Every Rugby League fan is guilty of pointing the finger at the referee when a decision doesn't go their team's way, especially when the decision has a significant impact on the result. And, often, this dismay ends up being splattered all over social media, and, fans are - rightly or wrongly - bitterly frustrated for a day or two before they get over it. But, sometimes, the finger-pointing goes too far; the tirade of abuse that Matt Cecchin - the referee of Saturday morning's mouth-watering clash between England and Tonga - has received after ruling that Andrew Fifita had knocked on in the dying seconds of the game, is nothing short of despicable.

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The decision itself

After Australia had battered Fiji 50-6 in the previous day's semi-final, Rugby League fans were hoping for a much more competitive game going into the Tonga-England fixture; they were not to be disappointed. Despite England commanding a 0-20 lead going into the final seven minutes at Auckland's Mount Smart Stadium, Tonga rallied and pulled the scores back to a remarkable 18-20 with a minute remaining. Then, in the final minutes, Tonga, roared on by a vociferous support whom generated one of the greatest atmospheres ever in the sport, made a last-ditch attempt to break English hearts.

After going close down the right, Tonga shipped the ball to the left where the man-mountain Fifita rolled through an attempted tackle and stormed to the line, only to lose the ball just metres away.

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On first glance, it appeared as though Fifita had lost the ball after Elliott Whitehead reached out to stop him in his tracks. Yet, the Tongan forward regathered superbly and dotted the ball down over the line; jumping up for joy, he clearly felt he had scored, claiming Whitehead had ripped out the ball and that it was therefore play on.

And, in his defence, he pointed to linesman Robert Hicks whom seemed to be backing Fifita's claims. Referee Matt Cecchin, however, disagreed - in Cecchin's opinion, it was a loose carry and Fifita had lost the ball. Despite having the video referee at his disposal, Cecchin called time without sending the decision upstairs. It was not just the officiating team the incident divided; Rugby League commentators, journalists and fans are still split on whether Whitehead had deliberately stripped the ball or if he had simply hit Fifita's arms, forcing the ball out.

Whatever your opinion, it was an almightily-brave call and one that since subjected Cecchin - as well as his family - to a torrent of abuse.

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The Rugby League ethos

Rugby League is a sport that prides itself on being a "family game"; well, this is not so in this case. Cecchin, whom has made over 200 NRL refereeing performances since 2001 and was only the second official or player to come out as gay in 2012, has been hit heavily with criticism in the wake of his decision. NRL star Benji Marshall labelled his refusal to use the video replay as "unbelievable", whilst Australian Rugby League legend Laurie Daley stated it "cost Tonga a final".

One Tongan fan has gone even further by starting an online petition with the headline "England claims stolen win" in an attempt to force the World Cup Chief Executive, Andrew Hill, to launch an investigation as to why the final "try" was ruled out. Remarkably, the petition so far has over 50,000 signatures. A hoard of Tongan fans - numbering into the hundreds - have even protested in central Auckland against what they said was "disgraceful biased refereeing".

Social media has also been awash with fans flinging vitriol Cecchin's way, many of whom are understandably dumbfounded at his choice not to at least consult the video referee, Ben Thaler. Because of the abuse he has received, Cecchin has since revealed that he has had to change his Facebook name to "Victor Umbergo" - his two middle names - in order to protect his partner, son and parents. When a referee is clearly fearing for the safety of his family, you know the criticism has gone one step too far.

Defence of Cecchin

Whilst there has been a widespread condemnation of Cecchin, the referee has also been defended by a small corner of passionate supporters. Referees boss Tony Archer, for example, has come out in defence of Cecchin, stating that he made the right decision and that there was no indication that Whitehead was stealing the ball and that Whitehead's arm slid down the attacker's arm instead of a deliberate intention to knock the ball out.

A number of general Rugby League fans have also come to Cecchin's aid, highlighting the fact that barely a minute earlier Jermaine McGillvary had lost the ball in exactly the same circumstances. If that decision had gone McGillvary's and England's way, Rugby League would not be having the current debate at all. Also, one needs to point to the fact that if Tonga had deserved to win the game they would not have left it until the 73rd minute to start playing. Being 20-0 down and second-best throughout the game, Tonga simply did not do enough over the course of eighty minutes to win.

Rugby League matches are often decided by a split-second bounce of the ball or a refereeing decision; Tonga just have to look back at their quarter-final victory over Lebanon where the latter had a try ruled out for an extremely harsh obstruction to understand how games can often be won or lost on a referee's judgement. And, Tonga even benefitted from what appeared to be a forward pass just before their second try. The saying what goes around comes around is therefore completely relevant here.

Sport is full of controversy and, especially when it can be the difference between progressing to a World Cup final and exiting at the semis, emotions can boil over - the fairytale that Tonga and the Rugby League neutral wanted was denied. But, the extent of the abuse Cecchin has received and is receiving is purely disgusting and has no place in any sport, least of all in a sport with a so-called family ethos. Can't Rugby League fans just celebrate one of the greatest games the sport has ever seen rather than descend into a witch hunt of a referee whom firmly believed he was making the right choice and whose decision will never produce a consensus of opinion? #RugbyLeague #RLWC2017 #TONvENG