NRL boss throws support behind Ashley Klein after 'disgraceful' blunder in semi-final

The veteran whistle-blower made two crucial errors as the Melbourne Storm ended the Roosters' season.

Ashley Klein, pictured here during the Storm and Roosters clash.
Ashley Klein missed a blatant knock-on from Harry Grant. Image: AAP/Channel 9

NRL head of football Graham Annesley has refused to reveal whether or not Ashley Klein will be dropped for the remainder of the finals despite conceding he made two key errors in Melbourne's semi-final win over the Roosters. Klein failed to pick up a blatant knock-on from Harry Grant that led to a Storm try in the first half, as Melbourne went on to win 18-13.

The referee also missed a high tackle on Grant from Sam Walker in the final minute and didn't blow a penalty, which would have allowed the Storm to take a 14-13 lead with a penalty goal. They ended up scoring through Will Warbrick just two plays later, ending the Roosters' season in brutal fashion.

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Melbourne scored their second try just a few plays after Grant's blatant knock-on went unnoticed by Klein, who appeared to have the perfect view of the incident. He was later heard apologising to Roosters captain James Tedesco, although it will be cold comfort for the Sydney side considering the blunder arguably cost them the game.

Veteran journalist Phil Rothfield was among the many to call for Klein to be axed for the rest of the finals, describing the blunder as "absolutely disgraceful". Discussing the furore on Saturday afternoon, Annesley conceded Klein made two crucial mistakes, but was unwilling to weigh in on whether or not he will referee again this season.

Graham Annesley addresses Ashley Klein controversy

Adam Gee was in charge of the Warriors and Knights clash on Saturday evening and shapes as the front-runner for the grand final, while Gerard Sutton and Grant Atkins would be the most likely options to replace Klein for next week's preliminary finals. "We haven’t even discussed it internally at this stage,” Annesley told the Sydney Morning Herald about whether Klein would be retained next week. “I’m not going to speculate about the appointment of referees next week at the moment. It’s a decision to be made by NRL management in the coming days after we fully review both matches.

“Referees make split-second decisions, and on this occasion, he was wrong. He obviously knew it was wrong shortly afterwards because he did apologise. But they do not go out there to make mistakes. They are trying to get all decisions right."

James Tedesco remonstrates with referee Ashley Klein. (AAP Image/Mark Evans)
James Tedesco remonstrates with referee Ashley Klein. (AAP Image/Mark Evans)

Annesley also shot down suggestions the Bunker should have intervened to give a penalty to the Storm for the high tackle on Grant. The Storm hooker stayed on the ground in an attempt to draw a penalty, but Annesley revealed the Bunker can't intervene in general play unless they think there has been serious foul play.

"We changed the rule from last year, which now requires the Bunker to only intervene if they think a tackle needs to go on report," Annesley said. "That was done to discourage players staying down and feigning injury, which we were seeing a lot last year."

Ashley Klein apologised for missing Harry Grant knock-on

After the Storm scored on the back of Grant's knock-on, Tedesco could be heard telling Klein: “That wasn’t even close. You’ve gotta give us the benefit of the doubt! That was obvious!"

Klein responded: “I understand but I thought he got his arm underneath it. I only call it as I see it, OK? I apologise. I can’t say anything more than that.”

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Tedesco later said in the post-match press conference: "He just said he called it as he saw it. I was 30 metres away and could see that he dropped it, but he was right there. It's hard when you can't have a conversation at the back. That's how he saw it, but I think it was pretty obvious."

Roosters coach Trent Robinson and Storm counterpart Craig Bellamy both conceded it should have been called a knock-on, but Robinson said they weren't expecting any 50/50 calls to go their way. Bellamy was also unimpressed with the high tackle on Grant that was missed.

NRL preliminary finals schedule:

  • Panthers v Storm - Friday 7.50pm, Accor Stadium

  • Broncos v Warriors - Saturday 7.50pm, Suncorp Stadium

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