Top NRL whistleblower Gerard Sutton has beaten Matt Cecchin in the race to be appointed referee for the World Cup final despite the latter widely being considered the leading official in the game.
Cecchin, who came up with a correct last-minute split-second call to deny Andrew Fifita what would have been a match-winning try in Tonga’s stirring semi-final comeback against England, was tipped to control the decider between and the old enemy in Brisbane on Saturday night.
Tonga coach Kristian Woolf blasted Cecchin’s call not to refer the play to the video referee, but World Cup head of officiating Tony Archer later backed the decision.
Sutton, who teamed up with Cecchin to take charge of the NRL grand final last month, will officiate his first World Cup decider.
“It was obviously a difficult decision to pick the referee for the [men’s] final after Matt Cecchin’s and Gerry’s excellent performances in the semi-finals and throughout the tournament but I’m confident were have chosen the right person to do job,” Archer said.
“I’ve been very satisfied with the performances of our officials and we will certainly continue to see the benefits of having the opportunity to bring refs together from the northern and southern hemispheres into camp and learn from each other in such an environment for the first time.”
The one-referee system has had mixed reviews throughout the World Cup with some of the game’s biggest figures applauding the consistency of having just a single person making consistent decisions, while critics have bemoaned a slower ruck speed.
n players have warned the final might not evolve into the free-flowing spectacle the fans crave after a dour clash with England in the tournament opener.
On the one-referee system, England prop Chris Hill said: “I don’t think it’s affected it one little bit. I think the referees have done a great job.
“From what I’ve seen – and I’ve watched other games in the pool stages – I think they’ve done an excellent job and I don’t know why they’ve copped criticism.
“[Sutton] will do his job whether he’s English, French, n, [from] New Zealand .. it doesn’t matter. Let him get on with his job.”
England coach Wayne Bennett has named skipper Sean O’Loughlin for the final despite the 35-year-old veteran battling a quadriceps injury.
James Roby has been confirmed as Josh Hodgson’s (knee) replacement at No.9.
Meanwhile, n skipper Cameron Smith is expected to win his second Golden Boot at the grand final lunch in Brisbane on Wednesday.???
He is shortlisted alongside Jason Taumalolo, England winger Jermaine McGillvary and Smith’s Melbourne teammate, Fijian Suliasi Vunivalu, for the highest individual honour in the game in what would cap a record-breaking year.
“It’s probably the only award he hasn’t won this year, along with the Clive Churchill,” Kangaroos prop Aaron Woods said.
“The year he’s had has been phenomenal and you’d think someone at his age … it would be hard to keep producing the performances he does. The bigger the game the better the player he becomes.
“Origin, a lot of people said he was done and come game two he said himself he was quiet and game three was the best game you’ve ever seen him play. The grand final was just like game three of Origin.
“I’m hoping for another solid performance from Cameron on the weekend. He’s such a team player and that’s why he’s so deserving. He doesn’t worry about his stats, he just wants to do his job for his team and the best he can possibly do. Him doing that he’s he best player in the world.”