The NRL has defended the crucial penalty paid against Newcastle during round seven after Tyson Frizell inadvertently pulled Penrith halfback Jarome Luai's hair while making a tackle. Knights fans were left fuming over the penalty, which prompted coach Adam O'Brien to quip that he would encourage his entire team to grow their hair out long.
Up 14-8 at the time the penalty was whistled, the Knights were left frustrated when Jaemon Salmon crossed for a try just two tackles later. Nathan Cleary then went on to win the game for the Panthers in golden point.
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Knights fans were filthy after the loss, however NRL head of football Graham Annesley said referee Peter Gough had little choice but to blow the whistle. Describing the moment as a 'no-win' position for the Gough, Annesley said he could understand frustration from Knights fans but said there was no way Gough could foreseeably kept his whistle silent.
Annesley said Gough would have been equally criticised had he not blown the whistle on a clear pull of the hair, even if that wasn't Frizell's intention. He also pointed out there were many players with long hair elsewhere in the NRL, and that hair-pulling also hadn't been an issue in the NRLW.
“I understand the argument that it’s long hair so (tie it up). I just don’t know what else the referee could have done,” Annesley said. “If the referee doesn’t act on that then there’s complaints about the referee ignoring a player getting their hair pulled.
“The referee is in a no-win position here. If he ignores it he’s accused of allowing a player to pull another player’s hair.
“I understand the argument that he’s got long hair so you’ve got to expect that at some point it’s going to get pulled, but he’s not the only player in the competition with long hair, and we’ve got the NRLW competition. It would be ridiculous for us to say if you’ve got long hair you’ve got to expect it to be pulled at some point.
“It’s a really difficult one for the administration of the game, it’s a difficult one for the referee’s on the field because they only act on what they see. I know my explanation isn’t going to satisfy Newcastle or their fans but I just don’t know what else the referee could have done in that situation.”
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Frizell was not charged by the match review committee for the hair-pull on Luai. A total of 15 players have been cited for such an offence over the past five years, but Annesley said it was clear there hadn't been an intentional act in this case.
“It wouldn’t be the first time a player has been penalised for hair pulling and then it not resulted in charges," Annesley said. “They’ve looked at this and decided based on the circumstances not to lay a charge.
“The referee is making decisions in real time based on what he sees and then you’ve got the match review committee viewing multiple angles. It’s very difficult to say the referee has done something horribly wrong here because from his perspective, he sees a player being tackled by the hair and he has no option but to respond to that.”
After the game, a frustrated Frizell urged Luai to invest in a hair tie for the next clash between the Knights and Panthers. “When his hair is hanging halfway down his back and I am going to make a tackle it is incidental,” Frizell said.
“I guess if I do pull his hair it is classified as a penalty, but it wasn’t intentional and I’d like for him to tie his hair up.”
O'Brien said the penalty was 'ridiculous' and believed the Panthers had essentially been rewarded for Luai's hairstyle. “Huge (call), it is ridiculous, otherwise I will advise them all to start growing their hair long,” O’Brien said.
“To try and get an advantage, it was ridiculous.”
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