The St George Illawarra Dragons have found themselves on wrong end of a bizarre NRL first that’s left fans and commentators scratching their heads.
Cameron McInnes was the unlucky man to become the first one pinged as part of the NRL’s latest penalty crackdown.
The contentious incident came during the second half of the Dragons’ thrilling 18-16 win against the Bulldogs.
Saints hooker Cameron McInnes was at dummy half when he threw a pass into Bulldogs forward Josh Jackson, who hadn’t been able to get back onto his own side after making the previous tackle.
Referee Matt Cecchin ruled that the Dragons hooker deliberately threw the ball into the Bulldogs player, which up until this weekend, would have seen his own side awarded the penalty.
The Dragons regathered the ball, leading commentators to believe that perhaps it would have been deemed play on at worst.
However, as part of the latest controversial initiative of the whistle-blowers, the penalty went against McInnes, who was adjudged to have been deliberately trying to milk a penalty.
“Cameron McInnes was trying to pass the ball in that direction,” league great Greg Alexander said in commentary.
“I think they got it wrong. I don’t mind the idea of the referees penalising someone who is standing behind the ruck and the dummy half just throws it into him — that’s not the angle or who is was trying to find.
“I think he picked his wrong mark, Matt Cecchin.
“I wouldn’t have given a penalty there.
Alexander’s fellow commentators agreed that it was a confusing new rule.
“I don’t under why we’re putting pressure on the referees by creating new rules and new ways for penalties,” Brett Finch said.
“It’s like if you’re running the footy and you’re trying to milk a penalty in the play-the-ball, the ref just says get up and play it so you lose that advantage by wasting a few seconds on the ground.
“If you deliberately do it, rule play on and then you’ll cop the effects of that.”
Confused fans slammed the new rule on social media afterwards, with some labelling it “nonsensical.”
Exactly what rule did Cameron McInnes just break to be penalised? Joke. #NRLBulldogsDragons
— Matt Davies (@MattJDavies74) June 11, 2018
— monocag (@monocag1) June 11, 2018
If thats a penalty i would instruct 2 defenders to stand either side of the dummy half every play
— matthew edwards (@matte1579) June 11, 2018
So why dont markers just stand on the side of the play the ball to block the pass lol
— warning signed (@terriblebelief) June 11, 2018
Fortunately for the Dragons, the contentious decision didn’t have a bearing on the result as the visitors were able to hold off an inspired second half assault from the Bulldogs.
Having spent the first half failing to get around the Dragons’ defence, it was a Brett Morris linebreak through the middle that was the catalyst for Canterbury’s comeback.
Will Hopoate pounced on a Josh Jackson grubber soon after the Morris bust then the veteran winger also grounded a Matt Frawley kick not long after.
Moses Mbye’s sideline conversion gave the Bulldogs a shock two-point lead with half an hour to go.
However, back-to-back Gareth Widdop penalties, the second of which came against Aaron Woods for a late shot on James Graham, gave the advantage back to the Dragons.
The Bulldogs had a number of chances to steal the game late, including a Marcelo Montoya break that was stopped by a desperate Matt Dufty tackle, but the Dragons held on to claim a narrow victory.
It was their first win in the Queen’s Birthday clash since its inception in 2015 and lifts them back above Penrith on points differential after the Panthers managed to beat Canberra by only one.
A long afternoon appeared on the cards for the Bulldogs when Dragons hooker Cameron McInnes cleanly broke the line in the first set.
Errors such as Moses Mbye failing to find touch were sandwiched by conceding soft tries to Euan Aitken and Tariq Sims on either edge.
An 18th-minute try to Adam Elliott stemmed the tide but the Dragons took an eight-point lead after Macdonald crossed for one of his trademark diving efforts just before the break.