Tuesday, May 08, 2007

The Madness of King Ganson III

You can't beat a bit of controversy at the end of a big game, can you?

With time running out and Bradford Bulls clinging to a two point lead, Steve Ganson penalises Matt Cook for being offside when replays show the ball coming off the boot of a grounded Leeds player. Kevin Sinfield opts for a 46m kick at goal in an attempt to tie the scores, which rebounds off the post. Jordan Tansey is first to react and gathers the loose ball before touching down under the posts as the hooter sounds to snatch a dramatic win for the Rhinos. Despite pleas from the Bulls players to refer the decision to the video referee (as he had done a multitude of times earlier in the game), Steve Ganson awards the try, despite the wide angle showing Tansey some two metres in front of Sinfield when he struck the kick.

Referees - like players, coaches, administrators and fans - are only human and are going to make mistakes. Ganson had to make a snap decision on the initial incident, moving at full speed at the end of a frantic game and looking into a crowd of players. That he got the decision wrong in those circumstances is unfortunate but entirely understandable. That he chose not to refer the try to the video referee is a little less easy to comprehend, given what was riding on the decision. There's little doubt that the try would have been disallowed and a penalty awarded to Bradford, from which they could have closed out the game and claimed the win.

Course, it's not a first for Steve. A couple of years ago at Headingley, he managed to find a phantom offside decision against Keith Senior, which allowed to Hull FC to clinch a last minute draw with the penalty. Later the same season he penalised Rob Burrow for "waving his arms around" at dummy half, an incident which cost Leeds two points in a game that finished level. The latest blooper appears to be the third part of this particular Leeds-Ganson trilogy, but the first one that has gone the Rhinos way.

While it's difficult not to have some sympathy for the Bulls in all this, refereeing bloopers are unfortunately an integral part of any sport and sometimes will clearly impact on the result of a game. Sometimes they'll go for you, other times against you and it's best to accept them with good grace whichever way they go. Making comments such as "we feel cheated" and "the referee created a penalty in order to make the game a draw" - both of which have been attributed to Bulls coach Steve McNamara - tend to get you labelled as a whiny cry baby, as well as being seen as bringing the integrity of the officials into question. I'd be surprised if McNamara wasn't at least asked to explain his comments by the RFL.

Even worse is insisting that the "right" thing to do would be for the winning side to give up the two competition points they have earned over 80 minutes, as Bradford chairman Peter Hood has done. Leeds went into the game without Peacock, Diskin, Bailey and Gibson, and Ali Lauitiiti was able to contribute very little before his injury. Despite this, the sin-binning of Brent Webb and being behind for most of the game, they had stayed in touch with a very good Bradford side to be in a position to benefit from Ganson's indiscretion. Asking for the result to be overturned on the basis of one bad decision sets all sorts of ridiculous precedents. Perhaps Leeds could ask for the 2003 Challenge Cup, the final of which saw a number of controversial decisions go Bradford's way? Or the results of the two games above being annulled and the points dropped being added to their total for this season?

It would be unfortunate if ten seconds of one game was allowed to detract from what was otherwise a successful weekend for the game in general. Over 60,000 people attended across the two days, including thousands from non-traditional rugby league areas. Within that number will have been some for whom this was their initiation to the family atmosphere of live rugby league, and they'll hopefully be back. The RFL are already looking at what changes could be made to the format for next year in an attempt to improve it further, and it looks as though the event - or something similar - could become a fixture in the rugby league calendar in an attempt to spread the game to a wider audience and create high profile events.

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