September 21, 2021
Fellow league reporter Phil Rothfield also weighed in on the drama by claiming the trainer had no right to stop the game in the manner he did.
“He (Green) hadn’t even diagnosed the injury.
“It’s another classic NRL incident with lack of common sense.
“The injured player was in absolutely no danger whatsoever. It was behind the play, Parramatta were on the attack.
“There was no need to stop the game.”
League head of football Graham Annesley said the NRL would review the protocols around trainers stopping play for injuries at the end of the season, but refused to comment on the Penrith incident.
"Whether we will need to do more is something we will do at the end of the season," Annesley said.
"It's one of the really difficult ones in our game.
"Because obviously player safety and player welfare has to be paramount importance.
"But we have to make sure our rules can't be used for tactical advantage."
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