’Bewildering’ refs overshadow NSW win
Referees Ashley Klein and Gerard Sutton turned State of Origin III into a farcical affair as the pair of officials combined to blow their whistles an astonishing 12 times in the first half.
It was the most penalties in a first half or Origin in 23 years.
That is more than they blew for the entirety of Origin I, where they blew just eight penalties for the match and one less than they did for all of Game II in Perth as NSW ran out to a massive 38-6 win to level the series.
The penalties had a major impact on the first half too.
Around midway through the opening half Queensland winger Dane Gagai was absolutely monstered as he came away from his own line before being pushed back into the in-goal in what looked like a legitimate tackle but it was ruled a penalty.
It denied NSW a repeat set and gave Queensland a welcome piggyback down the field.
While lead commentator Ray Warren saw the rationale behind that decision co-commentator Phil Gould fumed.
"The tackle had been made, if I am reading the referee correctly," Warren said.
"The third tackler in has been deemed to have flopped in the tackle," he added before an exasperated Gould erupted.
"He had no effect on it," the former NSW coach opined.
Others on social media had a field day with one league insider calling the decision a "howler".
10 penalties in 27 minutes including a howler to deny NSW a repeat set. This is what happens when the worst referees get given the biggest game of the year so far. #Origin— Matt Attard (@mattard90) July 10, 2019
If that was halfway in there was more to come.
By the 27-minute mark 10 penalties had been blown by the men in charge and Gould had, had enough.
"The referees are interfering in this game too much tonight," he added.
"The first two games weren't like this but tonight they want to stamp their authority."
Plenty of others chimed in to hammer the officials, pleading with them to "put the whistles away".
Even though at that stage the Maroons were winning the penalty count comfortable Queensland legend Paul Vautin agreed.
"To be honest some of the penalties have been bewildering," Vautin said.
If he was bothered then he would have been more so later as two penalties in quick succession to the Blues led directly to NSW only try of the half as front rower Paul Vaughan crashed over and the scores were levelled at 8-all.
Queensland were losing the penalty count 7-5 at halftime and Vautin was unimpressed as the second half got underway he let his disgust be fully known on Nine's commentary.
"They're going to ruin the game if they keep it up," Vautin said.
NSW coach Brad Fittler dismissed any talk of the officiating in this match but took a swipe at the refs in general when it came to NSW's treatment in Origin.
"I'm not sure what the penalty count is," Fittler told Ray Warren during the telecast.
"But I can't remember the last time we won one, so we can't count on penalties."
As if to prove penalties did matter both teams scored on sets following the only two penalties of the second half.
First NSW fullback James Tedesco scored out wide to give the Blues the lead as he sent Gagai flying to the turf with a big fend.
Then as if to prove a point after NSW had gone out to a 12-point lead the Maroons hit back with a try to Josh McGuire on the back of a penalty, for an escort, that gave them the momentum to level things near the death, before NSW went the length of the field to win it.
The sudden drop in penalties in the second half led to speculation from Vautin that Sutton and Klein may have been asked to tone it down at halftime, while Gould lauded the refs for turning it around, albeit with a backhanded compliment.
"They might have got a little tap on the shoulder," Vautin said.
"We don't come to see how well these referees referee we come to see these great athletes play," Gould said.
"Keep the ball in play let the (players) decide the game."
On this occasion the at times controversial commentator could not have been more accurate.