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They say a week is a long time in football. For Jamie Soward and Penrith on Sunday a minute wasn't nearly as long as it should have been.
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The Manly Sea Eagles fought back to grab two competition points in the final minute from the luckless Penrith Panthers.
A furious Soward labelled as "disgraceful" the dying moments of the Panthers' heartbreaking defeat to Manly, convinced the visitors were robbed of a chance to hit back in the final seconds because of a timekeeping error.
Soward had approached referee Matt Cecchin in a dramatic last minute at Brookvale Oval incredulous that the clock on the scoreboard at the northern end of the ground had not come to a halt as Manly captain Jamie Lyon lined up to convert the match-winning try.
Behind by one point thanks to a Tom Symonds try, scored with 68seconds remaining, Soward believed that time should have been stopped well before it eventually was — with 11 seconds left. Told by Cecchin that the referee had indeed called time out 15seconds earlier and that the issue was "out of my control" Soward could not contain his anger. "That's disgraceful," he was heard to say to Cecchin on the match audio.
The matter, which follows at least three other timekeeping dramas to affect matches this season, was as confusing as it was controversial.
In the end, Penrith were left with only four seconds remaining when they kicked off for the last time, with the time turned back on as Lyon took the conversion. It erased any remote chance they had of responding to level the match at 26-26.
Soward believed the Panthers had been denied "50 seconds" by the episode. "How long does it take to kick a field goal? Five, plus six seconds to get the ball back," he said.
"I was obviously devastated that they'd scored. [The clock] didn't stop when I walked forward and I asked them that the time should have stopped 15seconds ago. And it didn't stop – I think you all heard that in the audio."
Asked what he had said to Cecchin, Soward replied: "He just said he'd called time off and he wasn't keeping time. The timekeeper was."
Manly had also been involved in another timekeeping debacle in April at Leichhardt Oval when they were able to manage a final play in the first half, and score a try through Lyon, despite the clock having counted down to zero. A week later the NRL was forced to apologise when the Dragons were robbed of victory against Melbourne when the Storm's Young Tonumaipea played the ball marginally after the game clock had elapsed, and they went on to score a match winner after an extended movement.
Penrith coach Ivan Cleary was aghast that Cecchin and on-field colleague Gavin Reynolds had not referred the final try to the video referee – which would have triggered the clock to be stopped automatically – to check whether Manly's chasing players were in front of kicker Kieran Foran as he put up a bomb.
"I would have liked to have seen the video," Cleary said. "I thought a couple of those chasers of the kick were really close ... if the clock had stopped too, that would have been nice.
An NRL spokesman said they would look at the timekeeping dispute on Monday.