Paul Vautin tees off on Tom Trbojevic call as NRL world loses it over bunker drama

The eye-opening incident once again shone a spotlight on the under-fire video officials.

Manly legend Paul Vautin has led a chorus of backlash against the NRL's bunker after a head-scratching penalty awarded to Sea Eagles star Tom Trbojevic during his side's dramatic 30-24 loss to the Dolphins on Thursday night. Trbojevic limped off with the fifth hamstring injury of his career late in the second half in a double blow for his side and the star fullback's State of Origin hopes.

There were a number of debatable incidents throughout the game, with players from both sides accusing of lying down to try and milk penalties. But it was a crucial bunker call awarded to the Manly star before his latest devastating injury setback that drew the most ire from viewers around the country. The scores were locked at 22-22 midway through the second half after a rollercoaster match that featured several lead changes.

Manly legend Paul Vautin led a chorus of backlash around the NRL world over a bunker decision to award Tom Trbojevic a penalty against the Dolphins. Pic: Nine/Getty
Manly legend Paul Vautin led a chorus of backlash around the NRL world over a bunker decision to award Tom Trbojevic a penalty against the Dolphins. Pic: Nine/Getty

Trbojevic looked to have given away an awful handover when he failed to play the ball correctly deep inside his own half but the Sea Eagles challenged the decision and claimed Jesse Bromwich had contacted the Manly star high before the play-the-ball. Replays showed the most minimal of contact from Bromwich on Trbojevic as he was effecting the tackle, but it amounting to little more than a brushing of the hand across the Manly star's face.

At least that's what most viewers thought watching on, with commentator and fans blowing up when bunker referee Gerard Sutton awarded the Sea Eagles a penalty. Manly legend Vautin - who has never shied away from his love of the Sea Eagles - was nevertheless scathing of the decision to award his former club a penalty, labelling the bunker decision "disgusting" and "embarrassing".

"Are you serious? Our game is finished," Vautin fumed in commentary for Nine. "It is finished if you are penalising that. Honestly. I bet you the bloke who made that decision has never stepped on to a football field. What a stitch-up." Vautin continued his onslaught in the post-match wash-up too.

"It was embarrassing for the game," he added. "There is not one player in the last 116 years who would say that's a penalty. This little tiny hand on the face, it was absolutely nothing. Gerard Sutton, he's a very experienced referee, been around quite a while — I can't see how he could find fault in that. That is just wrong. I can't even talk about it, it was that bad. It was awful."


Cowboys legend Johnathan Thurston agreed and told Nine's coverage that the game "died tonight" as a result of the penalty call. "Look, we just want consistency," Thurston said. "There are tons of these every game. That is a tap. There is no forceful contact. It needs to be forceful contact to the head and then that is a penalty. If you tap him like that, that is not forceful contact. I was dumbfounded by that penalty. Like Fatty (Vautin) said, rugby league has died tonight after seeing that."

The huge leg-up from the video official gave Manly field position and then kicked two points in front off the next set. Fortunately for the Dolphins it didn't prove costly as a 66th minute try to Jack Bostock helped seal a six-point win. But Manly's pain was merely compounded by the latest hamstring injury to Trbojevic, that looks likely to have ended his Origin hopes for the Blues.

Trbojevic pulled up lame and ended up limping off the field after trying to effect a try-saving tackle on Bostock and sliding into a sideline cameraman instead. Brien Seeney of the NRL Physio social media account fame said it was unlikely the injury came as a result of the collision and that 'Turbo' must have suffered the hamstring injury in the lead-up.

Manly coach Anthony Seibold confirmed it was another hamstring tweak for his star fullback after the match, with scans on Friday set to determine the extent of the damage and how long he'll be sidelined for. The Sea Eagles also lost speed sensation Jason Saab to a shoulder injury in the first half as he dived to try and score a try.

Saab suffered the AC joint injury while attempting to score a try in the 17th minute and is also set to be sidelined for Manly's Magic Round contest against Brisbane next week. "Jason needs a scan but they are telling me it is a grade three," Seibold said. We have lost both of those guys (Saab and Trbojevic) for a period of time."

Seen here, Tom Trbojevic after suffering a hamstring injury for Manly against the Dolphins.
Tom Trbojevic's latest hamstring injury for Manly looks to have wrecked his Blues Origin hopes. Pic: Getty

The Sea Eagles will welcome back second-rower and Blues Origin hopeful Haumole Olakau'atu from suspension for Magic Round, while hooker Lachlan Croker (concussion) and forward Nathan Brown (hip flexor) should return after missing the Dolphins match. "With Saaby and Turbo (Trbojevic) going down it does put a dint in our squad but there is a group there that really care about the footy team," Seibold said. "We will put a team together next week and expect to come back here and put in a better performance for longer periods."