Cronulla and Manly undone by their errors, not the referees'
JUST seconds were left and Cronulla trailed by a point when the ball goes to the big guy, Andrew Fifita.
The Sharks need a field goal at this point in the game like they need air. Their season is on the line and they are in good field-goal position and all Fifita needs to do is find a quick play-the-ball and James Maloney is even money to send it into golden point.
Doesn't happen, though.
Fifita begins to skip across field. He dislikes contact around his legs and, almost always, the moment he senses the threat of a legs tackle it sends him sideways.
Halfway to the sideline Fifita realises his mistake and a small panic rises inside and he tries to offload but the ball goes to ground and the Cowboys claim it.
And, like that, their season is done.
Fifita's scramble towards the sideline is among a dozen different errors the Sharks commit throughout the game but none of them get a mention when coach Shane Flanagan unfolds his piece of paper that documents what he perceived were the 10 refereeing sins that cost Cronulla the game.
Not one of their 31 missed tackles was given as an explanation for the loss. None of those dozen mistakes.
Fifita's run should go down as an error, but no mention.
Coaching is intense and emotional and the pressure extreme, and every coach knew that going into their job.
Flanagan and Manly coach Trent Barrett let themselves down on the weekend.
Both took the sawn-off to the referees, blaming them for their elimination.
Barrett's complaint came the day before Flanagan and was based on the referees getting it wrong by awarding Tyrone Peachey a try when he knocked it on after it ricocheted off one of his own players.
There is nothing definitive that shows Barrett's assessment was correct.
In fact, there is definitive vision - based on time-coded, split-screen vision - that shows he was wrong.
At the moment a sideline camera shows Peachey's fingers appearing to bend, indicating the ball was bending it, a camera from above reveals the ball was more than a hand space away, inside Peachey's hand.
Yet Barrett, convinced he was right, goes after the decision.
What makes him right?
Coaches are surrounded by facilitators blinded by club loyalty.
Who in the dressing room is going to tell Barrett or Flanagan they got it wrong?
Some of Flanagan and Barrett's complaints that the referee got wrong, they got wrong.
And their criticisms hijacked every conversation from what were four gold-standard games of rugby league.
"It's time for the game to grow up," NRL boss Todd Greenberg said on Monday.
Greenberg said the game was creating a culture of blaming referees. Any fair analysis of the coaches' comments alongside their teams' performances proves as much.
It begins on the field where players query every decision made. The referee forced to justify his decision or send the complainers away.
No other game in the world questions its officials like rugby league.
Part of it is self-created.
The debate around the video referee has shown the truth of it.
All that cutting-edge technology in the bunker, brought in because we were led to believe it would offer greater consistency and accuracy, and all we have really done is change the point of argument.
Instead of arguing whether the referee got it right, now we argue whether the bunker got it right. Or whether we should have sent it to the bunker. Or whether we should introduce more technology to make the decisions because this much technology still can't address it.
Will more technology actually help or simply change the point of argument again?
We are over-officiating this game. Killing ourselves with interpretation, which loads the argument for the coaches.
Every time a trend occurs we don't like, we introduce a rule to combat it.
Now referees have to decide between a strip and a loose carry. Whether there was separation on a grounding.
The referees try to manage a game and not officiate it, arming coaches with ammunition to complain about, according to their agenda.
Four years ago North Queensland got tipped out of the finals when Cronulla scored off a mistaken seven-tackle set.
Cowboys coach Neil Henry fumed.
In the other dressing room was the other coach, going by the name Flanagan.
"Yeah, we shouldn't have had seven tackles but it's human error," he said after the game.
"There are human errors right through the game."