Wayne Bennett has been left “dumbfounded” by a crucial downtown penalty call that cost his South Sydney side the lead in their 25-12 NRL loss to Penrith.
Rabbitohs forward Mark Nicholls was picked up for a rarely-sighted downtown penalty, after he advanced beyond the play-the-ball mark before a kick was made.
The South Sydney middle was then called out after Stephen Crichton fumbled the ball on taking it back to the line, allowing Nicholls to scoop it up.
Nicholls was more than 10 metres from Penrith when they received the ball, but under NRL rules he should have stayed away from the play entirely or risk giving away a penalty.
The call allowed Nathan Cleary to slot over a penalty from 40 metres out, giving the Panthers a lead they never relinquished.
“We were all a bit dumbfounded by that one,” Bennett said.
“Mark has done it all his career, so many others have. I don’t know where it came from.
“No one has any idea on it in that change room. They are all guilty of it.
“It was a big moment in the game.”
Nicholls’ downtown moment was one of several discipline issues for South Sydney, who gave up an 11-2 penalty count in their second worst night of the year in that category.
Keaon Koloamatangi also finished on report for a crusher tackle on Brent Naden, with their only other game of poor discipline coming when they gave away 12 penalties against Penrith last time around.
Meanwhile, six penalties against Souths in the second half on Friday combined with Cleary’s kicking to leave the Rabbitohs regularly on the back foot and coming out of their own end.
The lack of momentum in turn allowed the Panthers to shut down the threat of Cody Walker and Latrell Mitchell, while no Rabbitohs’ forward was able to change the momentum.
The two sides appear destined to meet again on neutral turf in week one of the finals, given they will finish second and third.
“It was just a lack of discipline. We gave away penalties and put ourselves under pressure,” Bennett said.
“We all know what wins for us and loses for us.
‘We’re the No.1 ranked team in the competition for the least penalties given (away).
“It’s something we have fixed and had under control. It’s not been part of our game, but we just had a bad night with it.
“It’s not something we have to pay a lot of attention to.”