The NRL has reportedly launched an investigation into a Melbourne Storm trainer who called for a stop late in the game against the Parramatta Eels on Saturday night.
While Parramatta only had four minutes remaining and still needed two converted tries to send the game to extra time, the side was widely seen to have captured momentum with a strong set of six developing before referee Ashley Klein called a halt to proceedings.
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At the time, Fox League commentator Andrew Voss said “oh come on, he doesn’t need doctors help” when the game was stopped by Klein when the Storm trainer called out.
“You don’t stop play for that,” Greg Alexander agreed.
Klein then replied to Eels captain Clint Gutherson’s protests that: “the trainer’s put his hand up and that’s all we’re going to worry about”.
Voss added: “That is outrageous with Parramatta on a roll”.
Unsurprisingly it was brought up in NRL head of football Graham Annesley’s post-weekend briefing, with camera angles reportedly showing the trainer hadn’t even reached Vunivalu before he signalled for play to stop for the Fijian winger.
The NRL is considering issuing the Storm a breach notice for the incident with rules stopping trainers from “attempts to unnecessarily stop play for tactical reasons”.
Annesley defended Klein’s decision to stop the game on the advice of the trainer, arguing “It can’t rest with the referees because you can bet your life that the moment they allow play to play on a player will have a serious injury and then we will have a major problem.”
While it’s not uncommon for players to feign injury late in a game to run down the clock, the latest tactic has drown the ire of many, including The Daily Telegraph reporter and NRL 360 host Paul Kent.
Speaking on Triple M’s Sunday Sin-Bin, Kent launched a furious attack on the play, calling for a change in rules.
Kent pointed back to the days of Jack Gibson coached teams, with his golden rule that “the only reason you have to not be in the defensive line is if you have a broken leg.”
“There are so many reason why this (a referee calling time off for cramp) should not be part of the game,” he said. “One is about the historical heritage of the toughness of the game … secondly it’s a tactical ploy too. Parramatta had momentum the clock was winding down, they had probably three sets left in the game, they needed to keep going with Melbourne on the back foot. And all that momentum was arrested by Vunivalu going down in back play with a cramp of all things.
“The referee called time out, and Melbourne reset their defensive line, copped a breather from the cramp and then the trainer was looking at something on his wrist … not because there was an injury there but to buy more time.
“The referees were conned by it because of this duty of care, if a player’s injured or hurt that we call time out now and it’s being exploited, it’s been used for reasons now that it shouldn’t be used. There is no reason unless the player is in the ruck for them to call time off.”
Kent said the trainers are out there for tactical reasons in the modern game and shouldn’t necessarily be the ones to stop the game.
While he didn’t have the particular solution, admitting there are grey areas, he said the rule was “being exploited and it’s ruining the game”.
“There is no way in the world a game should be stopped for a cramp, it’s embarrassing,” Kent said.