The NRL bunker proved a source of controversy and frustration for fans all season, and it continued in farcical scenes in the grand final on Sunday night.
Penrith sealed their status as one of the NRL's greatest ever teams, going back-to-back with a crushing 28-12 win over Parramatta at Accor Stadium.
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In one of the most one-sided deciders this century, Penrith blew the Eels off the park in a near-perfect first half before Parramatta's only two tries came in the final four minutes.
Despite the Panthers' utter dominance, controversy erupted over a decision from the bunker early in the second half that ruined any chance of a Parramatta comeback.
Fans and commentators were certain that Brian To'o's second try would be overturned by the bunker due to an apparent obstruction from Viliame Kikau on Mitchell Moses in the lead-up.
Kikau had seemingly taken Moses out while the Eels halfback was trying to slide across in defence, with Kikau contacting the outside shoulder of Moses and sending him to the ground.
However bunker official Grant Atkins ruled that Kikau had already made it through the defensive line and Moses initiated contact with the Panthers player.
The controversial decision gave Penrith a 22-0 lead and ruled out any hope of the Eels making a staggering comeback.
— NRL on Nine (@NRLonNine) October 2, 2022
"This has been ruled against teams all year - this can't be a try," Cameron Smith said in commentary for Channel 9.
"I don't know. I'm confused now. All year."
Andrew Johns added: "Inside shoulder, outside shoulder that. Showed it perfectly. That clip from behind, he had to run between Mitchell Moses and Isaiah Papalii.
"He doesn't. And Kikau runs to the outside of Moses and all year that has been a no try. Yep. The biggest game of the year, we make it up and change it."
Brad Fittler was also unimpressed, saying: "The players know they have to go to the inside shoulder efforts. Mitchell Moses was following the ball when he looked up to make the play when the ball was passed, Kikau was in front of him.
"He might not have got to the ball. What Kikau did was he got in the way and obstructed his view of what was happening outside. So he obstructed him."
Parramatta coach Brad Arthur looked furious in the coach's box, saying "he can't get off him" in regards to Moses' inability to get around Kikau.
— Darren Walton (@DarrenWalton369) October 2, 2022
The referees and bunker are taking the Mickey?
Kikau taking out Moses is penalty every day of the week but preferential panthers treatment.
… and they penalise parramatta in first half for taking out clearly. #NRLGF https://t.co/CBGOS0xk8h
— Oliver Peterson (@oliverpeterson) October 2, 2022
— Mark Gottlieb (@MarkGottlieb) October 2, 2022
— Stephen Fenech (@StephenFenech) October 2, 2022
Obstruction calls are still more consistent game to game than the adjudication of holding the ball …
— QUENTIN HULL (@QuentinHull) October 2, 2022
#NRL I cannot get over how biased this game is. Absolute disgrace.
— fk (@whaddddupbaby) October 2, 2022
— Krystle Day (@krystlejday) October 2, 2022
NRL Grandfinal decends into a farce. Ref and Bunker are changing the rules. NRL this is a disgrace #NRLGF
— Jon Glasson (@Jon2040) October 2, 2022
Is this bunker blind? #NRLGF what an absolute joke of a game
— Superstishan (@superstishan) October 2, 2022
Panthers go back-to-back with premiership triumph
Dylan Edwards was a deserving Clive Churchill Medallist, making 228 metres on the back of his kick returns, producing the cover tackle of the night on Bailey Simonsson in the second half and setting up two tries in the win.
To'o scored a double, Moses Leota put on several big hits and through it all Nathan Cleary's kicking game was again influential.
In comparison Moses was unable to get an attacking kick away until the 40th minute, as their hopes of ending the 36-year drought were quickly extinguished.
It was enough to seal Penrith the fourth title in their history, as they became only the second team to defend their crown in the NRL era.
"That first half, it was a dream come true," Panthers head coach Ivan Cleary said.
"Considering everything on the line ... I sat back and watched the boys go to work.
"We put what we've learned from the last few years to good use and I'm incredibly blessed to be their coach."
The Panthers won every grade down to under-18s this season, and while they lose Kikau and Api Koroisau next year they appear set for a dynasty of success.
In the past three years alone they have won 67 of 78 matches, making their run the most dominant since Parramatta claimed three straight titles in the early 1980s.
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