NRL fans erupt over confusing Bunker farce in Eels penalty

The Parramatta Eels were left somewhat confused by a call from Bunker official Ashley Klein which nearly turned the game for the Cowboys.

Luca Moretti's hit on Chad Townsend is seen left, with NRL referee Ashley Klein pictured right.
NRL fans were left confused after Parramatta's Luca Moretti was penalised for a late hit on Cowboys kicker Chad Townsend after a strange Bunker referral and captain's challenge. Pictures: Fox Sports/Getty Images

NRL fans have been left thoroughly confused by a penalty against Parramatta late in the Eels' 24-16 win over the Cowboys on Friday night. The Eels looked to be running away with the game, leading 18-6 in the 68th minute, before a penalty call and subsequent captain's challenge very nearly turned the game in favour of North Queensland.

Parramatta had build a strong lead in part thanks to the Cowboys' difficulty in scoring, but faced a tense defensive situation as Chad Townsend kicked close to the Parramatta line. A whistle came from NRL referee Liam Kennedy, with commentators believing it was for an escort against Parramatta's Will Penisini.

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This resulted in a captain's challenge from Parramatta, but it was at this point that Bunker official Ashely Klein left NRL fans and commentators alike in a state of absolute confusion. Upon review, he called a penalty against the Eels for debutant Luca Moretti’s late hit on Townsend as he kicked.

Commentators observed it was a relatively negligible hit by the standards usually seen for that kind of penalty, even further baffled by his decision not to check the footage of the Penisini escort. Instead it went against Moretti - but Klein then said he 'supported the on-field decision', saying the contact was late, but that Parramatta would retain their challenge.

This resulted in an uproar from Fox League commentators Dan Ginnane and Michael Ennis, while fans on social media were left equally bemused. Making matters worse was the Cowboys going on to score two tries in quick succession, narrowing the margin to 18-16 in favour of the Eels.

Fortunately, the Eels were able to score a sealing try through Mitchell Moses in the dying minutes. It marked the first time this season that the 2022 grand finalists have won back to back games.

The scores were tied at 6-6 until the 55th minute, with Parramatta having two Sean Russell efforts chalked off. The Cowboys looked like they might be able to withstand the barrage of Eels' attacks until Maika Sivo barged over in the corner.

Moses' kicking game had suffocated the Cowboys and forced them to bring the ball out of their own end. He converted Sivo's try from the left hand touchline, repeating the trick when Russell slid in for a 63rd-minute touchdown on the other flank.

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Kyle Feldt's two tries in the final 10 minutes to send the game down to the wire, before Moses jinked his way over to seal the win for the Eels. "We started poorly in the second half and Mitchell gives Parramatta a real luxury with his kicking," Cowboys coach Todd Payten said.

"I'm much happier with our application around the tougher parts of our game. There are positives but it's still a loss."

The gallant effort, one week after conceding 66 points to Wests Tigers a week ago, came as little consolation for the Cowboys as their finals hopes continue to fade after an impressive 2022 campaign. Boasting just five wins from 13 games, Payten was left to admit he had been concerned about his side's long-term form but still held belief they were a finals team at heart.

Cowboys player Jordan McLean is tackled by two Parramatta opponents.
The Cowboys responded well after being thrashed a week earlier, but it wasn't enough to topple Parramatta. (Photo by Mark Metcalfe/Getty Images)

“Our effort and intent was in the right spot we just missed out in the detail… three focus points for us was offloads, defend our principles and last play options,” he said. “I thought it was a fair contest, I thought the first half was a grinding affair… much happier as a coach with the effort and the application around the tougher parts of the game.

“What keeps me really optimistic is how much talent we’ve got in the group... there’s enough footy left and I know we are good enough. We are very capable, we are very capable.

"But you are going to have to rely on a lot of things going you way as well. We are here because of some of our own decisions and our actions, we just have to fight hard. No one else to blame but ourselves.”

With AAP

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