The most ironic of NRL grand finals will live in the memories of many. Roosters fans will never forget the night they claimed a second consecutive premiership, a remarkable achievement in the modern game.
Fans of their opponents will forever live in wonderment, curious as to whether one of the most controversial decisions ever seen in a decider may have cost their club a first title in 25 years.
In short, officialdom failed on the biggest day, and the fact that the controversial video referee played no role in it is somewhat ironic.
For years we have heard fateful cries of “what if it happens on grand final day” after another decision is muffed by the men in the most unpopular booth in the country.
Replays are constantly slowed down to a painstaking speed in the hunt for confirmation or denial of key moments in NRL matches and often the determination seems questionable.
Dubious decisions featuring decoy runners, debate around block plays where supporting players stop in the line and make minimal contract with defenders and the ever-controversial interpretations around downward pressure in the process of scoring of a try, have been a blight on the game ever since the video referee was introduced in 1998.
The system has undergone immense change and development over the years. In its current form, the Bunker still fails to instil faith and belief in the average rugby league fan.
Every now and again we all thank goodness for its existence when a relatively simple decision is either affirmed or overturned, avoiding the clanger for which it was first instituted.
However, in the most part, the average fan still hurls the odd ashtray or stubby at the television, as the frustratingly inane process of reviewing a potential try drags on and on and destroys the natural speed of the game.
Rather idiotically, forward passes, missed knock-ons and other refereeing errors outside of scoring opportunities go unquestioned. Yet when the ball enters the red zone, all the focus and intensity of the cameras combines with the sheer fear of the officials and their reluctance to make an independent call, to frustrate and infuriate fans right across the competition.
Luckily, the 2019/20 NRL Grand Final was not to be decided by a moment of technological analysis. Oh no! The rugby league Gods had something far better in store for a grand final that had immense interest in it thanks to the presence of the men from the nation’s capital.
In spite of all the fears, concerns and foreboding of the notorious Bunker one day determining a grand final with a dubious decision, referees Ben Cummins and Gerard Sutton managed to find a way to ire the fans without even having to call upon it.
It was an astonishing effort and one that silenced those who have lampooned the technological system for many years. The men in green bumbled in such a way as to make the Bunker appear a solid and reliable old friend.
When Ben Cummins wrongly signalled six again after a high bomb cannoned off the shoulder of a Canberra player, as the Raiders bombarded the Roosters’ line, Jack Wighton picked up the scraps.
Hearing the call, with a full set right on the Roosters’ try-line looming and the scores tied at 8-8, the moment appeared nigh for the green machine to snatch the lead as they began to take the ascendancy.
What followed resembled something from a Benny Hill skit, as Cummins asked his partner in crime whether it had indeed been touched by a Rooster, Sutton raised his hand to signal the 6th and last tackle.
Cummins frantically attempted to convey that information to Wighton who would surely have kicked/passed had he been aware of the change. The Canberra five-eighth was tackled and stunned when the ball was taken from him for a Roosters play the ball.
In a nutshell, Cummins panicked, made a decision with which he should have stuck and changed his call mid-stream. It denied the Raiders a chance to score on that last play, yet his original call would have incorrectly given the Raiders an undeserved set at the Tricolours line.
It was a stuff-up off epic propositions.
Most sad of all is Cummins’ insistence to the Raiders’ players that he did not restart the tackle count, despite both audio and visual confirming he did.
A simple question needs to be asked. Isn’t the six-again signal made by Cummins on the night designed for that exact situation? For the players to spot quickly and thus adjust, especially whilst the din of the crowd makes hearing the officials’ call nigh impossible.
It was a sad night for the NRL, through no fault of either team. Both remained quite classy in the post-match.
The game continues to find ways to erode the trust and faith of the fans. This time around, it proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that it doesn’t require the hated Bunker to achieve that.
It appears, rugby league only needs a couple of humans in the middle to turn a grand final into a farce.