Controversial Decision: England Player Strips Ball from Andrew Fifita before his final try but ref Cecchin did not want to check it

Just when we thought Rugby League was the ‘good guy’ sport to relieve us from Rugby Union’s never ending dramas, last night’s controversial Rugby League World Cup Semi final clash between Tonga and England, revealed that League is becoming a bit like it’s annoying Union cousins.

The last try by Andrew Fifita, after having the ball stripped from him by an English player in the final minutes of the game, caused uproar when B-Grade referee Matt Cecchin didn’t bother to go to the video referee (TMO) to have it checked like he should have.

Had it been a game between say New Zealand and Australia, the TMO would have been working up as much a sweat as the players.

But what’s new?

How many times do we have to watch our island teams who are among the best in the sport, play in tournaments where politics and corporate privilege hinder a small nation’s growth and the growth of the entire game?

Even when smaller Tier 2 teams like Tonga are skilfully catching up with their Tier 1 counterparts, the game cannot move any further up when you have a colonial model already in place. The game is already determined before it even begins.

We as Samoans all felt the pain of Tonga’s loss.  And we were heartbroken for them. Questionable calls meant that Cecchin was lenient towerds England’s play but overscrupulous when Tonga had possession. Even English fans thought so.

An English TMO certainly didn’t help either which begs the question: how hard is it to find neutral officials for these games? The TMO was just as important as the referee last night. The TMO WAS the referee. So really the referee was English. And he certainly didn’t complete his job either.

I would question the neutralism of having an Australian referee too.  Considering most of the Tongan players play in the Australian NRL, the referee would still ‘know’ most of these players on a personal level than just a hi and bye at a game. Sure you can argue that ‘knowing’ these players would work in Tonga’s favour. But you can still know people and dislike them too. At the end of the day, he did ‘know’ them.

Cecchin got to decide who goes into the World Cup Finals to play against his own country.  Rich country vs another Rich country is much more attractive to Rugby League World Cup Heads than Rich Country vs Poor Island country. There is still an America’s cup/Melbourne cup feel to this sport!

I could go further and say that Cecchin, an openly gay referee is probably not a fan of Tongan rugby player Israel Folau either. Israel’s stance against same-sex marriage recently is still stinging many Australians and no doubt Cecchin too. But that would be petty wouldn’t it.

The game last night was reminiscent of the 2011 Rugby Union World Cup where Manu Samoa also struggled with bad referees like Paul Honiss who disallowed Manu tries in their South African Quarter Final.

When are Union and League organisers going to wake up and see Island teams as formidable opponents? And that they are key teams bringing in some very important money to these tournaments.

Why are island teams continuously being underestimated on a sporting and marketing level? Just as Manu Samoa had sold out stadiums at the 2011 World Cup in New Zealand, Tonga had sold out stadiums in this Rugby League World Cup.  Lack of fan zones and facilities  also hint that organisers were unprepared for the magnitude of Tongan support.

If it weren’t for Tonga, Fifth Harmony Pop star Dinah Jane wouldn’t have flown into New Zealand to sing their national anthem. Her appearance added spark to the World Cup by featuring a global music artist who is current and relevant.

Fifth Harmony have millions of ‘Harmonizer’ fans all over the world and these fans tuned in to the Rugby League World Cup – a sport they had never heard of. Tonga inadvertantly boosted the Rugby League World Cup’s 2017 campaign.

Without Tonga and the Pacific Island teams, this World Cup would be BORING.

-A heartbroken Fifita Video Eteveni Lavemaau Twitter

Tonga can handle a loss. But it needs to be a confirmed loss. They deserved that closure

Michael Burgess of the NZ Herald wrote last night: “Tonga were not necessarily robbed of victory, but robbed of the peace of mind of knowing what really unfolded in the desperate last 10 seconds of the match.”

League commentator and former NSW Origin Coach Laurie Daly also agrees. Speaking on Channel Seven after the match, Daley said Cecchin should definitely have sent the play to the video referee.

“He had to [send it upstairs]. He had to.” said Daly. “In particular, given the outcome and the importance of it. It’s a semi-final – to go through to a World Cup final and it comes down to a last play like that and you miss it, you just revert it to the video referee. That cost Tonga a final.”

Tonga has catapulted this World Cup Campaign in ways that organizers could only dream of. And they won’t be credited for that.

The least officials could’ve have done is to do their job and check that final video.

-Lia Sagote 





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