‘That’s a stitch up’: Paul Vautin, Cam Smith rage as Cowboys denied try

Footy legends Cameron Smith and Paul Vautin have been left dumbfounded after the North Queensland Cowboys were denied a try against the South Sydney Rabbitohs at Magic Round.

NRL head of football Graham Annesley is going to have a busy day at his weekly football briefing on Monday after another controversial moment had commentators scratching their heads.

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In a game between the last-placed Rabbitohs and the Cowboys on a five-game losing streak, the Cowboys held on for a 28-22 thriller, having failed to put Souths away for a grandstand finish.

But Smith and Vautin were left dumbfounded when the Cowboys were denied a try with 25 minutes remaining.

The Queenslander held a 22-12 lead at the time and were looking for the killer blow.

After a knock on from the Rabbitohs gave the Cowboys field position, a short side play on the second play went to Jeremiah Nanai, who appeared to burst through the line for a try.

Nanai split a pair of defenders who wound up around his ankles, before surging for the line.

However, referee Peter Gough sent the call up as a no try, claiming an obstruction from Cowboys centre Viliami Vailea.

Vailea had been outside of Nanai as a support player and when the second rower had been slowed by the two defenders who fell to the ground, the centre ended up in front of his teammate.

Souths winger Alex Johnston was ruled to have been obstructed.

As the Bunker adjudicated, Cowboys captain Tom Dearden questioned Gough, who said: “Once he’s in front, he can’t stop the guy coming across.”

Usually it’s a decoy runner who runs through or into the line and contacts an opposition player but this was a different situation as Vailea was entitled to support his teammate.

“This is a really difficult situation because what if Nanai can get a ball away to Vailea,” Smith said.

Bunker official Liam Kennedy said: “We need to determine if Vailea creates an obstruction by being in front of the ball or if he is a support player”.

Smith replied: “Well, he is a support player.”

Kennedy finished: “At this point in time his front of the ball and Alex Johnston is denied opportunity to defend.”

Vautin hit back, saying: “No, he wasn’t denied because what Alex Johnston did was to grab hold of that particular Cowboys player instead of trying to make a tackle. That’s a stitch up, that’s a try.”

Smith added: “Vailea is just pushing through into the space. That is his job. He is asked to do that by his coach.

“You see Nanai looks to pass and there is an option there to pass and he chooses to hold onto the ball.”

Commentator Peter Psaltis said that if Nanai had passed, Vailea would likely have received a penalty for tackled without the ball.

Smith replied: “He has got every right to be there to support his teammate. That is what the game is about.”

Vautin: “And Johnston milked that by simply going for him and hanging onto him knowing that he was not going to get there anyway.”

Fans were also left scratching their heads.

“Are we just going to ignore Johnston tackling Vailea without the ball before the obstruction?” one fan asked.

“Never mind AJ pulling Vailea towards him @NRL. BS call! Again,” another suggested.

While the Cowboys were denied, they also weren’t able to put the Rabbitohs away as South Sydney showed some much needed heart.

Souths scored next through Cody Walker before the Cowboys hit back with a possible eight-point try.

But Valentine Holmes missed the conversion attempt before slotting the penalty goal, leaving the door slightly ajar after Damien Cook reduced the scoreline to six with just under five minutes remaining.

Despite getting a few last opportunities, the Rabbitohs were denied and continue to anchor the NRL ladder.

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