Why refs are helpless before Melbourne’s might
It's Australia v England. Who are you cheering?
No, not in the Ashes Test at Lord's. In the Storm v Raiders clash at AAMI Park on Saturday night.
I reckon if you ran a poll on the two leaders of these respective teams Josh Hodgson would run rings around Cameron Smith in the popularity stakes. And I don't think it is any secret why.
I acknowledge Smith is a champion player and it is becoming increasingly difficult not to concede he is the greatest of all time.
I have never seen a player so calculated and composed in his overall control of the game.
He already holds just about every rugby league record there is, while you'd probably say the footy Smith is playing at 36 is as good as he ever has.
For all that, he commands absolute respect.
So why do so many fans not like him?
I will tell you why I reckon.
Aussies traditionally love a fair go.
But I believe when it comes to King Cam and the refs, it is not a fair fight, and fans see through this.
It was on show in Gosford again last Sunday in the 26-16 win over South Sydney.
You would think NRL referees boss Bernard Sutton would look back on this match with embarrassment that the Storm were allowed to give up eight straight penalties and yet not receive so much as an onfield warning, let alone having someone sent to the sin bin for the continued infringements.
At one point South Sydney's Cody Walker expressed his frustration to referee Gerard Sutton but was basically waved away with contempt.
But the chorus of boos that Smith copped as he walked up the tunnel at halftime only highlighted the frustration the fans were also feeling.
Smith apparently quipped back at the locals: "I'm glad you paid your way in because you are paying my wages".
While it was a quick-witted comeback, the fans aren't fools either. They see what is going on before their eyes, you just wonder why the refs don't.
I went back over the game twice this week just to make sure I was seeing if for what it was and not with a bias against the Storm because of past judgments.
While the Storm eventually lost the penalty count 11-7 (it's funny how it evened up), I have no doubt they should have conceded at least six to eight more penalties, and that is being conservative.
Their defensive line, led by Smith, was jumping the gun in key sets while standing offside right in front of the nose of Gerard Sutton and assistant David Munro.
The Storm's go-slow tactics in the ruck were equally contemptuous.
And on top of Nelson Asofa-Solomona sensationally escaping a charge for his shocking crusher tackle on Dean Britt, there were several other incidents involving Storm forwards leading with their elbow while running the ball that were highlighted by Jimmy Smith on Fox Sports' Bill and Boz Show.
It was really dangerous stuff, yet not penalised once.
I got a text message from Melbourne head of football Frank Ponissi after some comments I made on NRL360 asking why I run my anti-Storm stories every August/early September, whether it was just coincidence or if it was an agenda.
I can assure you it's not an agenda.
Maybe I'm wrong, but I believe when the big games roll around the stakes go up and everyone wants to push the boundaries.
But I don't believe the referees have the gumption to stand toe-to-toe with Smith, just like NSW fans will tell you happened when Smith captained Queensland.
Is it agenda, or is it a reality?
Because there were stages last Sunday where the Fox Sports commentary team, that included one of the fairest men to ever play the game in Danny Buderus, questioned why the Storm had not been given an official warning or had another player sent to the sin bin because of the continued infringements.
For mine, it is as though the Storm work to the theory the refs will only blow so many penalties. So at some point they will gain the advantage, even when it seems they are copping a caning.
Their tactics became so frustrating last Sunday that I believe the stop-start nature of the game really limited South Sydney's momentum with the ball.
Yet people will still say with all those penalties the Rabbitohs should have scored more points.
I do believe Melbourne's capacity to commit to their defensive structures is better than just about every other team and that comes from the great coaching of Craig Bellamy. We all give them credit for that.
But when you see clear penalties that are not blown you are entitled to question why.
And I believe it goes to the core of why most footy fans for years have been fed up with the man who should be the most adored rugby league player in history.
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