Leading NRL referee dropped for preliminary finals after clear errors in Storm-Roosters clash

Australia World

The NRL has dropped leading referee Ashley Klein after he received criticism for two pivotal calls in Melbourne’s semifinal defeat of the Sydney Roosters.

But NRL chief executive Andrew Abdo insists the league has not lost faith in Klein, lashing the sport’s culture of blaming referees for defeats.

In the first half of the Storm’s 18-13 win on Friday, Klein missed a knock-on from Melbourne hooker Harry Grant while the Roosters were on the attack in the red zone.

Klein permitted Grant to play the ball and only minutes later, off the back of a penalty, the Storm marched upfield to score through Marion Seve.

The NRL’s general manager of elite football, Graham Annesley, on Monday acknowledged the mistake.

“Ashley Klein [was] in a perfect position but sometimes with the speed of these incidents, your eyes play tricks on you,” Annesley said.

“It’s a decision he should’ve picked up, but he got it wrong.”

Later, with Melbourne trailing 13-12, Klein did not penalise Roosters halfback Sam Walker for a clear high tackle on Grant, which would have put the Storm in position to kick a game-winning penalty goal.

Annesley on Monday confirmed the bunker could not step in to correct rulings when there is no stoppage in play, although Grant did stay down for some time after the Walker hit, appealing to Klein to check with the video referee.

The NRL is yet to determine whether Klein will referee the grand final for the second straight year, but he will not preside over either of the preliminary finals this week, listed only as the bunker official for Brisbane’s match against the Warriors on Saturday.

It is the first time that Klein has not taken charge of a game in all three weeks of the finals leading up to the decider since 2019, when he was axed after coming under fire for a number of errors in the Storm’s qualifying final loss to Canberra.

Abdo launched an impassioned defence of Klein shortly before the NRL dropped him, claiming criticism of the 14-time State of Origin referee, who also officiated the men’s World Cup final last year, pointed to a broader issue in the sport.

Referee Ashley Klein points during the 2022 NRL grand final.

Ashley Klein refereed the grand final last year, the past six State of Origin games and the 2022 World Cup final.(Getty Images: Cameron Spencer)

“One of the things that we need to work on as a game is the culture that we have around blame and the culture that we have around sometimes personalising things,” he said.

“It’s not how I want to see our next generation growing up.

“In sport, sometimes you don’t always get the decisions go your way. That is just the nature of sport. Guess what? Business is like that and guess what? Life is like that.”

Abdo insisted dropping Klein did not indicate the NRL had lost faith in his abilities.

“These guys [the referees], like the players, love the game and are hugely committed to the game and they’re going to, like players, have form and form changes,” he said.

“It’s just the natural flow of high performance: ebbs and flows in form.

“No-one is more devastated than they are when they review performance and they understand that they may have missed a forward pass, or they may have missed a penalty.

“A referee might have a bad game and they might not get elevated or they might not be selected. That doesn’t mean that we’re not supporting them.

“I’ve watched sport my entire life and I can say this objectively: Our match officials are up there with the best in the world.”

Abdo said he appreciated professional and measured comments from Roosters coach Trent Robinson and Storm captain Christian Welch after the match.

Join the ABC Sport team at abc.net.au/sport as we live blog all the action from the Panthers vs Storm match on Friday, and Broncos vs Warriors match on Saturday.