Despite his side’s 22-18 win over the Gold Coast Titans, South Sydney Rabbitohs coach Michael Maguire yesterday joined a growing chorus of concern over NRL refereeing.
Oddly, the two most contentious calls of the match, within moments of each other late in the first half, both went the Rabbitohs’ way – one robbing the Titans of a try and the other awarding a try to South Sydney on the ensuing set.
Canterbury Bulldogs coach Des Hasler and Manly Sea Eagles coach Geoff Toovey were also critical of NRL officiating over the weekend, voicing concerns about the standard of refereeing, particularly with the finals on the horizon.
Yesterday, Titans coach John Cartwright said the two decisions by video referee Sean Hampstead were “critical” and could have gone either way, but he declined to comment further, citing a mid-week directive from the NRL on criticism of referees.
However, Maguire admitted concern that a dodgy decision could be costly at the sharp end of the season for his team, now in the hunt for a minor premiership after extending its winning streak to six games – the club’s longest since 1994.
“I just hope we’re not sitting here talking about decisions (costing games),” said Maguire, who noted decisions had gone against his side as well yesterday.
“I think coaches over the last few weeks have probably emphasised everything about the refs. Obviously (there’s) some interesting ones out there again (against the Titans). I’ll go through the right channels this week and talk to them about that.
“I just hope it doesn’t hurt us at some stage ... all teams. As coaches, we have to look at performing at our best. When you’ve got decisions against you, in the light of what happened out there today, it can swing games very quickly.”
Yesterday’s match swung heavily in the Rabbitohs’ favour when, in the 10 minutes before halftime, Titans winger David Mead had a try disallowed when Hampstead ruled Titan Luke O’Dwyer had impeded Rabbitohs forward Chris McQueen in the lead-up.
On the next set, Souths winger Justin Hunt scored from a kick after it looked as though the ball may have been propelled forward off McQueen’s hands.
“I don’t think anyone would have been surprised if they both had gone the other way,” Cartwright said.
“You don’t really know what you’re going to get but I’m sure they’ll have an explanation for it.
“They were critical at the point, getting pretty close to halftime ... it was a 12-point turnaround with our disallowed one and then their one.”
With 20 minutes to go, the Rabbitohs’s lead blew out to a 22-6 as Titan-in-waiting Dave Taylor thrilled the Skilled Park crowd of 20,187, amassing 37 tackles and 157 run metres, including a 40m burst that ended after a neat sidestep around fullback Zillman.
However, tries from Aiden Sezer and Kevin Gordon set up a tense finish as the Gold Coast threw everything at the visitors in their bid to remain in the top eight.
Cartwright said his side lacked consistency across the 80 minutes.
“I think we played good in patches but we just didn’t finish our sets,” he said.
“That was the difference between this week and any game we’ve won this year. We created so many opportunities and passes were going down or we didn’t get to our kick.
“I just thought we were one repeat set the whole game away from coming up with points, and we just couldn’t grab it.”
The visitors stretched their lead to 16-6 at the 50-minute mark after Titans skipper Scott Prince fired a pass towards unmarked winger Mead 12m off the Rabbitohs line. Bunnies winger Andrew Everingham read it to perfection, plucking the ball out of the air and running it back for a try.
Prince said the jibes dealt out by the Rabbitohs after the play would serve as good motivation should the two sides cross paths again in September.
“I really enjoyed today’s game, it was a really good test for us and I’m looking forward to hopefully playing them again,” he said.
“I copped a bit of a spray from the Rabbitohs after I threw the intercept pass, hopefully I get a try assist for that one.
“But I just remember telling them ‘I’m coming back for you, so don’t fall asleep’.”
Despite the loss the Titans remain in eighth spot on the ladder and face the Melbourne Storm on Friday night, while the Rabbitohs have a date with premiers Manly.
Souths will be sweating on the availability of prop Sam Burgess, who went on report for a hit on Zillman in the second minute.