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Payten accuses Souths of ‘bending the rules’ as Hess faces ban for high shot

Todd Payten has hit out at South Sydney’s conduct over head injury assessements, declaring that the Bunnies were ‘bending the rules’ when checking their players in order to waste time.

Souths won a hard-fought, hard-to-watch game 20-10, securing their place in the top eight as a result, but the drama surrounded a 74th minute incident involving Coen Hess, who was sin-binned for a head-on-head collision with Campbell Graham, and the use of on-field concussion tests by the Rabbitohs.

Hess was subsequently charged with a grade-two careless high tackle on Sunday morning, which means he is facing a ban of 1-2 matches.

With the score at 14-10 and with the Cowboys setting an attacking scrum, Souths stopped the game for a concussion check on Junior Tatola, angering Payten.

“The game went for 2 hours tonight. I’m very confused about some at the back end,” said Payten. “Jase (Taumalolo) hit Junior Tatola in the ribs and there was a HIA. That’s bending the rules, at best.

“Then there was one after we forced an error, had a scrum with our ball and they get an opportunity where they can stop the game, get their gas back and it halts all momentum in our favour. I’d like the NRL to have a look at it.”

Bunnies coach Jason Demetriou fired back at the suggestion that his staff had deliberately slowed the game down to perform HIAs.

“I think he’s got a habit of complaining about stuff,” he said of Payten. “Our medical team are as diligent and respectful of the rules of any in the game.

“If you look at how many HIAs we’ve used and how many blokes we’ve taken off the field, we’d be one of the lowest in the game, so to suggest that, I’m going to stick up for my staff. They don’t do it unless there’s a reason to do it.”

After his head clash, Graham was taken from the field and headed up the tunnel, using the free interchange allowed after foul play, but returned mere moments later and completed the game.

“From our point of view, Campbell Graham didn’t come off for a HIA, so I’m not sure whether he got hit in the head or not,” said the Cowboys coach. “That’s the part that I’m confused about.

“You can’t compare that to Dale Finucane’s – Crichton’s ear nearly fell off. There’s a question whether Hessy hit his head or not. They’re poles apart.”

(Photo by Mark Metcalfe/Getty Images)

On the Hess tackle – and Graham non-concussion – Demetriou was having none of it.

“I know there’s head contact,” he said. “Whether that results in a HIA or not, I’m not 100% certain, and whether that results in ten in the bin, I’m not sure. I’d have to look closer.

“They’ve obviously deemed it contact with the head and Stretch (Graham) went down, but he got up so I don’t know, they’ve done the assessment and he’s good to go.”

Souths will take the win, as it secures their place in the finals and draws them back level with the Roosters. The pair will play off next week for a potential home final, though, ironically, South Sydney would probably prefer to play it at the new Allianz Stadium anyway.

“It was an anxious week, we knew what was at stake,” said Demetriou. “No-one spoke about it, it was all about the two points. It definitely allows the shackles to come off coming forwards.

“Getting there is the hardest part, and off the back of the start we had, we’ve had 11 weeks and we’ve won nine.

“We started playing good footy but it still wasn’t guaranteed. We still had to do the job tonight to make sure that we had cemented the spot. We can start planning and getting excited about the next month ahead.”

Though this was a meeting two heavy-hitters, it was hard to say that either were anywhere close to their best. The Cowboys displayed admirable defensive grit, but Souths often failed to put their best together in attack.

Both were liable to drop the ball, and referee Gerard Sutton repeatedly penalised the Cowboys for their slowing tactics in the ruck. That, plus some excellent short kicking from Souths, saw the possession split go for the hosts, but the territory was near equal and the bulk of the game was played in the middle of the field.

The Cowboys attack was largely ineffective, save for two moments of exceptional quality that got them their points. Kyle Feldt, who was also binned late, scored one of the tries of the season but it was a rare highlight in a game that saw 25 errors.

Souths showed early commitment to beating the Cowboys line speed was displayed early on, with Johnston getting free on the left, but more often than not, it resulted in passes missing the target.

The Bunnies opened the scoring via a Latrell Mitchell penalty goal, but it was North Queensland who made the first major mark. As is so often the case, it was Drinkwater who made the impact, producing a superb offload that got Murray Taulagi over.

That sparked South Sydney into life, with Lachlan Ilias creating a gap for Keaon Koloamatangi to score with an excellent short pass.

The defences then took over. The Cowboys pinned Souths in and, at one point, forced them to kick from within their own ten.

Then they threw it away. After a forward pass, they gave away a penalty to help the Bunnies out, then another through a Jason Taumalolo high shot that got him put on report, and offered Souths time to get Johnston free at the corner for his eighth game in succession.

The second half began with Souths throwing the kitchen sink at the Cowboys. To be charitable, the defence was good, though it was not the Bunnies at their flowing best in attack.

The best chances came in transition: Campbell Graham picked up a loose ball and nearly got Ilias away, before Johnston, catching a short dropout, almost found Latrell Mitchell at the corner, only for Feldt to intercept and set off on his own.

It was going to take something special to break this bludger open, and Feldt provided it. Chad Townsend was the initial architect, swerving around a Siliva Havili kick pressure and spreading to his winger, who made the break, kicked on and got to the ball inches before it left the field of play.

It was an incredible try, and totally out of keeping with the 70 minutes of football that had preceded it.

Taane Milne then dropped a kick to invite North Queensland back in – instantly reminding every fan in cardinal and myrtle of Jaxson Paulo’s horror mistake last week – but instantly redeemed himself by dropping on a dangerous Luciano Leilua offload.

On the next play, Graham was wiped out by Hess, causing a minor melee and earning the forward ten minutes in the bin. Feldt then joined him after a cynical escort on Johnston, and with 11 men in the line, Tom Burgess barged under the sticks to secure the result.

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