Real or Not? Lower teams continue to cop the rough end of the officiating stick

This week we take a look at more officiating errors proving costly to bottom-feeding clubs, the Panthers without Jerome Luai, and the magical negotiation skills of Peter V'Landys.

Read on as we tackle some of the big talking points in this week's NRL Real or Not.

Bottom teams still being treated as whistle fodder

REAL: You know the feeling you get if you're a fan of one of the struggling teams. It doesn't seem to matter if officiating mistakes cost you a win; nobody really cares as your team is not going to make the finals anyway. It would be much worse for the NRL if one of the teams challenging for a Top 8 spot lost a vital game due to a stuff up. In fact, when your team is playing one of those finals-bound teams, it is only fair that most of the 50/50 calls go to the better team because they deserve to win anyway, right?

Of course, any such bias resides only in the perception of the fans; the officials are totally impartial and rule on each situation regardless of the jerseys involved. And yet, here we are, another week when Graham Annesley admits the officials messed up and the same old teams seem to be on the receiving end.

The Tigers lost to the Raiders by just four points. They had one line-ball decision go their way on a Luke Brooks kick-chase try, but not before the Raiders had scored two tries following forward passes. The second, which Annesley admitted was a wrong call, was blatantly forward.

"As Jack Wighton passes this ball, if you look at the motion of the hands it appears to be forward," Annesley said.

"You can see the touch judge at the bottom of the screen who is pretty much in line with this... looking at this one with the camera on the halfway line, I don't think you can reach much other conclusion than this was a forward pass."

The struggling Dragons were winning their game against the Eels when Junior Amone scooped up a loose ball to score a try that would have extended their lead to 24-10. The referee ruled that Jacob Liddle had lost the ball through a loose carry, even though replays clearly showed Eels fullback Clint Gutherson stripping the ball from his grasp. On review, Annesley agreed that it should have been a try.

"When you look at this closely, Gutherson is trying to make a tackle, there's no question about that," Annesley said.

"You can see the fingers curl up on top of the ball and there is a raking motion that dislodges the ball.

"The action of Gutherson raking the ball and dispossessing Liddle means the tackle count should have restarted and that should have been a try."

The Eels would go on to run the Dragons down to record a 26-20 victory, keeping them in the hunt for the finals while adding further misery to everyone associated with the Dragons.

Fans are sick of the mistakes Mr. Annesley, whether their teams are going to play finals football or not.

Jarome Luai is irreplaceable

NOT REAL: The Panthers travelled to face a desperate Manly side on Thursday with Jarome Luai withdrawing from the team through illness. The star five eighth is yet to sign a new deal with the Panthers, with talk that he'll test the open market. He could become the latest of several star players whom the back-to-back premiers have lost to better offers. This is how the salary cap is designed to work, with the talent shared among the other teams once any club has enjoyed prolonged success.

What the Panthers have managed to do so far is find suitable replacements within or outside their system to maintain their competitive edge. The loss of Luai would seem to be their greatest challenge, given his partnership in the halves with Nathan Clearly has been a key component of their premiership campaigns. But no one is irreplaceable, and the Panthers this year found a gem in Jack Cogger. Unfortunately, for Penrith, Cogger has been snapped up by the Knights for next season, no doubt impressed by his performances when filling in for Cleary during his hamstring-injury break.

The victory over the Sea Eagles wasn't one of the Panthers' most convincing of the season, but they won without Luai and without hooker Mitch Kenny. Penrith will no doubt have a plan for replacing Luai, should he depart, perhaps involving the string of future stars lined up in the lower grades or someone, like Cogger, from a little further afield.

What will be more interesting will be watching how Luai performs outside the Panthers' structure and without Cleary. Other clubs have to be wary about throwing all of their eggs into the Luai basket, in the hope that he provides all the answers to all of their problems. He is currently a very good player, in a very good team.

St Peter of V'Landys can fix anything

REAL: I'm not sure what Peter V'Landys has on his plate next week, what with running Australian Rugby League and Racing New South Wales, but surely he could be available to take up a post with the United Nations. It would seem unfair of him to limit the power of his negotiation skills to just fixing sporting impasses.

After 20 months of stalled negotiations between the Rugby League Players' Association (RLPA) and the NRL over the finer points of a new player CBA, RLPA chair Deidre Anderson reached out to ARL chairman Peter V'landys for help. After two days of crisis talks this week, an agreement in principle was reached between both parties.

"The RLPA acknowledges the efforts of the NRL to resolve the CBA in recent days, and thanks its members for their resolve in ensuring a fair agreement that benefits the game and all of its stakeholders," the RLPA said in a statement.

All industrial action will be lifted immediately, which means we will go back to hearing from sweaty, out-of-breath, players as they leave the field at halftime. It has been a long painful couple of weeks of not knowing whether they were happy with their first-half efforts.