‘Petrified, bullied’ refs behind Wests Tigers escort penalty farce against Cowboys, Paul Kent and Phil Gould say

The uproar over the Cowboys’ last-minute penalty to down the Wests Tigers on Sunday has left the NRL facing an uncomfortable truth according to two of the games biggest media pundits.

Bulldogs football supremo and Channel 9 commentator Phil Gould claimed the referees are “petrified” of being raked over the coals for getting it wrong, while NRL 360 and The Daily Telegraph’s Paul Kent said the issue comes from coaches “bullying” League Central.

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The NRL admitted bunker official Ashley Klein got the call wrong after head of football Graham Annesley fronted the media on Monday.

It comes after the football world fumed over the decision which saw on-field referee Chris Butler accept a captain’s challenge after full-time, handing the Cowboys a penalty kick to snatch a 27-26 victory.

There have since been discussions of a “short whistle”, rugby league’s latest reckoning with diving and the Wests Tigers threatening legal action.

But Gould believes another part of the issue is referees using the bunker as a safety net so as not to make difficult decisions themselves.

“We’re getting more and more and more reliant on technology and the Bunker, and the philosophy from those who run the referees and tell them how they should handle certain situations has meant that referees have relied more and more and more on technology rather than making a decision themselves,” Gould said on Nine’s 100% Footy.

“The referee should have had that matter in hand, just blown full-time, no one would have complained, we move on, Wests Tigers had a brilliant win, they won, that’s all done.

“But because the referees are petrified — and I mean petrified — of being singled out for criticism (they love to refer to the Bunker).

“What you had (in the Cowboys-Tigers game) was the referee saying, ‘Well, I’m just going to dump this up to the Bunker. Whatever happens. He’s called a challenge’.

“Well he can’t challenge it; there’s nothing to challenge.

“(The referee) should have just ruled full-time.”

Gould said the bunker is supposed to protect referees and it’s why some sections of the referees department is pushing for a greater use of technology.

As maligned as the bunker has become, Annesley trumpeted the fact in the three years the captain’s challenge has been available, 360 have been successful.

Sharks legend Paul Gallen agreed Butler was scared of making the wrong call.

“That referee lost control of that situation. He totally lost control,” Gallen said.

“He blew the whistle and then as soon as (Cowboys captain) Chad Townsend went to him … he went, ‘Oh, thank God! Thank God I can get out of this. I can send it to the Bunker and it’s not my decision’.

“He totally lost control. If he had the cojones about him he would have just ended the game there.”

Kent, who went on Fox League’s NRL 360 on Monday night to argue the penalty was justified, despite the NRL earlier admitting it was wrong, also penned a piece for The Daily Telegraph blaming the coaches for the issue.

He argued: “the coaches’ bullying of League Central has created an environment where the small chances of a rational decision being made can no longer exist.”

Kent said the hunt for consistency was an unreachable goal in an “inconsistent game”.

“The moment a little discretion is applied and a ruling is made using what some might call ‘footy common sense’ you can bet a coach will send a dozen clips the following Monday asking why these incidents weren’t adjudicated the same way,” Kent wrote.

“The convincer in the argument will be the need for ‘consistency’.

“So the game will order black and white interpretations to satisfy this yearning for consistency – even though it is an inconsistent game – and the moment a decision no longer fits, like on Sunday, everyone is in uproar that common sense has gone out the window.”

Kent was up against it on NRL 360 on Monday night when he argued the NRL had in fact got it right.

“I think the referee or Klein, you could argue he got it right,” he said.

“Chris Butler says before kick-off, no escorts, he makes it very clear, no escorts.

“Now look at the line Feldt runs and look at the line Kepaoa runs, he accelerates and at no point is he running towards the ball.

“The fact is Kepaoa accelerates to get in front of Feldt. Look who changes their line. Think Kepaoa knew what he was doing. I think Kepaoa knew he was running an escort and did it anyway.”

Co-host Braith Anasta said he was “in fairy land”.

“He’s got his eyes on the ball Kepaoa, he’s watching the ball and you don’t know exactly where the ball is going to land when it’s kicked,” Anasta said.

“Feldt runs into him on purpose and dives to the left hand side when he’s no chance of getting anywhere near it.

“Even if he knew what he was doing he did it the right way, players do it every week.”

Kent retorted: “You’re not allowed to do it though Braith”.

Anasta replied: “He’s allowed to do it if he’s looking at the ball and running towards the ball. There’s not a person not called Paul Kent who thinks they got it right.”

However, Kent concluded: “There’s no doubt Feldt milked it, he’s the biggest milker in the game. I think he picked out a Tiger to do it because the kick was too deep but Kepaoa also erred, I think he went in there as an escort rather than going for the ball.”

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