Of all the reasons the back-to-back wooden spooners might have missed the finals, Parramatta wouldn't have budgeted on a ballboy passing the ball to Vai Toutai instead of putting it on the sideline.
But that inconspicuous play which stifled the Eels' attempt for quick tap after a 40-20 in their dramatic loss to the Bulldogs on Friday night might just have done the trick. And coach Brad Arthur is seething about it.
Having not only taken aim at on-field officials Ben Cummins and Chris James, Arthur described the 40-20 rule as "stupid" as the top eight fortunes of the blue and golds nose-dived in dramatic fashion.
The Eels rode a virtuoso performance from Jarryd Hayne to trail 18-16 with a couple of minutes on the clock when Chris Sandow booted a match-turning 40-20.
Parramatta winger Toutai sprinted downfield and tossed the ball back infield for Sandow, who took the quick tap and darted over to score as the Bulldogs' defence was still retreating.
The NRL this year scrapped the usual scrum restart after a 40-20 and replaced it with a quick tap in an effort to speed up the game.
But Cummins and James chalked off the play, claiming a young ballboy had thrown the ball to Toutai instead of placing it on the sideline for him to collect as per the rule.
That did little to appease an angered Arthur, whose side now need to win their remaining three matches to harbour hopes of post-season action.
"I don't know how many times I've seen players running down and getting the ballboy to throw it in and it's play-on," Arthur said. "It's a stupid rule.
"Vai actually passed the ball off the sideline. What more do they want us to do? Go up into the grandstand and pass it out of the grandstand? If Ashley Klein had to miss out on the week of footy, I don't know about those two blokes in the middle.
"They're supposed to make the game faster and get an attacking advantage, but how many times have we seen it pulled back on those 40-20s? At least more than 50 per cent I'd say, and I'm only guessing. You go back and have a look at them."
Arthur had plenty of support from co-captain Jarryd Hayne, who scored once and provided an audacious bat-on for a Semi Radradra try to single-handedly keep the Eels in the game in the first half.
"You put your hands up and scratch your head," Hayne said. "The whole point of that rule is to make it faster. They brushed the scrums to make it faster. Vai was on the touchline. What do you expect of a ballboy who is probably 12 or 13 years old racing downfield?"
Pressed on whether it could have just sunk his side's finals hopes, Arthur said: "One hundred per cent and it's not the first time. I go back to round three when we played Manly with two minutes to go. I can go back and name a couple of other incidents and I'm sure every team could as well."
The Eels remain rooted in ninth spot after the result, which could have seen them topple Canterbury from the top eight with a win, as their fiercest rivals climbed into fifth after a four-match rot.
Arthur also took umbrage at an early 4-0 penalty deficit on Friday night as the Bulldogs stormed to an 18-6 lead inside the first 30 minutes. The Eels held the blue and whites scoreless in the second half, but could only muster one try after the break of their own accord.
"If you can go back to those four penalties and show me any one of them being a penalty," Arthur said. "Of the 14 sets to start the game, they had 10 sets. [But] what I want to focus on is the courage these blokes showed and we were the better team.
"We're going to have to make sure we win our next three to ensure we're in the finals. That's all there is to it."
Arthur's Canterbury opposite was reluctant to be drawn on the subject of the 40-20 quick tap, but did acknowledge there was "confusion" over the re-start.
"I can see what it's designed to do," Des Hasler said. "There's obviously a bit of confusion about it, isn't there? The ones I've seen they've tapped in the wrong spot or [something else]. I can't give you a complete answer."
Bulldogs skipper Michael Ennis claimed he didn't see the incident in which the ballboy passed the ball to Toutai. But he did see the usually desolate second tier of ANZ Stadium populated after a healthy crowd of 30,394 watched Tony Williams wreak havoc on his former club.
"It's that time of year and I was really pleased with how the boys rose to the occasion tonight," Ennis said.
- Sydney Morning Herald
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