It was definitely an intense top-of-the-table clash between Melbourne and Cronulla on Thursday night. The Sharks at home always give a real blowtorch reception for visiting teams.
The comments by Sharks coach Shane Flanagan about my team’s captain, Cameron Smith, also added a little more fuel to that fire. I’ll get back to that in a minute.
It is never an easy road trip going there. The Sharks are a tough, physical side who like a grind. We were expecting it and that’s what we got.
I’m not sure they were at their best at the start of the game because we got the jump on them with two quick tries. But we knew the Sharks would come back and, to be quite honest, for most of that second half we were just hanging on.
We were under pressure; they had all the ball, had the field position with nine more sets than us. The penalties at halftime were Cronulla’s way 4-3 and they ended up 9-6 to the Sharks.
Storm got the first three penalties, so if you take those away the penalties were 9-3 for the rest of the game. So I found it surprising that Flanagan would come out and talk about “Referee Smith” afterwards.
After we got those first three penalties, I saw Sharks captain Paul Gallen come out and have a chat to the referees. I don’t know what that was about, but that’s when things seemed to change.
If Flanagan thought we got the best of the referee decisions, after those first three, when it was 9-3 for the rest of the game then he was watching a different game to the one I was watching. I’m not sure where he’s coming from with those comments.
If “Referee Smith” was refereeing the game he didn’t do much a of a job with it.
Remember Smithy got penalised twice himself and that rarely happens in a game.
Even taking the penalty count total of 9-6 against Storm, that shows Cameron wasn’t doing any favours for us. I saw several instances where we could have received a penalty and we didn’t.
So I was highly surprised at the comment. I know there is a perception out there that Cameron manages referees, or tries to influence them too much. If he’s doing that then he’s doing a lousy job because Storm hasn’t won too many penalty counts over the past 14 rounds.
So if he’s trying to run the game, he needs to pick up his act.
Cameron Smith is obviously a very smart footballer. He has a very thorough knowledge of the game and heaps of experience.
I think the thing that gets under people’s skins a bit is that they see Cameron talking to the referees in a decent and respectful manner.
Referees cop some angry words and big sprays from club captains and other players. Granted, many of those come in the heat of the moment in games.
But even in those moments, Cameron is calm and considered with his comments.
So if that is trying to “referee a game”, I can’t see that at all.
All I see is an intelligent footballer expressing what he has seen happen — his observations of an incident — in a respectful way. And that’s not a bad thing for our game. Maybe more captains need to try it.
Then the wrestling comment was aired again. It doesn’t bother me much any more.
But it seems every time we play Cronulla, and they win, Flanagan doesn’t mention it. When Melbourne wins, he comes out and makes a real point about it.
Again, he’s not the only coach in the game that mentions it but he seems to be the most consistent.
This article originally appeared on The Australian, view here. Craig Bellamy writes a weekly column for The Australian throughout the NRL season which can be read on Saturdays.