NRL denies ordering Origin refs to put whistle in back pocket

NRL head of football Graham Annesley has defended the first-half Origin penalty blitz and said had it not been for the referees' early crackdown the second half would not have been such an enjoyable free-flowing spectacle.

Fans, TV viewers and commentators were frustrated by the staggering 12 penalties blown by Gerard Sutton and Ashley Klein in the opening 34 minutes on Wednesday night.

Hot seat: Gerard Sutton (right) and Ashley Klein came under fire for their refereeing of the first half on Wednesday night.Credit:NRL Photos

"That is part of the art of refereeing, and that's being able to manage a game so we do finish up with something that is entertaining and open, which is what we got in the second half.''

Annesley had roasted the officials the past fortnight for some ordinary decisions in NRL games, but said Sutton and Klein, who had officiated in more than 600 matches between them, were not under extra pressure to deliver on the game's biggest stage.

There were only eight penalties awarded in game one at Suncorp Stadium and 13 in Perth. Most of the penalties in the decider were around the ruck and not getting back the 10m in defence.

"I agree I've been critical of them [referees] the past two weeks, I've expressed that to them personally as a group and expressed it publicly in the briefings,'' Annesley said.

"But we chose those two guys because they are two of the most experienced referees we've got, and like big players, they rose to the occasion.

"We all would have loved to have seen less penalties in the first half, but they can only do that if the players allow them to do that.''

Former top whistleblower Greg McCallum said modern-day referees were informed about the penalty count during games, and while it was easy to assume Sutton and Klein may have received instructions to let it flow in the second half, ''there are cases where I've refereed games and there have been heavy penalty counts early, but the game comes good''.

"At the moment it seems to be a pattern of which way will the game be refereed each time. That's what is confusing players and coaches,'' said McCallum, who praised the officiating in the second half.

NSW coach Brad Fittler said during the Nine coverage his team rarely won penalty counts, and had actually given his players a rare rev-up in the sheds.

"Queensland came out firing at the start, we didn't quite match it with them, they were winning the ruck and that's why Freddy gave us a decent serve,'' NSW hooker Damien Cook said.

"We needed to get back to what we were doing in game two and that was having a really good line speed, and making good contact. Freddy's spray is not like a traditional coach's spray, but he's nice and firm.''

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