Raiders forward Sia Soliola consoles Storm rival Billy Slater as he is transported off the field after being knocked out in a tackle.
Raiders forward Sia Soliola consoles Storm rival Billy Slater as he is transported off the field after being knocked out in a tackle. MICK TSIKAS

Send it to the bunker: Slater shot sparks call for change

RUGBY LEAGUE: Matthew Johns is firmly in the camp that Sia Soliola should have been sent off for the high hit that knocked out Billy Slater and has resulted in a five-week suspension.

The decision to leave the Raiders enforcer on the field after the tackle that left the champion fullback motionless has been met with widespread condemnation across the game, with several critics mourning the death of the send-off and Mark 'Spud' Carroll colourfully asking if you needed to take someone's head off "and put it on a trophy” to be given marching orders.

That was on the extreme side of the reaction but with referees boss Tony Archer coming out the day after the game to admit the officials got the decision wrong, the search has begun for a more correct and consistent use for the harshest on-field penalty that a referee can issue.

The stakes are so high in the modern game that referees seem reluctant to make the snap decision to send a player off in case they get it wrong and cost a team a chance at victory and potentially the two points that could mean finals or September obscurity.

Canberra Raiders NRL player Iosia Soliola (left) and football manager John Bonasera arrive for a judiciary hearing at Rugby League Central in Sydney on Tuesday, July 25, 2017. Iosia Soliola is facing a Dangerous Contact charge after Melbourne Storm's Billy Slater was knocked out during the round 20 NRL match at GIO Stadium in Canberra. (AAP Image/Paul Miller) NO ARCHIVING
Canberra player Sia Soliola (left) and football manager John Bonasera arrive for a NRL judiciary hearing. PAUL MILLER

Which is why Johns wants to take that power out of the referee's hands almost completely.

Instead of making a decision that can't be undone, Johns is calling for a tweak to the system so a referee can send a player off but the bunker officials are given as long as they need to review the decision after play resumes.

If the send-off is deemed incorrect or over the top, the player can be sent back out into the action.

"They won't always get it right. Let's face it the other night they had six minutes to make a decision and they lost their nerve and said 'oh, no, keep him on the field',” Johns said on Triple M's The Grill Team.

"But I think you can go, 'look, this is what they've done, go', and while you're off the field they review it, a couple of guys in the bunker review it, and they say, 'no, he doesn't go back onto the field'.

"I think it's a good way of doing it.”

Rugby league identity Matthew Johns speaks at a press conference in Sydney, Friday, Nov. 6, 2009. Johns announced that he will be starting a television production company with advertising and media entrepreneur John Singleton. (AAP Image/Tracey Nearmy) NO ARCHIVING
Rugby league identity Matthew Johns has called for change to the game. TRACEY NEARMY

While the Soliola decision was wrong in Johns' eyes, he also has difficulty with the NRL's justification for sin binning a player for an offence that is far less dangerous.

Weigh the two calls against each other and he describes the outcomes as "insanity”.

"Here's the insanity of the situation; he knocks Billy absolutely unconscious, Billy's knocked out before he hits the ground, Billy might miss a week, maybe two, due to not passing a HIA and Sia Soliola stays on the field,” Johns said.

"In the second half, Cameron Munster gets penalised for a professional foul and gets sent to the sin bin for 10 minutes. That's the insanity of the situation at the moment.”

During the same radio chat, former NRL hard man Mark Geyer called for Archer to sit in the bunker and lead the way when a big decision needed to be made, rather than commenting on them 24 hours later.

Johns disagreed with that suggestion but said the referees' boss needed to do better to get the officials he oversees on the same page.

"They've got to get on the same page. At the end of the day you don't expect them to get every decision absolutely perfect, and one of the problems is we expect them to get every decision right and they end up losing their nerve,” Johns said.