NRL admit key rule interpretation for 2023 was incorrect in Parramatta’s loss to Melbourne

Graham Annesley has admitted that Josh Hodgson was incorrectly penalised during Parramatta’s golden point loss to Melbourne for an incident the NRL have pledged to start clamping down on.

The Eels’ hooker was cited for interference in the ruck by referee Ashley Klein while the resulting captain’s challenge upheld the original decision. However, Annesley has conceded the Bunker got it wrong on the night.

‘Ball plants’ will be penalised despite contentious Josh Hodgson call to start the season

The Storm were working their way out of territory when Alec MacDonald took a hit-up into Hodgson and J’maine Hopgood.

He placed the ball down on the ground before getting to his feet as Hodgson’s right foot trailed through the ruck and came into contact with the ball. A penalty was awarded to Melbourne for the breakdown in play.

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Yet Annesley noted the Storm were actually the first team to commit an offence with a ‘ball plant’ and that the Bunker should have overturned the decision through the captain’s challenge.

The NRL had notified clubs, before the season kicked off, that they would be cracking down on what is termed ‘ball plants’ in 2023.

This move focused on players placing the ball onto the ground before they’d properly got to their feet in order to generate a quick play-the-ball.

“Last year and in previous seasons, what we’ve seen is if the play breaks down in that tackle because there’s any kind of interference by the defender [it’s been a penalty],” Annesley said.

“[This year], if there is a ball plant that is essentially the first offence. If the ruck breaks down…they [the Bunker] will firstly look to see if the player tried to play the ball too quickly.

“Unfortunately, the Bunker came up with the wrong decision. This is clearly one of the cases we talked about and discussed with the clubs [in the off-season].

“Hopefully, the referees will deal with this consistently throughout the course of the year.

“It’s a shame we’re talking about an incorrect decision of this in week one but it’s important we understand the principle and the expectation around these type of incidents in games.”

‘Risky ploy’ highlighted in North Queensland’s victory over the Raiders

Annesley also put clubs on notice around the utilisation of blockers when taking a field goal.  

Chad Townsend proved the hero for the Cowboys when he slotted one over to beat Canberra, but Annesley wanted to draw attention to the set-up.

Jason Taumalolo and James Tamou formed a barricade of sorts in front of their halfback with Elliott Whitehead racing out from marker and claiming to be obstructed by North Queensland’s lock.

However, Annesley highlighted how the Raiders’ captain was actually offside at marker before running directly into Taumalolo.

“The issue of this contact is that Whitehead is offside at the ruck…he then runs straight at Jason Taumalolo, who effectively holds his ground,” he said.

“Had there been a referral to the Bunker, the field goal would have been awarded because even if the interference had been illegal, Whitehead was offside at the ruck.

“But where teams place players at the side of the ruck, they have to be very careful that they don’t give the opportunity for the ref or the Bunker to determine that they’ve obstructed defenders.”

Annesley then questioned the logic of teams using blockers when it could result in a perfectly legitimate field goal attempt potentially being ruled out in the future.

“This tactic is employed a lot where clubs place players beside the ruck when kicking field goals but it’s a risky ploy,” he said.

“I just don’t understand the logic with so many cameras around every ground, captain’s challenges and video replays…I don’t understand the logic in doing it when you’re trying to win a game of football.

“You’ve got players who are breaching the rules that could overturn all of your good work. It makes no sense to me why this happens.

“Has it worked in the past? Probably, yeah. But everyone is alert to it now- you can’t get away with it. It’s right there in living vision for people to see. It’s a high-risk strategy.”

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