SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA - OCTOBER 06: Jack Wighton of the Raiders is tackled as Referee Gerard Sutton signals last tackle during the 2019 NRL Grand Final match between the Canberra Raiders and the Sydney Roosters at ANZ Stadium on October 06, 2019 in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by Ryan Pierse/Getty Images)
SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA - OCTOBER 06: Jack Wighton of the Raiders is tackled as Referee Gerard Sutton signals last tackle during the 2019 NRL Grand Final match between the Canberra Raiders and the Sydney Roosters at ANZ Stadium on October 06, 2019 in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by Ryan Pierse/Getty Images)

Kent: This was the NRL’s worst nightmare

Luck ran both ways in the grand final but, in the big moments, luck ran with experience.

The Roosters handled the fallout of the big decision like they had the next play to worry about.

The Raiders responded like the premierships might depend on it which, ultimately, was self-fulfilling.

The Raiders were brave and the Roosters, reduced to a co-starring role until the very end, were equally as brave on Sunday.

Canberra defended their mistakes and their bad luck alike until almost the end.

And then the kick came down.

 

Cummins tried to change his call on the fly..
Cummins tried to change his call on the fly..

The outrage against referee Ben Cummins changing his mind was swift and severe.

One of the first values taught to every schoolboy player is that a referee will never change his mind so no point arguing his decision.

Only, Cummins did, adding to the Raiders confusion.

"Six again," went the call and, more importantly, his arm went up and he waved six more tackles.

Cummins then got overruled by his linesman and assistant referee Gerard Sutton and began urgently calling "last tackle", which he did four times.

Jack Wighton had the ball and but all he had in his mind was the vision of Cummins in front of him waving six more tackles. The NRL has acknowledged the Raiders did not hear the call.

The ball died in the handover and the Raiders acted confused, seeking explanation.

And here is where it changed.

It was a heartbreaking way for Canberra to go down.
It was a heartbreaking way for Canberra to go down.

The Raiders had defended their mistakes all game but the Roosters moved the ball left and in the next set found the try that won the game.

It was the worst possible result for the NRL. Embarrassed on its biggest stage.

A mainstay of Graham Annesley's rule as head of football is a narrative that goes along the lines of "I'd hate to see a grand final decided on this …" and Sunday night it was.

Annesley immediately headed to the operations centre in the dressing rooms and watched four different video angles and remain convinced the ball came off Canberra's Jarrod Croker.

But immediately he knew the embarrassment. He was a broken man on Monday.

That the Roosters doubled down the referee's mistake by scoring in the next set of six, in a game so tight that one try was the difference, escalated the hurt.

The Raiders had paid the price for being momentarily rattled, which they had so far avoided all game.

The call will live in infamy. Photo by Ryan Pierse/Getty Images.
The call will live in infamy. Photo by Ryan Pierse/Getty Images.

They had themselves in the game by competing each play and defending what mistakes they made. Momentum was all theirs and they were coming for the Roosters, 8-all with eight minutes to play, when the call came.

The game will forever have an asterisk against it, which is unfair to the Roosters but acknowledges the gravity of the mistake.

Overall it was a poor day for head office.

Where does the NRL go now?

It re-raised the argument about going back to one referee.

But Annesley argued later that if one referee operated then the decision would have still been wrong because it would have been the original decision. Nobody would have been there to correct Cummins, whose original call was six more tackles.

Cummins got it wrong twice; the original call and the call to overrule himself.

A decision to return to one referee would be an operational decision under Annesley's watch, although it might be raised for discussion at the competition committee's meeting later this year.

Cummins has come under heavy criticism. Photo by Matt King/Getty Images.
Cummins has come under heavy criticism. Photo by Matt King/Getty Images.

Other sports with more than one referee often have the chance for review and a do-over.

A captain's challenge for a decision made in general play is also unsatisfactory. It would create constant interruptions in a game striving for attrition. Already there are too many interruptions in the game.

It was that sort of day.

One that began with Gold Coast captain Ryan James getting halfway through his Welcome To Country and forgetting his lines.

"I'm lost," he said, in what became a metaphor for the day, one underlined when Roosters enforcer Jared Waerea-Hargreaves was walked to the stage at the presentation after being told he was the Clive Churchill Medallist for the game's best player.

Except only two of the three judges' votes, Mal Meninga and Laurie Daley, had been tallied, a breakdown in the app. When the votes of the third judge, Darren Lockyer, was added, it emerged Wighton was the winner.

He was strong and deserved better, like they all did.

They all deserved better.

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