NRL legend Johnathan Thurston blasted match officials for missing a blatant knock-on that led to Penrith’s second try in their clash against Parramatta on Friday night.
The Panthers lost their unbeaten record following a 22-20 defeat against a spirited Eels team, which stopped the Panthers’ winning streak at BlueBet Stadium to 21 games.
Had they lost, Parramatta would have had valid reason to be aggrieved with the match officials for missing an egregious knock-on in the lead-up to a Penrith try.
Viliame Kikau knocks the ball on after being tackled by Will Penisini (right) late in the first half on Friday at Bluebet Stadium
With the reigning premiers trailing 10-4, Eels winger Will Penisini attempted to tackle Penrith second-rower Viliame Kikau, who was running at full pelt.
While Penisini failed to bring Kikau down, the impact was enough to dislodge the ball from the Panthers star’s grasp as Penrith’s No11 clearly knocked it on.
Referee Gerard Sutton, however, missed the infringement and allowed the play to continue and the Panthers retained possession.
Adding insult to injury, Penrith eventually scored later in the set as Izack Tago found Kikau, whose deft grubber kick set up Taylan May to score in the corner.
Johnathan Thurston slammed NRL match officials for missing the blatant knock-on in the Battle of the West
Speaking at halftime, Thurston was incensed by the call.
‘There’s two touch judges, a referee, and a bunker – we cannot be missing that in big games! It cannot happen,’ he said.
‘It can’t happen. This is the NRL, we are better than that.’
Fox League’s commentary duo of Andrew Voss and Michael Ennis were similarly shocked by the decision.
Will Penisini attempted to stop the Penrith star in his tracks by going down low to tackle him
He failed to stop Kikau but forced a knock on, which was missed by the referee
That’s a blatant knock-on that’s been missed by Gerard Sutton,’ the latter said.
‘You can see [Eels captain Clint] Gutherson and [halfback Mitchell] Moses go straight to Gerard Sutton as May got the footy down, saying: “Are you serious? Are you serious?”’
Voss added: ‘I’m trying to come up with a defence for the Kikau dropped ball. Was there any signal to say that they [Sutton and the touch judges] saw it as a ball ripped out, even though it wasn’t. It’s hard to believe that it could not be seen.’
Meanwhile, Brad Arthur declared Parramatta’s 22-20 win over Penrith as his proudest as Eels coach.
Brad Arthur said the win over the Panthers was his proudest moment as Eels coach
With counterpart Ivan Cleary watching on from his hospital bed with an infected knee, Arthur’s Eels came back from 14-10 down with 15 minutes to play on Friday.
It marked the Panthers’ first loss of the season, in a ferocious western-Sydney derby that was not without controversy and came down to a missed Nathan Cleary two-point field goal attempt in the final minute.
The result snapped Penrith’s 21-match winning streak at home, the longest of any side in the NRL-era and one that stretched back to July 2019 when lockdown-inducing pandemics were a thing for Hollywood movies.
Covid again played its part on Friday, with Penrith assistant Cameron Circaldo sidelined by the virus and having to shout out defensive calls over the phone into the coaching box.
The Panthers suffered their first defeat of the season and their first after 21 consecutive wins at BlueBet Stadium
Ivan Cleary also spoke to stand-in man Andrew Webster around four times through the game, after undergoing surgery on Friday morning.
In reality, no matter who Penrith had in the coaching box, it wouldn’t have made much difference to the result.
‘I said to the players after the game, in nine years now I think it’s the proudest I have been in my time at the club,’ Arthur said.
‘On the back of four six-day turnarounds. These guys [Penrith] are a very good football team that haven’t been beaten out here for a while.
Dylan Brown was instrumental for the Eels in his return to his preferred role at five-eighth
The pivot finished with 92 run metres over 12 runs, five tackle busts and a try (above)
‘We’ve only got 19 guys from our full-time squad available, five guys couldn’t train during the week because they’re crook.
‘It was a great effort.’
A week after being flogged by North Queensland in Darwin’s heat, Clint Gutherson was brilliant for Parramatta while Junior Paulo and Isaiah Papali’i were big in the middle.
And crucially, when it mattered most the Eels were able to take their chances.
Mitchell Moses was just as impressive, controlling the game for Parramatta at halfback
Leading 14-10 with with 18 minutes left and after dominating the second-half tug-of-war, the Panthers made an uncharacteristic mistake with James Fisher-Harris putting the ball down on halfway after a set restart.
It took the visitors just four minutes to capitalise, with Gutherson putting Ryan Matterson through a hole to give the Eels an unlikely lead.
And when Dylan Edwards let a Mitch Moses bomb bounce on the next set and Dylan Brown chased through to score, Parramatta led 22-14.
Penrith hit back through Spencer Leniu with two minutes to play, but Cleary’s missed shot from outside 40 sealed Penrith’s fate.
Taylan May grabbed a brace for Penrith, including one after Kikau’s controversial knock-on
The Panthers led with 15 minutes left but could not hang on to make it nine wins in a row
‘The boys are disappointed. They want to win every game,’ Webster said.
‘They also know we’re not going to be perfect all season and forever.’
Earlier, Penisini had put Gutherson over for the Eels’ opener, before the controversy began.
Parramatta were awarded a penalty try when Jaeman Salmon held Reed Mahoney back close to the line, with the Eels hooker falling just short as he collected an offload.