Brad Fittler has piled more pressure on under-fire referee Ashley Klein, questioning why Melbourne didn't get a player sin-binned in their controversial win over the Roosters. Klein missed a blatant knock-on from Harry Grant in the first half that led to a Storm try, while also failing to spot a high tackle on Grant in the second half that would have given Melbourne the lead.
NRL head of football Graham Annesley conceded on Saturday that Klein made two crucial errors, but refused to weigh in about whether he would be dropped for the preliminary finals. To make matters worse for Klein, Fittler reckons the referee made another mistake that dudded the Roosters.
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Speaking on the Sunday Footy Show, the former Roosters player and coach questioned why Melbourne didn't have a player sent to the sin-bin after repeated infringements late in the second half. The Roosters got on the board via a Brandon Smith try, but not before multiple six-agains and penalties were called against the Storm.
With the Roosters attacking the Storm line, Cameron Munster gave away a six-again for a ruck infringement, before it was upgraded to a penalty because he wasn't square at marker. Munster then gave away another six-again for being inside the 10 not long after, before Grant was also hit with a six-again and penalty within 30 seconds of each other.
According to Fittler, it should have been enough for Klein to send someone to the bin. "The Storm just put too much pressure … as they do to defend their own line, (Klein) did nothing about it," Fittler said.
"There was five penalties or six-agains in three minutes and no one got binned in. I thought that was a hard call on the Roosters."
Ashley Klein genuinely missed this knock on, bloke is 2ft away and Storm go on to score 👏🏻
This is the finals of our competition, this shirt is unacceptable #NRL #NRLStormRoosters pic.twitter.com/UGmYDPHkT5
— Hynesight (@Hynesight7) September 15, 2023
NRL yet to make call on Ashley Klein after backlash
Klein's inability to spot Grant's knock-on has been a major talking point, with veteran journalist Phil Rothfield saying there's no way he should referee the grand final. "We haven’t even discussed it internally at this stage,” Annesley told the Sydney Morning Herald. “I’m not going to speculate about the appointment of referees next week at the moment. It’s a decision to be made by NRL management in the coming days after we fully review both matches.
“Referees make split-second decisions, and on this occasion, he was wrong. He obviously knew it was wrong shortly afterwards because he did apologise. But they do not go out there to make mistakes. They are trying to get all decisions right."
Klein was overheard apologising to Roosters captain James Tedesco after the Storm's try that followed Grant's knock-on. "He just said he called it as he saw it. I was 30 metres away and could see that he dropped it, but he was right there," Tedesco later said.
"It's hard when you can't have a conversation at the back. That's how he saw it, but I think it was pretty obvious."
Storm coach Craig Bellamy said in his press conference: "I didn't have a look at the replay, but I thought live it looked like a knock on. As I said, I thought Harry did drop that ball and it was a big call, but it is hard to blame the referee for everything. He has touch judges and a guy in the bunker. At the end of the day, I can't really control any of that and I don't really want to."
Roosters counterpart Trent Robinson said: "It was pretty clear it was dropped. He was right there, it hit the ground, what can you do? It was an error, and they went down the other end and scored. We should have also stopped that, but it would have been a try-scoring opportunity to us 10 metres out from the line and in finals games they are always critical."
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