‘It’s a joke’: NRL trainer farce under the spotlight
It may have been seen as the lesser controversy of the NRL Grand Final but a spotlight has focused on a bizarre moment early which has exposed an "archaic" rule that needs to be changed.
Just under three minutes into the game, the Roosters' Luke Keary went to put in an attacking kick but was charged down by the Raiders' Iosia Soliola.
Cannoning off his head, the ball flew out the back and struck the Roosters' trainer.
Only the Raiders' second rower Elliott Whitehead was heading in the right direction and looked to be a certainty to get to the ball first.
But since it struck the trainer, the teams have to pack a scrum with the feed going to the team in their attacking zone, as would happen if it hit the referee while in play.
According to the NRL rules: "Where play is irregularly affected in the field of play, the referee shall restart play with a scrum with the attacking team to receive the loose head and feed."
NRL greats Phil Gould and Andrew Johns were bemused by the incident, which generated a storm of controversy on social media.
"This could have been a huge advantage to the Raiders, but it will be an attacking scrum to the Roosters," Gould said on Channel 9's coverage.
"It hits the trainer right in the head."
"And have a look at Whitehead he is away there," Andrew Johns added.
"Whitehead could have scored there."
Fans on Twitter were furious, labelling the officiating of the sport's biggest match of the year a "joke".
League legend Peter Sterling described the rule as "obscure".
Raiders fans were furious and booed as the scrum paced down.
But instead, after a repeat set, the Roosters scored a soft try through hooker Sam Verrills.
Unfortunately, it wasn't the only controversial call of the season.
But after a massive momentum swing, the calls to change the rule have intensified with referees taking advantage of a relaxed attitude towards their presence on the field.
NRL rule state trainers may enter the field to relay a message to one certain player, to give water to the players, or to assist an injured player.
Fans were furious about the trainers influence.
That’s a joke. When a trainer lurking on the field gets hit by the ball that team should cop a penalty, not get the feed in the scrum...much less given that it cost the Raiders a try ffs— Peter van Onselen (@vanOnselenP) October 6, 2019
But speaking on the season finale of Fox League's NRL360 host Paul Kent railed against the rule, slamming the fact the NRL haven't changed the law to suit the modern game.
"The problem with this is that it's an archaic rule that's been around since year one and doesn't really take into account that trainers are always on the field," Kent said. "The problem I have with this is why two and a half minutes into a game is a trainer already game.
Fox Sports journalist James Hooper was on the panel and unreservedly agreed.
"100 per cent, it's a joke," Hooper said. "Why is he out there? The game isn't even three minutes old."
Co-host Ben Ikin said the rule was written when there one referee when trainers weren't as big an issue.
Kent said it was from a time when the trainers weren't running messages.
But he also had some hope for NRL fans who don't want to see that debacle again.
"The fact is that they're on there for strategic reasons, not medical reasons," he said. "I spoke to Todd Greenberg today and he said 'this hopefully is an opportunity over the summer to address trainers being on the field. If there's one thing that annoys fans very much is the trainers on the field coaching them like they're under-eight's."
Hooper said the rule had a big impact on the game.
"That's just another example of the rub of the green that clearly went against the Raiders early," he said. "Canberra didn't see the ball for a number of sets afterwards. The Roosters were just camped on their line creating opportunity after opportunity so I can understand why Raiders fans were frustrated by that moment."
Former Broncos and Panthers coach Anthony Griffin joined the panel later and said the ensuing try was the biggest moment of the match for in his eyes.
"I thought the first try lost it for them, they had to start fast," Griffin said. "The first try that Verrills scored it was a fairly soft try as grand final tries go. They had to get in front of the Roosters. Once they get in front, they're very hard to get past. That six points was the difference all night and made the Roosters a little comfortable, made the Raiders have to chase and that was the difference in the end."
The entire trajectory of this game has changed because the ball hit the trainer. And they get the scrum feed? There needs to be a limit to the number of times trainers can come on, screaming instructions! #NRLGF— Leonie Ryan (@LeonieFRyan) October 6, 2019