A ballboy at the centre of a NRL try-scoring scandal 16 years ago says it’s easy to be caught up in the moment when players are crying out for the ball.
Former North Sydney Bears ballboy Mark Sorrenti created a storm in a situation similar to that of the 12-year-old Parramatta boy who on Friday night passed the ball to Vai Toutai instead of putting it on the sideline which halted a quick restart from a 40/20, and a possible try to Chris Sandow.
Disappointed: Tim Mannah remonstrates with the match official at Friday's NRL clash. Photo: Getty Images
Sorrenti threw North Sydney's Wade Horder the ball who passed to Mark Soden before the hooker quickly re-started play to score leaving their opposition side the Warriors fuming in 1998. Ballboys are required to place the ball on the sidelines for the attacking team to collect.
“It all happened so quickly,” Sorrenti, 30, recalls. “There’s been a lot of times you’ve thrown the ball in but because it didn’t relate to a try there were never any issues.
“One of the Bears boys were calling out my name to pass it. We were always told to put the ball on the ground but for your team you’d throw the ball in and get an advantage but for the opposition you’d place it on the ground.
"It all happened so quickly": Former North Sydney Bears ballboy Mark Sorrenti. Photo: Supplied
“You would always do what the players wanted. If they called for the ball, I wouldn’t place it on the ground, I would throw it to them.”
Then 14, Sorrenti spent four years on the sidelines for the Bears. He said he felt for the boy at the centre of the Parramatta gaffe.
“I don’t think he was thinking that it was an opportunity to help the team,” Sorrenti said. “If the players were calling for the ball you’re going to pass it. People look at it and say it was the ballboys fault, but I wouldn’t say it is.
“It’s just unfortunate that he was the one who passed the ball.”
While ballboys are part of the rugby league fabric, they have regularly been featured in headlines. Former Manly winger John Hopoate was forced to apologise to a 14-year-old ballboy in 2005 after he allegedly called Jemel Thompson a "little shit" when he refused to throw him the ball for a re-start. Thompson had correctly placed the ball on the line.
In July, Penrith coach Ivan Cleary was critical of the ballboys after his side were denied a quick restart from a 40/20.
"We couldn't get a quick play the ball because the ball boy wasn't ready and I think that's something we need to fix," Cleary said. "Whether the ball boy is ready and has the ball on the ground I dont think it should be part of the experiment.”
Sorrenti joined the Bears players as part of their celebration following their 44-26 win against the Warriors.
“Greg Florimo brought us into the change rooms and all the boys gave us three cheers and voted us man of the match,” Sorrenti said.