Phil Gould has taken aim at the officiating in the NRL after questioning why Manly star Tolu Koula was controversially sin-binned for a tackle on Newcastle's Kalyn Ponga on Sunday. The incident proved crucial as Ponga and the Knights stormed home in the second half to seal a much needed 28-18 win at McDonald Jones Stadium.
Ponga overcame a shaky start and a number of concerning head knocks to inspire his side to the come-from-behind win over the Sea Eagles, in the wake of his Queensland State of Origin snub. The Knights skipper threw an intercept pass that led to Manly's first try and failed to kick an early dropout the required 10 metres, but bounced back to help Newcastle record just their fifth win of the season.
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Shifted to fullback for the first time this season, Ponga overcame two blows to head after tackles from his Manly opponents went awry. However, it was a third incident involving Sea Eagles flyer Koula that proved the most controversial.
With 15 minutes left and the match hanging in the balance, Manly were reduced to 12 men when the referee and Bunker ruled that Koula's tackle on Ponga constituted forceful contact to the Newcastle player's head, warranting a trip to the sin bin. Manly coach Anthony Seibold described it as a "harsh call", with Gould particularly scathing of the interpretation from the officials.
"Tell me how he's hit him in the head," Gould said on Nine's coverage. "He hasn't gone anywhere near hitting him in the head. That is a terrible sin-bin, that really is a terrible sin-bin."
Viewers were also left baffled by the sin bin, with many questioning why Ponga wasn't taken from the field to undergo an HIA, considering his history with concussions and the fact the Koula tackle was deemed forceful enough to warrant 10 minutes in the sheds.
That’s a harsh sin bin. Penalty then let the match review look after it later. Didn’t seem much in that one. @NRLonNine
— Peter Psaltis (@peterp79) May 28, 2023
Manly are down to 12 after Koula hits Ponga too high.
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Not sure about that sin bin and not sure how ponga hasn’t been sent for an HIA when he’s been hit high 3 times
— elyse (@elysevw) May 28, 2023
If that's a sin bin then it HAS to be a HIA for Ponga
— Phuck the Sharks (@suthodan) May 28, 2023
How can Manly lose a player to the Sin Bin for head high contact on Ponga yet Ponga doesn’t have to go for HIA? #NRLKnightsManly
— Jack Richardson (@JRichardson84) May 28, 2023
The sin bin was even dodgier
Where is Ponga's HIA if he was hit in the head?? A dead set joke.
— .H.Ɔ.ꟼ (@IWasBornIn1975) May 28, 2023
Manly coach refuses to blame sin bin for loss
Manly's coach said while he didn't agree with the sin bin call, he refused to blame the incident for his side's defeat. The Knights capitalised with Koula off the field though, with Phoenix Crossland scoring under the posts after a scrappy play to put the Knights back in the lead. A length-of-the-field try from Newcastle winger Dom Young sealed the game in style.
"I didn't think it was a sin-bin," Seibold said. "It was a harsh call, but that's not why we lost the game.
"I was super proud of the guys today. We were brave, really brave. We had five or six try-saving tackles. They kept turning up for each other out of position. It's disappointing because of the effort they put in."
The Sea Eagles' defeat came without Origin stars Daly Cherry-Evans and Tom Trbojevic, plus the NSW star's injured brother Jake. Manly were gutsy given the players they were missing, and scrambled well to save several tries before the time without Koula cruelled them.
Ponga insisted after his side's win that the Maroons decision to leave him out for the Origin opener had not played on his mind or influenced his move from five-eighth to fullback. The Knights skipper admitted that the only way to get back into the Queensland side is to string matches together without concussion scares.
"I just have to play games, I can't worry about (selection)," Ponga said. "I am fortunate that today I had a couple and obviously no effect. I felt fine.
"It is part of footy and a part of my game. I can't worry about them. I can't go into games worried about that. I just need to move on and do my role and play good footy."
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