Both of Australia’s two major footy codes have been plunged into controversy after week one of the finals following a series of highly contentious refereeing decisions have split the nation.
Firstly in Adelaide a free kick awarded to the West Coast Eagles in the final moments of extra time saw Port Adelaide eliminated from this year’s AFL finals.
With just 17 seconds remaining in the second period of extra time Port seemed home leading by four points. But with the ball in the Eagle’s forward 50 West Coast midfielder Luke Shuey was dragged back by Jared Polec.
Whistle and umpire Chris Donlon awarded a free kick for high contact. Shuey dusted himself off and calmly potted the goal to give the Eagles the most thrilling of victories and earn his side a semi-final against Greater Western Sydney next Saturday night.
Cue jubilation from Eagles fans, outrage from Port supporters.
The rest of Australia is now debating whether it was a free kick or not. By the letter of the law, no. Well, this year’s law. Under last year’s laws it was a free kick but according to the changed interpretations this season, Shuey brought the high contact upon himself.
But that’s a call made in hindsight and numerous slow motion angles. In real time and the heat of the moment, you can completely understand Donlon blowing his whistle.
Indeed yesterday morning the AFL’s umpiring department backed the umpire’s call, although that appears to contradict their own direction at the start of the season.
It also doesn’t console the thousands of Port Adelaide fans who saw their team win four of the final five matches to charge into the finals, and had hopes of them going deep into September.
But despite the final decision they only had themselves to blame after their woeful accuracy, kicking 10.16 to the Eagles 12.6. Charlie Dixon was among Port’s best but his own effort of 3.6 was a big part of the problem.
If Port fans are angry Manly fans’ blood is boiling after three highly debatable calls went against them in their 22-10 Elimination Final loss to the Panthers, dubbed one of the greatest upsets in NRL finals history.
Steam was coming out of the Sea Eagles’ coach Trent Barrett’s ears as he faced the media after the match.
“What I would like is the bunker and Tony Archer (the NRL referees boss) and the referees to go into my shed and explain to my players that their season is now finished on the back of those two calls,” Barrett seethed.
Chief amongst Barrett’s ire was the NRL policy of having the referee make a call on the field which the high-tech NRL Bunker then has to overturn.
Manly scored what looked liked two legitimate tries which, with the barest 50-50 evidence, the Bunker overturned but then in the 76th minute with scores locked came the decision that really broke Manly hearts.
A Bryce Cartwright kick ricocheted from Daly Cherry-Evans into David Peachey, striking what looked like his knees and his hands before he regathered to ‘score’.
“How you get an on-field decision when the player kicks it, it ricochets off him into a Penrith players chest, (then) off his hand, how they can say that they are 100 per cent confident that is a try is beyond me” reasoned Barrett.
But the NRL bunker’s official Twitter account declared that there was “no evidence to suggest Peachey knocks on” could be found – and the try stood.
Under the same basis Barrett wanted to know what evidence had been found to say Dylan Walker was offside before his try or that Akuila Uate had definitely knocked on in the other disallowed score.
“(The) on-field referee and the two touch judges thought he (Walker) was (onside) as well and yet the video ref was 100 per certain that he was in front of him?” Barrett said.
“It’s cost us our season. Deadset what am I meant to say to the players? Unbelievable.”
“Take nothing away from Penrith, they played well. But I hope that the grand final’s not decided like that. That would be a bloody shame.”