With 10 minutes to go, the Panthers were coming.
A Grand Final that looked a foregone conclusion when Melbourne raced to a 26-0 lead early in the second half suddenly had a pulse again.
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Two tries in 16 minutes meant Penrith had hope — albeit the faintest glimmer — of hauling in a 14-point deficit when they recovered to 26-12.
Nathan Cleary and Co. were on a roll and raced into Melbourne’s half just shy of the 70-minute mark courtesy of a quick play-the-ball and a penalty. They kicked quickly for touch and charged upfield, ready to take advantage of a retreating Melbourne defence.
But before the Panthers could take a tap restart, they had to play the waiting game.
A trainer had told the referee to stop the game because he needed to check on the welfare of Storm back-rower Felise Kaufusi.
Kaufusi copped a heavy hit when completing a tackle from the kick-off but play didn’t stop until later when Penrith was on the move, having benefited from a penalty for a ruck infringement.
The check-up on Kaufusi halted Penrith’s momentum and Phil Gould wasn’t impressed in the Channel 9 commentary box.
“A trainer’s holding up the game for no reason,” Gould said. “This is wrong.
“The trainer has stopped the game from the sideline and run out to Kaufusi to give his team a break.”
“This is just wrong,” Gould repeated twice.
“They stopped the game when Penrith were about to take the tap and (the trainer) ran out onto the field. They were nowhere near him when they stopped the game.”
Andrew Johns said there was “nothing wrong” with Kaufusi and even veteran commentator Ray Warren was questioning the trainer’s involvement.
“Gus is right. The trainer was only just leaving the sideline, he wouldn’t know whether Kaufusi had to be HIA’d or not,” Warren said.
“But they stopped the game because the trainer indicated it was a serious situation.”
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Trainers are allowed to instruct the referee to stop the game if they’re assessing a player and believe he may have a serious medical issue.
However, the issue here is the trainer — according to Gould and Warren — asked play to be halted before he’d even arrived at Kaufusi to check on him.
How could he possibly have known the issue was serious enough to stop the game if he hadn’t even made it to Kaufusi yet?
The Melbourne forward was cleared to play on and helped his team defend a late Panthers surge.
Penrith stormed back with two more tries in the 71st and 80th minutes but ran out of time to run down the Storm, who celebrated another premiership with their 26-20 victory.
The Kaufusi incident brought back memories of the Storm being accused of dodgy delaying tactics in the first week of the finals against Parramatta.
The NRL fined Melbourne $10,000 when a trainer told the referee to stop play against the Eels, only to treat winger Suliasi Vunivalu for cramp — definitely not an injury worth stopping the clock for.
In this instance, the trainer told the officials to blow time-off before he’d even reached Vunivalu. Again, that’s not allowed, because the trainer would have no way of knowing whether the player’s injury was serious enough to warrant a stoppage.
Eels players complained because it crushed their momentum and effectively ended any slim hope they had of forcing an upset.