It was one of the most chaotic finishes to an NRL game in recent memory. The Wests Tigers are now exploring their legal options in the hope of overturning their 27-26 defeat to the North Queensland Cowboys on Sunday.
In the AFL in 2006, Fremantle successfully overturned a result four days after a game against St Kilda.
The Dockers led by a point in the final seconds of the game, but the umpires did not hear the siren. Play was allowed to continue for 10 seconds after the siren, in which St Kilda kicked a behind to level the game.
They were later stripped of the behind and Fremantle were awarded the competition points for a win.
The Herald has dissected the last 90 seconds of the Tigers-Cowboys game and cross-referenced it with the 2022 NRL laws and interpretations manual. The Tigers have every right to be angry, but do they have grounds for an appeal?
STARFORD TO’A SCORES TRY: 78:32
When Adam Doueihi and Daine Laurie combined to put Starford To’a over in the corner, the referee’s whistle blew at 78 minutes, 32 seconds. The Channel Nine game clock was stopped at 78:33.
NRL rules in 2022 state that: “Time should be taken off by the referee after one minute and 20 seconds from the time which any try has been awarded up until the time the conversion is taken”.
Going off the try being scored at 78:32, time should have been called off with eight seconds remaining on the clock (79:52). Referee Chris Butler actually gives Doueihi one minute and 23 seconds before signalling time off, which is a provision in the rules.
“The referee may call time out at their discretion if they believe a team would be unfairly disadvantaged (eg. delaying restart, time wasting etc.) by allowing time to continue to expire,” the rules state.
DOUEIHI MOVES IN FOR CONVERSION ATTEMPT: 79:55
Time is called back on just as Doueihi strikes the ball. The conversion attempt hits the upright and time is stopped again with one second remaining.
Under the NRL rules: “Time should be taken off by the referee in the last five minutes of the second half following a conversion … until the play is restarted at the centre of the halfway.”
VALENTINE HOLMES KICKS OFF: 79:59
Holmes kicks off and the ball is caught by Wests Tigers fullback Laurie. A single whistle is blown by referee Butler. The NRL claims this whistle does not signal full-time. The full-time whistle is a series of whistles.
After the referee blows the single whistle, 21 seconds pass before Cowboys captain Chad Townsend requests a challenge.
“A time limit of 10 seconds will apply to initiate a challenge from the point that the referee has signalled and verbalised the decision made,” the rules state.
The Tigers will argue a decision had not even been made for Townsend to challenge.
In defence of the Cowboys, Butler does not give them a chance to challenge as he walks away from the players. “I can’t hear you,” Butler said to the bunker. “What did you say?”
Wests Tigers’ Jackson Hastings.Credit:Getty Images
Butler doesn’t ask the bunker for assistance. There is no audio of him communicating with the bunker until they speak to him.
Under the NRL rules, a challenge is only permissible, “in instances where the referee makes a decision that results in the match recommencing with a structured restart”.
The Tigers will argue that wasn’t the case. They will argue that the only stoppage in play that allowed for the challenge was the whistle for the conclusion of the match, therefore the game was over.
The rules state that a structured restart includes the following: scrum, penalty (tap restart, penalty kick into touch, penalty goal attempt), sixth tackle handover, 20m restart, goal-line drop-out, general play handover, 40/20 or 20/40 restart.
The Cowboys celebrate the win that kept them in outright second on the NRL ladder.Credit:Getty
An NRL spokesperson argued otherwise. “The captain’s challenge was permissible in these circumstances. The captain can challenge decisions by the referee to stop the play,” the spokesperson said.
“Although the referee had blown his whistle to stop the game after the last tackle was completed as time had expired, he had not yet called full-time.
“The whole concept of the captain’s challenge is to make sure any decision by the referee that stops the game can be reviewed. To not do so would effectively deny a team the right to have an officiating error corrected on the last play of a game just because time had expired.
“There are multiple examples of games continuing after time has expired following an infringement. These include incidences of foul play or other penalisable rule breaches. The obstruction decision itself will be reviewed as a matter of course on Monday.”
The Wests Tigers after their controversial last-second loss to the Cowboys.Credit:Getty Images
The NRL’s response will anger the Tigers, who feel they have been robbed of two competition points.
“We are outraged by the decision. We are exploring all options available to us,” Tigers chairman Lee Hagipantelis told the Herald after the game.
“I have spoken to Peter V’landys and Andrew Abdo and expressed my concerns in the strongest possible terms. We are considering all options available to us, including any legal options that may be available to us to challenge the decision that led to the ultimate result.
“We owe it to our fans and members and also to our players to ensure we voice these concerns in the strongest possible terms.”
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