NRL 2022: Referees boss Graham Annesley denies 'unconscious bias' against NZ Warriors, but experts disagree

NRL chief operating officer Graham Annesley has denied unconscious bias by match officials against the competition's battlers - like NZ Warriors - but rugby league commentators aren't buying it.

Almost since the Warriors entered the NRL in 1995, NZ fans - and occasionally the club itself - have complained about the raw deal dished out to the team by referees, often acknowledged by competition bosses with an apology, but no change to the result.

In recent weeks, other clubs have joined that chorus, with Gold Coast Titans coach Justin Holbrook and North Queensland Cowboys coach Todd Payten - a former Warriors assistant - complaining they haven't received the rub of the green.  

This week, Warriors faithful were again pointing and yelling at the TV, as match officials unleashed a string of puzzling decisions in the 22-14 defeat to Sydney Roosters, one of the glamour teams in the competition, with the club seeking a 'please explain' from referees boss Annesley. 

"The process that the match officials go through - whether it be the bunker or the referees on the field - when making any decision is based entirely on what they see, not on going through a thought process of 'where does this team sit on the ladder, are they a so-called high-profile team," insisted Annesley at his weekly briefing.

"Let's not allude to some type of conspiracy, when - in fact - what it really is is that on a give day a team is not good enough to win."

But several of the game's leading commentators have scoffed at Annesley's claim on Fox Sport's NRL 360, highlighting a penalty against Roosters captain James Tedesco for unsportsmanlike play that should have earned a tougher punishment.

Shaun Johnson treated for injury against Roosters
Shaun Johnson treated for injury against Roosters.

"Tedesco should have been sin-binned in that game," claims Daily Telegraph journalist Paul Crawley.

"Graham Annesley is there talking as the NRL head of football, but when he was the Gold Coast chief executive, he would have seen things differently. There's no question in the world."

The Tedesco incident, which occurred just metres from the tryline with the Warriors hot on attack, and a disallowed try to Warriors centre Jesse Arthars were the two glaring examples the club is seeking clarification on , but there were more subtle calls that affected the outcome of the game.

"What Payten and Holbrook were both alluding to was this unconscious bias," said Daily Telegraph journalist and NRL 360 co-host Paul Kent. "It's not necessarily penalty count - people say the Roosters are more penalised than anybody.

"It's not necessarily those things, it seems like a drop in the play-the-ball - was it ruled a strip or just ruled a knock-on from the ball-handler? Those things don't show up straight away in the stats.

"But unconscious bias, by definition, is unconscious. Annesley's saying referees don't go through this thought process - of course they don't, that's the definition of unconscious bias."

With Sydney leading by six points late in the game, winger Kevin Naiqama spilt the ball, but referees quickly ruled it knocked backwards. Seconds later, Warriors winger Dallin Watene-Zelezniak spilled a high kick backwards, but was ruled forward.

That same passage of play ended with a Sam Walker penalty goal that put the contest beyond the Warriors' reach.

"These clubs continually down the bottom of the ladder notice it, they do see it," said Kent.

"If you watch the game from the losers' point of view, which very few of us do, you see a lot of those instance that you thought might have gone the other way - for instance, several incidents on the weekend with the Warriors." 

Crawley warned this perception could have consequences on the competition.

"If you talk to the fans out there, and the punters who watch the game and pay for the merchandise, a lot of them are getting sick of it," he said. 

"If Graham Annesley thinks it's not a problem, he's wrong."

Join us at 9pm Monday for live updates of the Warriors v Melbourne Storm NRL ANZAC Day clash