Reece Walsh and Tom Trbojevic shine as NRL world left fuming over dodgy Panthers incident

The gun fullbacks made big State of Origin statements on Saturday, while Benji Marshall was left fuming after the Tigers' loss.

It was an action-packed day of NRL games on Saturday, with Reece Walsh and Tom Trbojevic staking their claims for State of Origin berths with massive performances for the Broncos and Sea Eagles. But there was controversy in the early game as the Panthers appeared to get extremely lucky not to have Brad Schneider sent to the sin-bin for a professional foul.

Walsh sent a strong message to Queensland coach Billy Slater that he should be the man wearing the Maroons No.1 jersey this year, amid debate around where Kalyn Ponga fits into the side. Walsh scored two tries and ran for 199 metres, breaking six tackles and making three line breaks in a dazzling display as the Broncos thrashed the Raiders 34-10.

Reece Walsh, Jarome Luai and Tom Trbojevic.
Reece Walsh (L) and Tom Trbojevic (R) made big statements, while the Panthers (centre) got lucky with a crucial call against the Tigers. Image: Getty

It was the perfect response amid debate over who should be named fullback for Queensland in State of Origin this year. Ponga is back in contention after skipping last year's series to focus on club footy, but might have to settle for a spot on the bench or miss out completely due to the form of Walsh.

The 21-year-old finished with a personal tally of 18 points, which included five goals. "Reece has got that explosiveness in him to break a game open," Broncos coach Kevin Walters said after the match. "He struggled a bit early, but when he decided to run, he ran, and we got some good results on the back of that."

Tom Trbojevic firming for NSW fullback role?

Another player who made a big Origin statement on Saturday night was Manly gun Trbojevic. The fullback also scored two tries and set up another, running for 196 metres and breaking five tackles in the Sea Eagles' 34-30 win over the Titans.

Many have been calling for James Tedesco to be replaced as NSW fullback, with Dylan Edwards thought to be leading the race to claim the Blues' No.1 jersey. Trbojevic is playing himself into a spot in the backline somewhere (whether it be wing or centre), but his form might have new coach Michael Maguire considering him in his preferred position at fullback.


Benji Marshall fumes after Tigers dudded against Panthers

And there was controversy in the early game as Penrith ran out 22-6 winners over the Wests Tigers. Benji Marshall's side made a brilliant start to the contest and led 6-0 early, and looked to be well on top of the defending premiers.

But they appeared to be wronged by a dodgy call when Schneider fell and deliberately ankle-tapped Justin Olam after the Tigers made a break. Olam put himself in position to score had he received the ball back on the inside, but he fell and the ball hit the ground after he was tripped by Schneider.

The Panthers halfback was penalised for his actions, but NRL fans and commentators were left gobsmacked that he wasn't sent to the sin-bin. Marshall said after the game: “That trip on Justin Olam. I’ve been pretty quiet about the refereeing (this season), but I just feel like we’re not getting the rub of the green.

“That trip to me is what I would say is a professional foul in the act of a try-scoring opportunity, where Olam was supporting to try and score a try, and he gets tripped up. How’s that not a professional foul and a sin bin? I’ll ask for clarification, but yeah, that hurt us.

“It was a penalty, it’s a professional foul. So how does it not get sin-binned? It feels like sometimes we’re not getting the rub of the green, it’s been a few weeks in a row now, so we’ll get some answers on that. I’m not going to say it would have helped us win the game or not, but there’s just things that change the momentum of the game. Even though we got the penalty, to play against 12 for 10 minutes would have really helped us.”

Brad Schneider in action for the Panthers against the Tigers.
Brad Schneider was allowed to stay on the field as the Panthers beat the Tigers.

Michael Ennis said in commentary: “How’s that not a professional foul? How’s that not a sin bin? Olam was looming on the inside and Schneider blatantly ankle-tapped him. It had to be a sin bin."

It might not have affected the result, but with the Tigers on top at the time, who knows how many points they could have scored while the Panthers were a man down. Fans were also blowing up on social media.