Some wrong but NRL backs bunker crackdown

NRL football boss Graham Annesley says officials have done well enforcing a foul play crackdown.
NRL football boss Graham Annesley says officials have done well enforcing a foul play crackdown.

Graham Annesley admits the bunker should make better choices when intervening at times but he's not about to criticise his officials after imposing one of the NRL's most dramatic crackdowns.

NRL head of football Annesley says it's important the bunker continues to stop and rewind play in order to penalise foul play and he believes the video refs did a good job overall in enforcing new guidelines in Magic Round.

Annesley did concede they should not have pinged Cronulla half Chad Townsend for pressure on Cody Walker's head late in his team's loss to South Sydney.

But a day after Rabbitohs coach Wayne Bennett blasted the NRL over the increasing stoppage trend, Annesley insisted incidents couldn't just be left to on-field officials and the match review committee the next day.

Bennett's major gripe in a fiery 12-minute press conference was that the momentum of the game was being ruined, fearing casual fans would switch off in stoppages.

It came amidst a host of such incidents over Magic Round, including one occasion on Friday night where officials went back a whole set to penalise Tevita Pangai in Manly's win over Brisbane.

Annesley said incidents couldn't just be overlooked because they were missed on ground, encouraging the bunker to step in if they warranted a player being put on report.

"I think Wayne had a valid point if the bunker is taking us back to prior incidents for what are relatively minor indiscretions," Annesley told AAP.

"However I don't think anyone would like to see a player get away with a major indiscretion just because the referees missed it.

"That can have implications for free interchanges, the activations of the 18th man.

"The bunker just needs to use the right judgement in deciding which ones are serious enough for us to intervene on."

Annesley said bunker and on-field officials regularly review foul play to better align on what are reportable and sin-bin offences.

Townsend's belated penalty was easily the most crucial, as it ended Cronulla's comeback against South Sydney and put the Rabbitohs in position to score in the next set.

Townsend was not charged following the match review for the pressure on Walker's head, with Sharks coach Josh Hannay labelling the penalty as "soft" and Bennett taking no joy out of it.

Annesley won't be critical of his officials this weekend, but admitted play shouldn't have gone back.

"Probably not. You have to look at the degree of seriousness," he said.

"But what we are doing this weekend is recalibrating. And I think the refs and touch judges have done a pretty good job on getting that recalibration right.

"Now on that particular one maybe they didn't get it quite right.

"But I'm not going to be critical because, given their instructions they have been given for this weekend and the amount of pressure that they have been under, they've done a good job."

Annesley defended the timing of the crackdown of head and neck contact that has led to a deluge of sin-bins across Magic Round.

"Magic Round goes into the history of the game after today," he said.

"We have to make sure that players have the rest of their lives unaffected by serious head knocks.

"When you look at the length of someone's life and the quality of their life compared to one round of football, it just pales into insignificance."

Australian Associated Press