Cameron Smith gets his marching orders.
Cameron Smith gets his marching orders. SCOTT BARBOUR

Sin-binning a slap in the face for league fans

IS rugby league, the game I have loved since I was a kid in the bush kicking goals between two trimmed brigalow saplings, now being controlled by androids?

While that is obviously a rhetorical question, my intention is to deliver a case to substantiate my qualms. And this is not intended as a referee bash.

Let's start with three sin-bins in last weekend's elimination finals. Even the late, great Rex Mossop would have needed a harsher word than his trademark 'flabbergasted' to elucidate those three incidents.

Rex, a dual rugby international whose TV commentary was as remorseless as his on-field brutality, would have turned in his grave had he witnessed Cameron Smith being sin-binned.

The Storm skipper was charged with a slap which, on the fair dinkum scale, was nothing more than a forceful shove, albeit to the face.

And even though the incident occurred 30 metres behind play and had zero effect on the game, the most decorated player in 111 years was marched for 10 minutes. And, as a further insult to the intelligence of our legions of rusted-on fans, he was subsequently fined $1350.

But even more astonishing was the fact that Eels hooker Reed Mahoney was never sanctioned for his role.

He was the perpetrator of the spat by refusing to release his grip on Smith's jersey well after the 410-game NRL champion had kicked the ball.

Flabbergasted, as Rex would say.

Sam Burgess of the Rabbitohs remonstrates with referee Gerard Sutton as Cody Walker (right) is sent to the sin bin during the First Semi Final between the South Sydney Rabbitohs and the Manly Sea Eagles in week 2 of the NRL Finals Series at ANZ Stadium in Sydney, Friday, September 20, 2019. (AAP Image/Dan Himbrechts) NO ARCHIVING, EDITORIAL USE ONLY
Sam Burgess remonstrates with referee Gerard Sutton after Cody Walker was sent to the bin. DAN HIMBRECHTS

The sin-binning of Rabbitohs' Cody Walker was equally as ludicrous, although his 'slap' - again more akin to a shove - was much more forceful. But, bizarrely, his fine was $200 less than that for the former Kangaroos captain. Again, Rex would be flabbergasted.

Graham Annesley, who we hear may soon be quitting his role as NRL Head of Football to again enter politics, says the 'slap' is a bad look for the game. And he is right. It is.

But so is a swinging forearm to the head which, when delivered most recently by huge men Sam Burgess and Marty Tapau, sent Matt Moylan and Ray Stone, respectively, to the canvas and off for the remainder of the contest. Yet Burgess and Tapau, unlike 'slappers' Smith and Walker, stayed on the field.

Flabbergasted, thrice.

Then there was Jake Trbojevic, sin-binned for pulling the jersey of Dane Gagai in an off-the-ball incident.

Jake Trbojevic of the Sea Eagles reacts as he is sent to the sin bin during the First Semi Final between the South Sydney Rabbitohs and the Manly Sea Eagles in week 2 of the NRL Finals Series at ANZ Stadium in Sydney, Friday, September 20, 2019. (AAP Image/Dan Himbrechts) NO ARCHIVING, EDITORIAL USE ONLY
Jake Trbojevic reacts after he was sent off for 10 minutes. DAN HIMBRECHTS

Gagai tripped, the incident looked bad but was trivial, and the loss of their best player undoubtedly cost the Sea Eagles a shot at the grand final.

This time, as a former Manly player, Rex would not have been flabbergasted.

He would have been livid, enraged even. And so are the fans.

Unlike the superb colour definition delivered on our TV screens, the game is being adjudicated under black and white rule. No longer, it seems, is there any scope for referees to use commonsense.

The message to the man in the middle is simple - rule by the book, no matter how tedious and unpopular that might be, and you will keep your $300K job.

Rather than referee with an air of confidence, they are operating under a process that has no room for logic. And to the majority of us fans, it's just plain flabbergasting.