The Melbourne Storm are under fire from the NRL after a trainer called for play to be stopped to treat Suliasi Vunivalu for cramp against the Eels on Saturday night.
Referee Ashley Klein blew time off after a request from the trainer, stopping the Eels’ attacking momentum in a crucial moment late in the Storm’s win in their qualifying final.
Parramatta players were left seething when it was revealed Vunivalu only had a cramp.
On Monday, NRL head of football Graham Annesley said he will seek an explanation from the Storm as to why the trainer asked for play to be stopped.
Annesley said it appeared to be a tactical ploy from the Storm which breached NRL rules.
Under the rules, a trainer who attempts to unnecessarily stop play for tactical reasons can be ordered from the playing area for the remainder of the match.
The incident occurred in backplay while the Eels were on a roll in attack, 30 metres out from the Storm's line.
Annesley said the trainer signalled to Klein to stop play before he had reached Vunivalu, without knowing the extent of his injury.
The winger then received treatment for what appeared to be a leg cramp, holding up play for several seconds under protest from Eels skipper Clint Gutherson.
“Rules are pretty clear. We need to seek an explanation from the Storm on that incident, which we will do,” Annesley said on Monday.
“But on the face of it, it would appear to be a contravention of the rules.
“We'll be in touch with the Storm and decide if that matter goes any further.”
Annesley also defended Klein’s decision to stop the match in response to the signal from Storm’s trainer.
He said discretion should not lie with the referee in these cases and clubs have a responsibility to make sure games are stopped appropriately.
Despite a gutsy effort from the Eels, Storm clinched the 36-24 win to advance through to the preliminary final in a fortnight.
NRL world fumes over ‘outrageous’ controversy
Commentators blew up while watching the match live.
“Oh come on, he doesn’t need doctors help,” Andrew Voss said on Fox League, with Greg Alexander adding: “You don’t stop play for that,”
“That is outrageous with Parramatta on a roll,” Voss said.
Speaking on Triple M radio on Sunday, journalist Paul Kent was also fuming.
“There are so many reason why this should not be part of the game,” he said.
“One is about the historical heritage of the toughness of the game … secondly it’s a tactical ploy too.
“Parramatta had momentum the clock was winding down, they had probably three sets left in the game, they needed to keep going with Melbourne on the back foot.
“And all that momentum was arrested by Vunivalu going down in back play with a cramp of all things.
“The referee called time out, and Melbourne reset their defensive line, copped a breather from the cramp and then the trainer was looking at something on his wrist … not because there was an injury there but to buy more time.
“The referees were conned by it because of this duty of care, if a player’s injured or hurt that we call time out now and it’s being exploited, it’s been used for reasons now that it shouldn’t be used. There is no reason unless the player is in the ruck for them to call time off.”
Kent said the ability of trainers to tactically affect the play is “ruining the game”.
“There is no way in the world a game should be stopped for a cramp, it’s embarrassing,” he said.
Stop a game for cramp? Stop it— Mark Geyer (@markMGgeyer) October 3, 2020
Sorry but Gutho is right: YOU DON’T STOP THE GAME FOR CRAMPS. Fml. Ruining momentum. #NRLStormEels— Chloe-Amanda Bailey (@ChloeAmandaB) October 3, 2020
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