The Sydney Roosters deserved to win the grand final.
Ben Cummins “six again” error is the worst error by an official in a big game in NRL history, and was a key reason the Roosters won the premiership.
Both of these things can be true. Unfortunately Trent Robinson doesn’t seem to be aware of this fact.
Since the 72nd minute error by Cummins, it seems Robinson, with the NRL’s help, has hastily scrambled to prevent the delegitimisation of the grand final result. It seems he saw anger at his sides’ victory, bristled at Jonathon Thurston’s harmless questions about a critical moment, and since then has done all he could to change the narrative.
But these efforts have done more to harm the legitimacy of the result than Ben Cummins ever did.
Robinson, with NRL support, begun by trying to claim on the post game coverage that no error was made – despite the fact the rules clearly prevent a referee from changing their decision. Since then, attempts have been made to point out that other errors were made at other points in the game.
Both examples did more to damage the reputation of the referees and the NRL than it did to bolster the legitimacy of the Roosters victory.
Now a third strand has emerged; that it was in fact the Roosters that were robbed. This of course was in response to Robinson’s literal reel of complaints about how the game was referreed.
In response the league made concessions that his side may have been treated harshly at earlier, critical junctures.
I’m not going to go into refuting individual errors because that’s what happens in big games – fifty-fifty calls go each way. For every decision listed by Robinson, there is another than went towards his side that is not mentioned. Frankly, if the decisions listed went the other way it would also be harsh – it’s why they’re fifty-fifty decisions. In the long run, refs make decisions and as far as players are concerned, that decision is right every time. Which is why it’s important that the referee sticks with his decision.
For their part the NRL has been remarkably naive in their handling of it. By continuing to engage with Robinson’s protective rhetoric they have allowed the discussion to move from “an error was made and that’s too bad” to “the game was a schermozzle”. It is the referees and the game’s governing body that are made to look bad by Robinson’s scorched-earth approach and their own eagerness to placate him.
It’s also hard not to be cynical about the role of the tabloid media in this. Such a remarkable error, combined with rugby league’s almost famed “refs fault” tendency means that any discussion of this moment will generate clicks and feelpinions. Yours truly is even falling into this trap by boosting this discussion with this article. (The lesson is I’m as dumb as everyone else).
Unfortunately for the game, in the biggest moment of the biggest game it’s referee failed to adhere to his basic principle. It did change the game and it did matter. It wasn’t the only reason the Roosters are the premiers but it’s certainly a big one.
By seeking to re-litigate this error over and over again, Robinson may think he’s changing the narrative. But actually it just puts the spotlight on the biggest error in rugby league history, again and again, compounding Canberra pain and undermining any attempt to “right” the record.
It would be smarter to just enjoy the win.