Shane Flanagan has labelled the officiating “disgraceful” in Cronulla’s epic 15-14 extra-time loss to North Queensland.
The Sharks had their title defence ended after a string of 50-50 calls went against the reigning premiers at Allianz Stadium on Sunday afternoon, with the Cowboys twice coming from eight points down to force a 14-all draw before stealing victory in extra-time with a Michael Morgan field goal.
Flanagan arrived at the post-game press conference with a list of perceived injustices against his side, the main one being the sin-binning of five-eighth James Maloney with seconds remaining in the first half with Cronulla leading 8-0. North Queensland took advantage, getting back into the game through a penalty goal and a try to Kyle Feldt.
With Cronulla having to defend for almost 10 minutes of the second half with 12 men, the Sharks were noticeably weary during the final stages of normal time as well as extra-time.
Flanagan’s list included Luke Lewis continually being run off the ball on kick chase, Ricky Leutele being taken out attempting to support Sosaia Feki, the Cowboys being awarded a scrum feed after a ball was kicked into Jayden Brailey while he made a tackle and a knock on against Andrew Fifita that appeared to roll through the prop’s legs.
There was also a second half try to Jason Taumalolo that match officials ruled a try, with video replays not appearing to show the ball reach the ground with the attention of five Sharks defenders.
But along with Maloney being sent to the sin bin, Flanagan’s main gripe was the Cowboys being given a penalty in the dying minutes when Matt Prior was ruled to have stripped the ball allowing North Queensland to level the score with a penalty goal.
Cronulla then marched down field and, with Paul Gallen tackled on the try line, appeared to have the ball pulled from his grasp as he attempted to get to his feet, with match officials ruling a knock on.
It continued a difficult weekend for the NRL with refereeing decisions directly affecting the outcome of both elimination semi-finals after Manly’s controversial exit to Penrith on Saturday night.
“Now I know how [Manly coach] Trent Barrett feels,” Flanagan said.
“The first one was James Maloney. We talk about our biggest games of the year and we just want it right. Or close to right. Let the teams decide it. When is James Maloney a professional foul? It’s not a professional foul it’s a penalty if that.
“And then we get to the real important ones. Paul Gallen, trying to get up to play the ball. And there’s a bloke [who] pulls the ball out. But go down the other end of the field Matt Prior affecting a tackle, they say he pulls it out and they kick a [penalty] goal. Paul Gallen’s should have been a penalty, game over, we win the game. Full stop.
“So, we talk about decisions. Crucial decisions, all wrong.
“11-5 penalty count. I listened to Trent yesterday and his team is out of the competition. And clearly there were some decisions there, especially the Gal one, at a crucial time, should have been a penalty. Andrew Fifita’s wasn’t a knock on. They kick a field goal. Scoring plays.
“We talk about the game, we want to get people here. We’ve got bigger issues. Bigger issues. We’ve got to fix this up. There’s 10 [decisions] at least [on this list] and they’re just ones I quickly wanted to make sure I got the point across. Because I’ve got a club that works really hard. Obviously we won our first premiership last year. We’ve got sponsors, supporters and not only the players that have to go through this. And it’s really, really disappointing.
“And it’s disappointing for a game that we’re talking about this now. But I had to come and talk about it because in my view it impacted on the result. So in my view we need to fix it up. Imagine if that was a grand final? Those two [referees] won’t be there.”
Cowboys coach Paul Green was proud of his players, who move on to another elimination final against Parramatta at ANZ Stadium on Saturday night.