Rugby league legends Paul Gallen and Billy Slater have clashed over the referee’s decision to award Tigers second-rower Luciano Leilua a penalty try.
Whistle-blower Grant Atkins made the controversial ruling 65 minutes into the Leichardt Oval contest after Panthers winger Robert Jennings caught Leilua high during an attempt at a try.
Tigers halfback Luke Brooks reeled off a kick to the right of the posts and Leilua steamed through in pursuit of the footy, but Jennings charged in from Penrith’s left wing and crashed into Leilua’s head, forcing the ball loose.
The try and successful conversion, which extended the Tigers’ lead to 18-6, likely had no bearing on the outcome of the match, in which the Panthers were defeated 26-6. But the moment is nonetheless significant in light of how such situations are adjudicated throughout the season.
Gallen juxtaposed the ruling with Bill Harrigan’s infamous decision to award Melbourne a penalty try in the 1999 NRL grand final. That incident occurred when Dragons winger Jamie Ainscough clobbered Craig Smith in the head as the Storm winger flew for the ball in the in-goal area in the shadows of full-time, leading to a controversial Melbourne victory.
Gallen claimed, unlike the 1999 incident, that there was no malice in Jennings’ contact with Leilua, meaning a penalty try shouldn’t have been awarded.
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“There’s no malice there. You spoke about the ’99 Melbourne one. There was malice there. He tried to knock him out and did knock him out. (Jennings) is just trying to make a tackle there on a falling player,” Gallen said on Nine’s post-match coverage.
“If that decided a grand final I would be upset.
“He was trying to go for the ball; at no time was he trying to hit him in the head.
“It was accidental contact and by the letter of the law these days it’s a penalty. In a try-scoring situation it’s a penalty try.
“A tough call, though, I believe.”
On the contrary, Slater had no issue with the penalty try being awarded.
“It was a correct decision,” Slater said.
“It was an illegal play in a try-scoring situation.
“There was no malice in it; he’s trying to stop a try there, Jennings.
“(Leilua) dropped, it was unfortunate, but it was a penalty try.”
The Tigers’ upset victory ended the Panthers’ unbeaten start to the season, which had seen Ivan Cleary’s men win their first 12 games.
However, the Panthers were without eight players – seven due to State of Origin selection and one because of suspension.
Nathan Cleary, Jarome Luai, Brian To’o, Isaah Yeo, Liam Martin and Api Koroisau are in the NSW camp, Kurt Capewell earned another Queensland call-up and Moses Leota is suspended.
The absence of those players meant Penrith fielded their youngest first-grade team in 28 years, since meeting Cronulla in Round Seven of the 1993 season.
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