Because video technology isn’t used in the Nines format, the try could not be overruled.
That’s about the moment when the fired-up Panthers chairman got up, put on his jacket, stormed over to Greenberg and uttered a few words before leaving.
Rugby league’s back, baby.
“I felt sorry for our fans mostly,” O’Neill later told The Sydney Morning Herald. “A lot of them saved up for six months to be here and that’s who I feel for. We sent a full-strength team here wanting to win so it’s disappointing to finish like that.”
Apart from providing a stark reminder of why the game needs video technology — how often it’s used remains an issue, though — O’Neill’s reaction also shows that the Nines isn’t just a shits-and-giggles tournament.
For eventual winners North Queensland, it provides a positive platform for the season after last year struggling through injuries and speculation about the future of coach Paul Green. They unearthed a potential superstar in speedster Hamiso Tabuai-Fidow.
Paul McGregor’s Dragons were eyeing a similar silver lining until they lost the final as well as captain Cameron McInnes (knee), Matt Dufty (fractured cheekbone) and Korbin Sims (broken arm) to injury.
Still, the dramatic climax to the tournament, which included the Dragons’ 28-4 win over the Broncos in the women’s draw, ensured it wasn’t the flop some even within the NRL itself had anticipated.
Searing 40-degree heat kept the crowd to just over 10,128 people at HBF Park for day one.
A crowd of 14,739 was posted for day two, which was respectable given more than 35,000 were watching a women’s AFL match between West Coast and Fremantle at Optus Stadium and the Perth Wildcats were playing the Adelaide 36ers at RAC Arena that evening.
The real gold for the NRL was in the television figures on Fox Sports.
On day one, the audience peaked at 193,000 — more than the first day of the first Test between Australian and Pakistan on Fox Sports. For the final, the audience peaked at 201,000.
The women’s final attracted 170,000 viewers — 108,000 more than those who watched the West Coast-Fremantle game, also on Fox Sports.
So will the Nines return to Perth — and did the past two days help the cause of Western Australia rugby league officials who desperately want a team in the NRL when the new broadcast deal starts from 2023?
The answer to the first one is “maybe”. The NRL is in discussions with other states and cities about hosting rights for the next two years, Perth among them.
Surely, the tournament would work better in a rugby league stronghold like Townsville, Brisbane or potentially Newcastle, which has a world-class stadium and arguably the game’s most passionate fans.
The Nines were played in Perth this year as part of a significant package the NRL struck with the WA Government to bring club matches, a State of Origin and a Test match to the city over a five-year period.
The Test match is the only remaining part of the deal that needs to be fulfilled. Don’t be surprised, though, if the third match of the 2022 State of Origin series ends up in Perth, and especially so after the unexpected success of last year’s game-two fixture at Optus Stadium.
For impassioned rugby league fans in the west, this is about as good as it’s going to get: major events but no team.
ARL Commission chairman Peter V’landys made a fleeting appearance at the Nines on Friday afternoon, steadfastly refusing repeated requests from local media to elaborate on comments last year when he said the NRL should forget about a WA franchise because it’s a state with too many “rusted on” AFL fans.
“When are you gonna give us a team, Toddy?” one fan shouted at Greenberg as he made his way through the crowd on day two.
The answer is probably “never”, unless someone like multi-billionaire mining magnate Andrew “Twiggy” Forrest decides he wants a new rugby league plaything.
The game can no longer afford to bail out clubs as has been done with the Knights, Gold Coast, Dragons and Tigers in recent years.
“The Nines format is a very important part of our strategy,” Greenberg said. “Nines is enjoyed by the players, the fans and forms a significant part of our participation. Perth is a perfect city for Nines in a pre-season format.”
As for O’Neill, Greenberg said: “I always admire people’s passion and enthusiasm for their club and for the game”.
The author flew to Perth courtesy of the NRL.
Andrew Webster is Chief Sports Writer of The Sydney Morning Herald.