First tackle: Raw deal for Eels
For as long as referees have blown whistles they have been copping the outrage of fans for contributing in any small or large way to the end of a team's season. Thing is, with all the technology now available to match officials, it is so much harder to accept that "they're only human and can make mistakes". In fact, today, it is much more common for fans to throw accusations of deliberate bias, when they can't find a logical reason behind the injustice, whether blatant or perceived.
Were the Eels robbed of a fair chance to advance to a preliminary final or were they just the losing team on another night where match officials simply weren't up to the very high standard we expect of them? If you ask NRL head of football Graeme Annesley, he'll tell you your grievances will depend on which team you were cheering for on the night. He fails to consider the many neutral observers who feel they didn't witness a balanced contest, but rather saw too many bad calls go against the Eels on the night.
You can start with the 7-2 penalty count. You can add Penrith's cynical first tackle ruck infringements; Mitchell Moses being held back in support; Clint Gutherson being stripped of the ball, and the many momentum killing stoppages to that, too.
It was hard not to feel the pain of Eels fans.
Second tackle: Chooks cooked early
In a game where the final score is 42-6, it is much harder to blame the referee for the result. And yet, the way the Roosters-Sea Eagles clash began left this neutral observer feeling uneasy.
The Roosters started the game with a quick shift from the kick-off, instead of charging into the defence, Jared Waerea-Hargreaves shifted it to James Tedesco. The move went nowhere, but it showed intent. The Roosters were not finished with this wretched season just yet. After a completed set, a kick, a good chase and a couple of big hits, they were penalised for a high shot made at waist height.
The Sea Eagles then scored the first try of the game after an arbitrary six again call and an extremely soft, late contact penalty on the last tackle.
Seven minutes into the game and referee Gerard Sutton had done more to determine the 6-0 score line than any player and I was ready to find a movie to watch.
Tackle three: More milking than a dairy farm
The other big thing to come out of the Panthers, Eels thriller was the terrible amount of penalty milking from both sides. The most ludicrous came when Eels winger Blake Ferguson clutched at the back of his head and remained on the ground after a Panthers arm barely brushed him. He was awarded a penalty for a crusher tackle, and sprung to his feet ready to fight when a Panthers player lobbed a verbal barrage his way. To be fair to Ferguson, it was one of only two penalties to go the Eels' way all game.
Penrith were denied a try when a sweeping play deep inside Parramatta's half resulted in Jarome Luai scrambling over the line. The bunker found that decoy runner Matt Burton had impeded Eels half Mitchell Moses. Replays showed Moses making it very obvious that contact was made, contact that he initiated.
The Panthers were far from innocent. Midway through the second half prop James Fisher-Harris ran a decoy line, made contact with Eels defender Marata Niukore and hit the deck like he'd been run down by a truck. The bunker awarded a penalty, placed Niukore on report and the Panthers received another free interchange.
Any player feeling contact to the head region was staying down until replays were seen by the match officials, a fact Panthers captain Nathan Cleary didn't deny.
"That's something that ultimately would be nice to be eliminated but if it keeps going like that everyone's going to do it because at the end of the day you want to win," Cleary said.
"Getting penalties helps you win, so it's just the way it is at the moment.
"You watch it every week, if someone goes down and they get put in an awkward position, they hold their neck and more often than not it's a penalty.
"Again it comes back to just wanting to win the game and those things help."
Tackle four: More strange calls
There were a couple of incidents that caught the eye in Manly's trouncing of the Roosters on Friday night. At one point Manly were awarded a seven tackle set from a bomb diffused by Tom Trbojevic, where his boot barely made the try line as he caught the ball. Referee Gerrard Sutton confidently blew his whistle and Trbojevic raced out to the 20 metre line for a quick tap, before sending Reuben Garrick on his way through an open field.
Sutton blew his whistle again to bring Garrick back as Jake Trbojevic was in front of the 20 metre line when the quick tap was taken; a mistake that used to result in an opposition scrum feed in the middle of the 20 metre line.
In the 59th minute of the game Cummins came up with a head-scratcher. Being dragged towards the sideline Roosters winger Daniel Tupoi threw a pass over his shoulder. Cummins penalised Tupou for passing the ball off the ground. Passing the ball off the ground is illegal because, by definition, the tackle has been completed. If the tackle had been completed, why weren't the Sea Eagles players penalised for continuing to drag Tupou?
Fifth and last: Strange Panthers tactic leaves them vulnerable
It was an interesting start by the Panthers, as they seemed determined to run their backs as forwards right up the middle, especially out of trouble. Whether they were trying to cover the ten metres to the Eels defenders as quickly as possible, achieve quicker play-the-balls, save the big forwards for later, or all of the above, is not clear.
We saw early hit ups from Matt Burton, Brent Naden, Stephen Crichton, several from Dylan Edwards, even Nathan Cleary stepped straight into the meat of the Eels defence at one point. The only forward really making an impact was Isaah Yeo, with charges from the others very limited.
It continued at the beginning of the second half and if anything gave the Eels the ascendancy up the middle. The big Eels forwards had plenty of sting left in their defence once the big Panthers forwards started running the ball more. Tackling backs hadn't taken any edge off of their aggressive approach, rather leaving them fresh and fired up.
Handover: Can we just go back to the sideline microphone?
Channel Nine's continual fiddling with the soundtrack of the game came back to bite them in the 15th minute of the clash between the Roosters and Sea Eagles. The commentary was somehow caught in a loop which overlapped on itself over and over again for several minutes, like a Ray Warren version of row, row, row your boat.
Lead commentator Warren apologised for the disruption and thanked a "genius" in the crew when order was restored. We were soon returned to the fake crowd white noise, apparently needed to compliment the inadequately boisterous 5,824 Mackay locals.