Why NRL’s hands are tied over bunker howlers

The NRL’s head of football Graham Annesley has conceded he “hasn’t got the depth” to drop bunker officials after mistakes, following another weekend where the game’s polarising video review system made headlines.

Raiders coach Ricky Stuart was left fuming after winger Bailey Simonsson was sin binned at a crucial moment in their narrow loss to the Storm, with the review official ruling he had taken out Josh Addo-Carr during a try-scoring opportunity, constituting a professional foul.

It was a call that received little support and in his weekly Monday media briefing Annesley confirmed that not only should it not have been a sin-bin, but that Simonsson shouldn’t have even been penalised.

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“You can see that there’s an arm that goes out in front of Addo-Carr but he’s not trying to stop him he’s trying to get at the ball,” Annesley said, speaking over vision of the incident in question.

“The impact is largely around the legs as their legs get entangled. So I think they’re just looking for too much in these incidents and if you’re looking at this as a fan, as someone just sitting in your living room watching this at normal speed and then the broadcaster replays I think you just say that’s a collision.

“So that’s why I said in my view it shouldn’t have been a penalty, but it was a sin bin as well, and I don’t think either of those was a correct decision.”

Annesley conceded that it was the type of decision that could potentially cost an official his place in the bunker the following week if there was a broader pool of bunker officials to choose from.

Somewhat alarmingly, however, Annesley said there were just three officials who could take on the role at the moment; Jared Maxwell, Steve Chiddy and Steve Clark. Clark has only recently completed his apprenticeship in the role.

Addin Fonua-Blake is sent off after a controversial bunker call. (Nine)

Under questioning from a journalist, Annesley wryly admitted “it’s not a Melbourne Cup field either, there’s not people bashing the door down saying ‘I want to be a video referee in the bunker’.”

He added that the NRL’s COVID-19 protocols had ensured the pool of bunker officials had dried up considerably because on-field officials are not allowed to double up due to the different bubbles officials are in.

“So it is a very specialised role, there are very few people who are, at this stage, trained to do it,” Annesley said.

“We have in the last few years had the luxury of having several of our central referees, our main referees, who have also been able to double in the bunker. Because of COVID and bubbles, this year we can’t do that.

“So we can’t have Ash Klein and those sorts of people on the days that they’re not refereeing coming into what’s effectively not a ‘clean’ area, the bunker. They’re under the same protocols in the referees’ bubble that all the clubs are under.

“So we don’t have the luxury of a lot of people who can do this and there’s no point taking someone out of that role to put someone else in who has less capability to do the job because we’ll get more errors.”

While Annesley was disappointed with the Simonsson call he gave a robust defence of the bunker in general, saying it was a vastly superior system to what existed prior to the advent of video referees.

He added that errors from officials had been a talking point among the media and fans for 112 years and would continue to be for the next 112 years.

“If we’re looking for a Utopian situation where our referees go out onto the field and no one makes an error … it’s just not going to happen and anyone who thinks it is going to happen is just off with the pixies because it’s just not going to happen,” Annesley said.

“It doesn’t matter whether I’m standing here, whether someone else is standing here, whether Bernard Sutton is coaching the referees, whether it’s in another 20 years time and there’s a whole bunch of people in this room, we’ll still be talking about it.

“We’ve been talking about it for 112 years and I daresay we still will be, without me, in 112 years time from now.”

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