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Former referee Bill Harrigan described the image of Canterbury captain James Graham berating match official Gerard Sutton in the dying stages of the Bulldogs dramatic Good Friday loss to Souths as worse than the incident that cost Josh Dugan a lucrative contract with Canberra.
Dugan, who now plays for St George Illawarra, lost his contract with the Raiders in 2013 after he posted on social media a selfie of him and Blake Ferguson on the roof of a house and drinking alcohol.
Harrigan said the sight of Graham in Sutton’s face and bellowing at him after he awarded a penalty in front of the sticks for Graham’s – albeit accidental – collision with Adam Reynolds’ leg as he tried to kick a field goal was uglier for the NRL’s image than Dugan’s lapse of judgment.
“The NRL can be strong here and say his behaviour as a player wasn’t acceptable,” said Harrigan, who refereed a record 10 grand finals.
“In the end his behaviour on the field was probably worse than what some of the players do off the field and get into more strife for it
“His behaviour does more damage than two footballers sitting on a roof drinking a cruiser. That doesn’t hurt anyone, people look at that and thinks, ‘Idiots,’ but what [Graham] did on the field – wow!
“The NRL must take action. They need to say, ‘Your behaviour on the field was disgraceful and unacceptable,’ and slap him – plus the club – with a fine.”
Harrigan, who sent off Queensland captain Gorden Tallis in the 2000 State of Origin series when he called Harrigan a “cheat” while he argued about a knock-on in the lead-up to a NSW try, said Sutton was subjected to far worse but he would not condemn him for failing to march Graham.
“He should’ve been sent off,” Harrigan said. “But I’m not going to be critical of the referee because it was a powder keg blowing up. Sending him off would just have contributed to it.
“The behaviour was dead-set send-off material, but the referee was clever. He realised if he dispatched him – and he deserved to be – it could’ve been even more explosive.
“I think Gerard would say it was on his mind to do it but he realised that would’ve put more wood on the fire. It was probably in the best interest he didn’t.”
Harrigan, who called the game for TripleM, said Sutton made the right call to award Souths a penalty 10 metres in front of the goal posts after Graham crashed into Reynolds’ leg.
“Accidental is no defence,” said Harrigan. “You can’t collide; you can’t attack the kicker’s leg when it’s planted on the ground when he’s in the act of kicking a ball. It’s a penalty straight out.
“I had a good argument with Ryan Girdler on air. He said it was accidental, they’d been busting their guts for 80 minutes and to have that penalty against them was a joke. I asked ‘would it change your mind if he’d snapped his leg?’ I said ‘mate, that’s why the rule is in place – to protect the player.
“[Accidental or not] he still collided with the leg and has to accept responsibility. [Sutton was right to give Souths a penalty 10 metres in front of the posts] because when you do that to a player taking a shot at a field goal it’s a penalty in front of the sticks. It’s a possible three-point field goal. “
Harrigan said Josh Morris’ claim that he deserved a penalty when he was pushed by Daryl Millard in the mad scramble after the kick to restart play in the dying seconds was nullified because Millard was pushed by a Bulldogs player.
“I’ve watched it a dozen times and [Curtis] Rona pushes Millard, who pushes into Josh Morris,” he said. “You definitely see Millard pushed in the back by Rona.”
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