At halftime in the Wests Tigers' clash against Brisbane at Campbelltown Stadium, fans were left wondering if they'd accidentally stumbled upon a game of park footy.
Surely this wasn't first grade?
But it was indeed a top flight game even if the standard on show didn't reflect that. Both sides were awful in the first 40 minutes as missed tackles and dropped balls were out in force.
The Tigers and Broncos missed 13 tackles each in the opening half while both had woeful completion rates. The home side completed 12/20 sets while Brisbane was only slightly better at 12/18.
It meant there were no tries scored as the teams went into the sheds with a penalty goal apiece, making it 2-2 at the break.
One comical set with 10 minutes remaining in the half summed up the debacle. First a Luke Brooks pass intended for Benji Marshall went to ground and after the Tigers five-eighth collected it, he tried to pass but the ball fell out of his hands and hit the deck next to his boots.
Not to worry, they'll get it next time, right? Wrong.
From the very next ruck Marshall's attempt to switch the play went astray when his pass again found grass rather than a teammate. The loose ball was picked up and a short ball found Brooks before he too suffered a case of the fumbles and knocked on.
The entire stanza led footy fans on social media to express their disbelief at what Fox Sports commentator Andrew Voss called a "horror show".
The comedy of errors continued in the second half when Broncos halfback Kodi Nikorima butchered a try scoring opportunity when he passed to no one after breaking through the line.
But the lack of quality didn't mean the match wasn't entertaining. The Tigers scored the only try in 80 minutes to move ahead 6-2 but two more penalty goals from Brisbane — the last one from close to the sideline — locked it up at 6-6 in the final minutes.
Then the Broncos looked to have snatched victory with a Jamayne Isaako field goal before Luke Brooks responded with a one-pointer of his own to send the contest into golden point.
The craziness went to the next level when Isaako missed his field goal attempt in the second period of extra time only for the referee to blow a penalty because he ruled the Tigers were offside at marker.
Isaako iced the match by slotting the conversion and condemning the Tigers to a 9-7 defeat.
That sparked a wave of criticism over what many saw as an unfair end to what had developed into a barn burner of a game.
Channel Nine commentators Brad Fittler, Andrew Johns and Phil Gould all blew up about the decision to give a penalty at that stage of the game.
"It was a poor penalty, without a doubt," Fittler said. "If he (the marker) gets out to the person and gives him no chance to kick it then you say, 'You know what, you cheated,' but he didn't seem to be anywhere near Jamayne whe he kicked it.
"Why did he (the referee) pick that moment to make his penalty?
"That was a really poor decision."
Johns said "there seems to be no feel for the game" while Gould was the most furious of the lot.
"I watched really closely from the time the game got to 6-6," Gould said. "We'd had a lot of penalties and I wanted to see how many penalties weren't going to be given in the next little period.
"They could have given a penalty at any time on any play the ball in the last seven or eight minutes ... you could have picked up a dozen penalties yet we pick one then and there.
"To have a finish like that disappoints me about our game."
Bulldogs vs Panthers: Obstruction rule finds itself in the spotlight once more
Less than five minutes into Friday's NRL match between Canterbury and Penrith and we witnessed a controversial call that will spark debate for the rest of the weekend — and possibly the season.
Bulldogs fullback Moses Mbye scored the opening try after the video referee ruled Panthers pivot James Maloney wasn't obstructed despite a Canterbury decoy runner making contact with the defensive line.
Kieran Foran ran a second-man play 10m out from Penrith's line and the Bulldogs sent two decoy runners through as the pass went out the back to Jeremy Marshall-King. One of those runners — Will Hopoate — drew Maloney's attention and hit his outside shoulder.
Maloney stayed on his feet and tried to recover as Marshall King — Benji Marshall's younger brother who was making his debut for the Belmore club — dished a short ball to Mbye on his outside.
Maloney came across in cover but arrived too late to stop Mbye from crossing the stripe after he stepped back infield off his right foot.
Balmain Tigers legend Steve Roach believed it was a try but he found no support among fellow Fox Sports commentators Braith Anasta and Warren Smith.
"No try. Maloney wasn't given the chance to make the tackle. He didn't have 100 per cent of the chance to make the tackle," Smith said.
"It's now the National Football League (NFL). You can send men through and contact defenders to deny them a full chance to make a tackle and that's OK suddenly.
"We can change it for next week and we have to change it for next week because that interpretation is way out of kilter with what we've seen in past seasons."
Former NSW five-eighth Anasta couldn't believe what he was seeing when the green light appeared on the big screen.
"Every other week that's a penalty," Anasta said. "That's confusing to say the least.
"I'm shocked by that, I really am. I know how they come to that answer but I don't think it was the right one."
Their main concern was last season, common sense took a back seat and a blanket rule was applied that if a decoy runner made contact with a defender's outside shoulder — however minimal that contact may be — then it was a penalty for obstruction.
That interpretation wasn't applied in this instance and Maloney didn't help himself by racing across in cover rather than going to ground. The decision led commentators to speculate defenders would likely now dive to exaggerate contact and convince officials they were robbed of an opportunity to make a tackle.
Unsurprisingly, Panthers captain Peter Wallace was furious and protested the ruling with the on-field referee, who initially indicated a try before going upstairs.
The try saw the Bulldogs take a 6-0 lead before they extended it to 14-0 inside 20 minutes. At halftime they led the Panthers 20-12.
Unfortunately for Penrith, boom halfback Nathan Cleary — who is many pundits' tip to be the NSW No. 7 in this year's State of Origin series — left the field in the second half with a knee injury that ended his night.
He was despondent on the sideline when interviewed about his condition.
The young gun is believed to have suffered a medial ligament injury and is expected to miss the next two to three weeks.
While the game went down to the wire, thanks to a spectacular Josh Mansour put-down in the 73rd minute, the Panthers failed to stage a comeback as they had done in the opening two weeks.
Mbye was immense, crossing for two tries including the opener, making three line breaks, busting 11 tackles and running for 116m — including a scintillating break which led to his second four-pointer.
After being moved all over the park throughout his career, he looks to have found a home at fullback after being shifted there by coach Dean Pay in the pre-season.
The Bulldogs jumped out to a 10-0 lead with a try to Josh Morris, who intercepted a Cleary pass and ran 90m to score in his 200th NRL game.
Canterbury would normally have been pretty comfortable were it not for the fact the Panthers had come back from that exact deficit the previous two weeks.
After hauling in Parramatta and South Sydney in the first two rounds, they pulled themselves back in the game when back-rower Isaah Yeo burnt Kieran Foran for speed and found Maloney on the inside.
Mbye scored his second to extend the Bulldogs' lead before Dylan Edwards crossed close to halftime to make it 20-12 at the break.
The only points of the second half were via Mansour's try, with the Panthers paying for schoolboy errors as they gave away 12 penalties to seven and missed 28 tackles.
Marshall-King was dynamic for the Dogs and, at times, reminded fans of his older brother. After being brought in for the dumped Matt Frawley, he took the line on, shook off some heavy treatment and was instrumental in Mbye's crucial second try.
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