Did a forward pass rob the North Queensland Cowboys of a place in the NRL Grand Final?
That’s the question rugby league fans are pondering after thein Townsville on Friday night.
The Cowboys were the favourites to progress through to the decider but a gutsy performance by the Eels ended North Queensland’s fairytale season one week early.
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Parramatta opened the scoring when halfback Mitchell Moses threw a blatant forward pass to Will Penisini, who crossed untouched for a try that was unbelievably not disallowed.
The touch judge was in the perfect position to see the forward pass but remarkably let it go, much to the disbelief of NRL fans.
“Mitchell Moses swivelled and he swung around and the ball has gone forward,” Fox League’s Greg Alexander said.
“The hands went forward, the hands went forward, the ball went forward,” Alexander said.
The Cowboys composed themselves to level the score at 12-12 at halftime and take a 20-12 lead with 25 minutes remaining.
But a soft try to Reagan Campbell-Gillard and a four-pointer to Maika Saivo sealed the deal for the Eels.
The Eels were the better team, particularly in the second half, but pundits couldn’t help but point out they would have lost if Penisini’s try off the forward pass was disallowed as it should have been.
Sports reporter Scott Bailey tweeted: “If it wasn’t a preliminary final that backwards-pass call would be quite funny.
“Except it’s a preliminary final, and it’s not at all funny. How do you miss that?”
Queensland rugby league legend Wally Lewis couldn’t believe his eyes.
He exclaimed on Triple M: “I thought the pass was thrown way forward. Oh that’s gone a metre and a half forward!
“That is a disagrace! An absolute disgrace! How could you miss it? He was standing virtually on a similar line.
“I mean sometimes a ball can float forward and you think, ‘Well maybe the referee’s made a judgement’. That was just like a bullet — it just went so forward.”
Speaking after the game, Cowboys coach Todd Payten wouldn’t blame the loss on the forward pass.
“My first instinct was I thought it was forward but looking back on replay a couple of time, I thought it was pretty tight,” he said.
“It happened early enough in the game to get over it. We went in 12-all at halftime and 20-12 after 55 minutes, so we moved on pretty well.”
Melbourne Storm great Cameron Smith said while the forward pass was statistically the difference between the Cowboys winning and losing, they had enough chances to win.
“I believe the ball came out of his hands in a forward motion — maybe it went forward a metre, metre and a half,” he said on Channel 9.
“You can focus on that call and say that was the difference. But at the same time, the Cowboys had plenty of chances to score more points. They made some errors after that missed call. It’s one of a lot of things that happened throughout the match.
“I don’t think the Cowboys’ players and coaches sit down and say that’s the reason why we lost. I think they’ll look at their own performance and say, ‘We had opportunities to win the game, the opposition were just better.
“If you look at that as an isolated incident, you could probably think, ‘They scored the try, they kick the goal, they go up by six and we lose by four, that’s the reason we lost’. But I don’t think they will.”
The Eels will play in their first Grand Final since 2009. They will face the winner of Saturday’s preliminary final between Penrith and South Sydney.