A frustrated Ricky Stuart speaks at the post-match press conference after the Raiders' loss to Cronulla on Friday night. Picture: Brett Costello
A frustrated Ricky Stuart speaks at the post-match press conference after the Raiders' loss to Cronulla on Friday night. Picture: Brett Costello

Ref boss blames touch judge, not his brother in the middle

THE touch judge who raised his flag before Cronulla's controversial try against Canberra could be the one to pay for the mistake, after referees boss Bernard Sutton admitted on Saturday that play should have been stopped.

The fallout from one of the most confusing decisions of the year continued on Saturday, as Sutton telephoned Raiders coach Ricky Stuart to acknowledge the blunder.

Stuart's frustrations won't have been helped by the fact Sutton also conceded a forward pass call that denied a Canberra try late in the match was incorrect.

But the first-year referees boss hit back at Stuart's claims referee crackdowns had driven fans away, insisting the NRL had become a better product under his regime.

As Canberra trailed 22-18, touch judge Rick MacFarlane raised his flag after he thought he spotted a Cronulla knock-on.

Lead referee Gerard Sutton - Bernard's brother - put his whistle to his mouth as the Raiders defenders stopped, but Sharks winger Sione Katoa was allowed to cross before the bunker ruled there was no knock-on in the lead-up.

Crucially, Bernard Sutton insisted the responsibility for the error laid mostly with MacFarlane, saying Gerard put his whistle to his mouth only after hearing him say "knock-on" and that he didn't see the flag.

Bernard Sutton also said it was not on the bunker to disallow the try as a result.

"At the point Rick raised his flag he should've thought we can't play on here and he needed to make sure the game was stopped," Sutton told AAP.

"The communication process around it was originally he called 'knock-on', and then said 'he's not out, keep going, check it.'"

Sutton said his appointments committee would meet on Monday. A number of officials have been dropped for errors this year.

"The touch judge needed to communicate he put his flag up - he ultimately wears the bulk of responsibility on that," Sutton said.

"We've been really consistent. If people make critical incorrect decisions which influence the outcome of matches, we've dealt with those individuals very consistently."

The call prompted Stuart to attack the NRL, who he accused of clouding the referees' judgements and being "the only sport in the world that change interpretations" mid-season.

He also pointed to an email from Sutton sent out to coaches this week about ruck speed, a point the referees' boss contended.

"It was not to say there was a blitz," Sutton said.

"It was simply a reminder of what was allowed around the play-the-ball area.

"I'm aware people who have sat in my position before have been criticised for their communication. We've made a real effort this year to ensure we are in constant dialogue."

Sutton also argued the referees' prolonged crackdown had improved the game, with his comments backed up by increased ratings, crowds and memberships in 2018.