NRL CEO Todd Greenberg has blasted Sea Eagles coach Trent Barrett and his Cronulla counterpart Shane Flanagan for their comments about match officials after both sides were bundled out in a dramatic Week One of the NRL Telstra Premiership Finals series.
In a week that saw two matches decided by two points and another in extra-time, the spotlight has been firmly focussed on the referees and the Bunker rather than the quality and theatre of the four finals matches.
Greenberg described the first week of the finals as "phenomenal" and was clearly frustrated that Barrett and Flanagan chose to deflect attention away from their teams' performances to the referees.
Barrett was left incensed after several Bunker decisions went against his side during Saturday night's 22-10 loss to the Panthers while Flanagan hit out at the on-field officials over a number of key calls despite his side making 17 errors and conceding 11 penalties in Sunday's extra-time loss to the Cowboys.
The hysteria around the decisions has dominated the media landscape for the past 48 hours and has taken the gloss off celebrated moments such as Latrell Mitchell's match-winning try as well as Cameron Smith's games record.
Coaches have been warned about attacking the officials in their post-match media conferences and as a result of this weekend's comments, Greenberg confirmed both the Sea Eagles and Sharks would receive breach notices in the next 24 hours.
"We've just had one of the most exciting rounds of finals footy I think of all time. Every game went down to the wire, two games were decided by two points and another game went into extra-time. We're very fortunate to have a sporting contest as even as this," Greenberg said at Rugby League Central on Monday.
"And yet, in a fantastic round of finals, it's been marred by the response of some of the losing teams. Unfortunately, we've developed a culture in our game of blaming match officials for a loss. It sets a terrible example for fans and a terrible example to grassroots and it's got to stop. It's time for the game to grow up."
Greenberg said referees had to be held accountable for their decisions and conceded that not every call was going to be correct, but was quick to add that he agreed with most of the calls from the weekend's games and said that the teams had to be responsible for their performances rather than point the finger at whistle-blowers.
At a time when it's becoming harder to attract people to become referees at grassroots level, Greenberg's hard stance should serve as a warning to coaches that such behaviour will not be tolerated.
"I'm not saying the referees are perfect; they never have been and they never will be. I'm not saying that our referees got every call right, but I have reviewed the games and I can tell you the vast majority of calls were spot on," he said.
"The disputes we're talking about are on some really tight calls – 50-50 calls – and there'll be debate and controversy no matter which way they go; that is the game. But players make mistakes too and that's what costs games and that's why teams lose; it's not the referees. That culture has to change. We have to grow up and take responsibility for our own outcomes.
"It's disappointing that losing coaches think that it's okay to take away from that wonderful weekend of footy and attack match officials. We expect a lot more from people in such influential positions.
"Our coaches have a responsibility to the game as well as a responsibility to their clubs and their actions and their comments must reflect that always. Emotion and passion and the heartbreak of your season ending is not an excuse. The game really does need to grow up.
"To suggest that a team won't be playing finals this weekend is only due to refereeing errors is ridiculous and needs to be called out.
"I'm not prepared to stand around and allow match officials to be blamed as the only reason for a club's loss."