Refs powerless to stop controversial ‘injury’ ploy
But NRL head of football Graham Annesley concedes referees will remain powerless to stop it happening again.
"It can't rest with the referees because you can bet your life that the moment they allow play to play on a player will have a serious injury and then we will have a major problem," Annesley said.
This is despite NRL rules clearly stating that refs should only stop a game for an injured player "when a doctor is required on the field".
Watch the 2020 NRL Telstra Premiership Finals on Kayo. Every game before the Grand Final Live & On-Demand with no-ad breaks during play. New to Kayo? Get your 14-day free trial & start streaming instantly >
Annesley says in this instance it looks clear cut the Storm have a case to answer.
"On the face of it, it looks like a breach of our rules," Annesley said.
"But we will need to talk to the Storm and ultimately what action is taken is a matter for the NRL to determine.
"But, I mean, it looks pretty blatant really."
However, Annesley also defended on-field referee Ashley Klein amid criticism he should have ignored the trainer's request given Vunivalu was way down field from where the ball was in play.
"Referees just can't ignore a request from a trainer," Annesley added.
"We have seen referees in the past be criticised heavily for allowing play to continue while players are injured.
"But they are not in a position to judge that.
"They have to take the advice of the trainers and the trainers have to exercise their responsibilities."
Parramatta had pulled the scores back to 36-24 and were on the attack with just under four minutes remaining.
When it became evident cramps appeared to be Vunivalu's only issue, Eels' skipper Clint Gutherson couldn't believe it.
Neither could Fox League commentator Andrew Voss who labelled it "outrageous", while expert Greg Alexander added: "No, no, no, you don't stop play for that."
Annesley conceded: "The rules are pretty clear about when trainers should signal to the referee to stop the game and that's when a doctor is required on the field."
There was also another incident when play was stopped by Newcastle during Sunday's loss to Souths.
That occurred so Kurt Mann could have treatment on a dislocated finger.
Annesley said that appeared completely legitimate.
He added: "It comes back on the clubs.
"If you have got a trainer telling the referee to stop the game the referee is not going to ignore that.
"They can't because the referees can't take the risk of playing on that someone doesn't have a serious injury.
"It is a difficult one for the referees, that's why we have to deal with it off the field by determining if a club has breached our rules or not."