Fittler adamant Kaufusi sin-binning justified despite Queensland protests
By Adam Pengilly and Caden Helmers
NSW coach Brad Fittler described Felise Kaufusi’s controversial sin-binning as “justified” as he welcomed the prospect of a series decider in Brisbane, and trying to break nearly two decades of State of Origin history.
Fittler, who is just 80 minutes away from his fourth series win in five years, was vocal in his criticism of referee Ashley Klein’s policing of the ruck in game one.
And his team responded with a Nathan Cleary-inspired 44-12 win at Perth’s Optus Stadium on Sunday night after Kaufusi was banished a minute before half-time for holding down in the ruck.
Queensland coach Billy Slater said Klein’s decision wasn’t an excuse for the Maroons’ collapse, which saw his tiring team concede 30 points in as many minutes once Kaufusi returned to the field in the second half.
But Fittler backed the call, and said his team were much better in the ruck than game one after the return of Jake Trbojevic.
Asked about the Kaufusi call, Fittler said: “I thought what had happened was we were starting to get the better of them, and the only way they were keeping up was giving away penalties. It was the only thing you can do. I thought it was warranted.
“The time in the play-the-ball was a lot more similar [in game two]. It came down more to our effort. I thought they pushed the ref, and he allowed it [in game one]. It was a criticism of us, more so than anyone else.”
Slater now has the job of trying to help his side regroup, after being blown away across the Nullarbor just two-and-a-half weeks after springing a massive upset in Sydney. Cleary alone bagged 24 points through two tries and eight goals on Sunday.
Queensland captain Daly Cherry-Evans protested with Klein on the field at the time of Kaufusi’s sin-bin, which came moments before NSW took a half-time lead through Brian To’o’s try.
“I just felt like the decision was made relatively quickly considering the amount of infringements we had,” Cherry-Evans said.
“You never know when you’re going to get those decisions against you, so any time you do get someone sent for 10, it usually comes as a bit of a shock. We did really well to scramble there for the most part of that 10 minutes.”
Said Slater: “We won’t use that as an excuse. Fatigue is a part of the game. When you go down to 12 men, your team is a lot more fatigued. That contributed, but it’s the game.”
Kaufusi had been embroiled in headlines after Origin I when he was charged - and then acquitted - after elbowing Roosters rival Sam Walker in the Storm’s win over the Roosters.
NSW will try to win their first series decider at Suncorp Stadium since 2005 when eighth Immortal Andrew Johns steered the Blues to a memorable win.
“It’s one-all,” Fittler said. “As good as that was, it’s one-all. Simple as that. That’s the end of it. We’re playing at Suncorp and we’ve only won once there in four years. We’ll give ourselves a chance. It was good they didn’t stop either. I thought that was really important.
“It’s a tense situation. You’ve got to win. We had to win, simple as that. Now they’ll know what it feels like and we’ve got to make sure we somehow keep the burn.”
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