Gavin Cooper admits North Queensland received a rude shock from the NRL’s play-the-ball crackdown, saying referees policed their pre-season training sessions very differently.
The Cowboys were repeat ruck penalty offenders in their weekend trial loss to Wests Tigers in Cairns – much to Cooper’s surprise.
NRL boss Todd Greenberg had promised that there would be a crackdown on illegal play-the-balls this season with a “genuine effort” to rake the ball with the foot required.
And backrower Cooper believed North Queensland were on top of it – until they played the Tigers on Saturday night.
“Some of the penalties that we gave away or some of the interpretations the refs will be clamping down on early in the year it will be interesting to see where it goes from here,” Cooper said.
“Because we did some work with the refs in the off-season and we thought we were on the money but after the weekend we weren’t too close at all.”
Cooper said North Queensland had worked with referees in the pre-season but claimed calls were made during the game that differed to training.
“We do work with the refs in the off-season but when it comes to crunch time everyone is under a bit more pressure, bit more of a microscope,” he said.
“(But) some of the things that get called they weren’t getting called at training when we were doing opposed sessions and then vice-versa for the game.”
The NRL crackdown was evident from the outset in Melbourne’s weekend trial against the Warriors in Rotorua when a ruck infringement penalty was blown 40 seconds into the match.
North Queensland backrower Coen Hess said the Cowboys only had themselves to blame for the ruck infringements, calling them “coach killers”.
“They (referees) are trying to stamp their authority a bit early with the new ruling but that is on us,” he said.
“That is where we can be a bit more cleaner in the game.
“Some of the boys’ play the balls they weren’t really trying at all so that is more on us.
“Going into round one those type of things can be coach killers – for Greeny’s sake (coach Paul Green) we don’t want to be giving away too many of them.”