Cronulla Sharks coach Shane Flanagan calls for referee consistency amid glut of penalties

Sharks coach Shane Flanagan. Picture: AAP Image
Sharks coach Shane Flanagan. Picture: AAP Image

Shane Flanagan has called on referees to maintain their consistency amid criticism of the number of penalties awarded by whistleblowers in the opening rounds of the new season.

Another 20 penalties were blown in Melbourne’s win over North Queensland on Thursday night, highlighted by a number of inside the 10 metres infringements.

Immortal Andrew Johns accused referees Matt Cecchin and Alan Shortall of “destroying the game” during Channel Nine’s half-time show with 12 penalties blown in the first half of the Storm-Cowboys clash.

The number of penalties awarded after two rounds is up significantly from the same time last season. But Flanagan, whose Cronulla side were the second-most penalised team last season and were again heading into round three, is happy with increased penalties as long as officials remain consistent.

”Right across the games there’s been a lot of penalties. There hasn’t just been one game that’s stood out from others. So as long as they’re consistent and they stay with it right through the year I think at least we all know the rules and what they’re after,” he said. 

“Coaches were notified what they’re looking at and they’ve addressed the play the ball. I think most sides have been pretty good in that area about getting your foot to the ball. Jumping early inside the 10 metres is another one, or giving penalties away inside [your own] 10 metres is another one. So they’ve been really consistent in those areas. I don’t expect anything different tomorrow [against Parramatta] and as long as they stick to it I’ll be happy.

“I think definitely at the start of the year we always talk about penalties and referees trying to rule the game. Players and coaches will push the limits as much as we can and it’s the referee’s job to stick by the rules. I’m sure Todd [Greenberg] and [the NRL] have given them clear directives what they want the game to look like. You’d have to ask Todd what they think about the referees. But they’ve been consistent and we have to give them a tick there.

“You can’t have quick play the balls inside your own 10 or 20 metre zone. I know some teams might have clear rules or tactics around that area and it’s probably showing at the tail end of last year and this year. But if you live by the sword you’ve got to die by the sword as well. If you penalise them they’ve got to defend them.”

Flanagan also rejected calls for the mid-season introduction of a five-minute sin bin, saying such drastic rule changes needed to be introduced at the start of the season. 

Cronulla’s discipline has let them down after two rounds, with the Sharks on the wrong end of 10-6 and 12-8 penalty counts in their opening losses to North Queensland and St George Illawarra.

Their lack of discipline also cost them in their controversial finals exit to the Cowboys last season, prompting an emotional rant from Flanagan where he took aim at officiating in his post-match press conference.

It is an issue Flanagan had hoped his side had addressed in the off-season but admitted still required improvement.

“You haven’t seen some results there consistently. We haven’t been great in the first two rounds but we need to fix it up. It’s definitely a focus of ours not to be one of those teams that give away penalties,” he said. 

“A lot of them are penalties that we can control. If you’re giving away penalties inside your 10 metres and that’s a team tactic well so be it. You need to clarify what the penalties are given for. We’re not happy with some of them but a lot of them are our own fault.

“At the tail end of last year it came back to bite us in the semi-finals. We just gave away too many and it’s definitely been a focus of ours, discipline, in the off-season. We haven’t shown it in the first two rounds to the extent that I want but we’ll get there.”