Referee steals spotlight once again

Published: Saturday 7th February 2015 by The News Editor

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Keiron Cunningham savoured his first win as a head coach but was left to reflect on the refereeing controversies which have so far marred the opening round of Super League.

Saints made a successful start to the defence of their crown by grinding out an 18-7 victory over Catalans Dragons in a match in which the champions were on the wrong end of a hefty penalty count and had Greg Richards sin-binned following a team warning.

Dragons winger Michael Oldfield was also sent to the bin by referee Phil Bentham and, with yellow and red cards also brandished in the opening draw between Widnes and Wigan, it amounts to a stormy start to the season.

“I’m not sure it was the prettiest game to watch,” Cunningham said. “The most disappointing thing for me is that the fans have waited so long for the season to start and after two TV games all people are talking about are the referees’ decision. We just want to play rugby league.”

Cunningham’s men led 6-0 thanks to a try by Atelea Vea on his debut but a run of six successful penalties enabled the Catalans to build sustained pressure and they turned around 7-6 in front thanks to a try from Eloi Pelissier and a conversion and drop goal from Thomas Bosc.

Saints managed to restore some order in the second half, clinching victory with further tries through Andre Savelio, Tom Makinson and Jordan Turner.

“I admire the resilience and effort in everything we did defensively,” Cunningham said. “We hung in there and made 30 tackles in a row at one point.

“We went up field and ought to have scored but our skill was a little bit off. We looked a little bit nervous. When we got into our rhythm, we looked undefendable.”

Cunningham was full of praise for the French visitors, who lost both half-backs Scott Dureau and Todd Carney in the build-up to the match and suffered another body blow when former Australia Test centre Willie Tonga was concussed in the first play of the match.

“For what they’ve gone through, I thought they were great,” Cunningham said. “They are definitely going to be up there this year.”

The game was held up for eight minutes before Tonga was carried from the field but he was later reported to be in good health.

Catalans coach Laurent Frayssinous said: “He wanted to stay on the field but as a precaution the medical staff said it was better to stay out of it.

“He is pretty good and I’m sure he will be able to play next week.”

Frayssinous had a makeshift half-back pairing of hooker Ian Henderson and loose forward Greg Mounis at one stage and he was proud of their battling efforts.

“We are competitors and we had a really good dig against the champions so there are a lot of positives,” he said.

“It was pretty bizarre. At one stage we had a nine and a lock in the halves. There was a lot of stop start but sometimes you have to play the game the way it is.”

Cunningham confirmed that Australian scrum-half Luke Walsh will not play against Salford in round two next Thursday and is not guaranteed to complete his recovery in time for the World Club Challenge clash with South Sydney on February 22.

“He started light training with us at the back end of last week,” he said. “He won’t play next week. I’d be a fool to bring him back early when there is another 10 months of rugby to play.”

Published: Saturday 7th February 2015 by The News Editor

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