The NRL is vowing to close a loophole in the Captain’s Challenge rule which teams have begun to exploit for tactical purposes.
According to the NRL’s rule book, a team can only request a Captain’s Challenge when the referee has stopped play, and can only challenge the decision which has directly caused play to be stopped.
For this reason, “play-on decisions”, such as knock-ons missed by the referee, are unable to be challenged.
However, at his weekly briefing on Monday, NRL head of football elite competitions Graham Annesley explained some teams had begun deliberately giving away penalties in order to stop play, therefore giving themselves the opportunity to challenge a “play-on decision”.
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For example, in Friday’s clash between the Rabbitohs and Panthers, Annesley said Souths hooker Damien Cook deliberately held on too long in a tackle in order to give away a penalty.
In doing so, he stopped play, and then challenged the referee’s decision not to call a Penrith knock-on which he believed occurred immediately before the penalty.
Annesley said referee Ashley Klein was incorrect in allowing Cook to challenge the “play-on decision”.
“That’s not a legitimate challenge because it’s not (challenging) the decision that the referee made. The referee made a ‘play-on decision’, which can’t be challenged,” Annesley explained.
“Some people will say, ‘Does it really matter, as long as we get the decision right?’
“But there has to be some parameters around this.
“If it doesn’t have parameters around it, we’re stopping the play all the time.
“We have to try and find that right balance between correct decisions and the intrusion that technology can have on the flow and continuity of the game.”
Annesley said things could spiral out of control if players were permitted to deliberately incur penalties in order to mount Captain’s Challenges.
“It just compounds the situation and they’d be doing it all the time,” said Annesley.
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Annesley said players could be sin-binned for exploiting the rule, just as Broncos hooker Jake Turpin was in his side’s round four loss to the New Zealand Warriors.
“If he thinks that a player is using gamesmanship, for example, to slow the game down … then the referee still has the ability to take action on that (by sin-binning the player),” Annesley said.
“It’s a high-risk strategy just to try and get a decision reviewed, which you may or may not get right anyway.”
Annesley said the referees were striving towards stamping out illegitimate Captain’s Challenges and penalising exploitation of the loophole consistently.
“There’s been a bit of inconsistency in the way the referees have reacted,” he admitted.