Former Australian Test captain Michael Clarke squared off with veteran NRL scribe Phil Rothfield after suggesting the referees had been 'soft' in the spiteful clash between the Roosters and Rabbitohs.
Coaches of both sides expressed a level of disappointment in their players for getting too carried away with the physicality of the game, with Rabbitohs coach Jason Demitriou imploring players across the league to show more respect for each other as opponents.
Rothfield was left incredulous at Clarke's suggestion that the referees had over-officiated the contest, with the former Test skipper declaring a couple those had been for 'flicking an ear'.
Unimpressed by Clarke's insitence that an elimination final was not 'an under 10s game', Rothfield there were 'players on the football field that weren’t there to play rugby league', and argued it was a 'really, really bad advertisement for rugby league' when the pair squared off on Big Sports Breakfast.
The pair went back and forth for several minutes, with Clarke insistent that referee Ashley Klein hadn't gotten it right, but Rothfield wasn't having it - pointing the finger instead at the NRL judiciary by arguing soft penalties had incentivised high shots.
"Listen, I’ll tell you what the problem is and I’ve been banging on about it for a couple of years is that we have the world’s softest judiciary," he said.
"So players will go out there and do these head-high tackles, they’ll risk going to the sin bin, but they know they’ll be fine and they won’t get a decent suspension like what used to happen in the old days.
"So until they get serious and put players out of these games for that shocking bloody head slam that Waerea-Hargreaves did on Tom Burgess and all those high tackles, Clarkey don’t play them down, until players start getting suspended for their actions, nothing will change.
"The sin bin doesn’t work anymore."
Spiteful NRL clash prompts fiery debate between Clarke, Rothfield
Clarke wasn't done arguing though, replying that he believed there should have been a maximum of three sin bins throughout the game and likening the toughness of the sport to facing a bouncer in cricket.
"Mate, it’s the NRL. It’s at the highest level. That’s the sport. It’s like you know what? Don’t bowl bouncers in cricket," he said.
"Because if it hits you in the head it hurts, you have to pitch the ball up only. That’s what we’re trying to create in rugby league."
While the veteran rugby league writer might not have been fully on board with that take, what Clarke said next absolutely floored him.
Having spent several minutes arguing the game had been too soft, Clarke then suggested Burgess should have been sent off as opposed to sin-binned for his two minutes of madness in the second half.
"If that’s not inconsistency right in front of you I don’t know what is," Clarke said, prompting a heated exchange about who was more qualified to make such an assessment, before Clarke suggested the league might as well do away with on-field referees entirely.
Rothfield said it was ridiculous to blame the referee for the state of affairs in the game, which he attributed to the long-running feud between the two clubs having gone too far, pointing out that Roosters coach Trent Robinson was critical of his own's side's attitude.
"Did you enjoy yesterday’s game? If you enjoyed it seriously, it was a shocking advertisement for rugby league and for you blokes seriously to be blaming the referee," Rothfield said.
"To blame Ashley Klein for the debacle yesterday, he would not have sent one of those guys off to the sin bin, without backing from the bunker.
"All I know is the feud between Souths and Easts has now got out of control and the there were that many cheap shots out there yesterday, it was not good for rugby league. It was not."
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