The NRL has backed down on its refereeing crackdown in the face of a tidal wave of public criticism.
In a substantial change of tack, NRL CEO Todd Greenberg announced on Tuesday that referees had been instructed to ease up on penalties and not to nitpick.
Greenberg and referees boss Bernard Sutton have come in for heavy criticism this season. Whistleblowers had been instructed to clean up the play-the-ball and police the 10 metres more strictly as teams defended on their own goalline.
What resulted was a ballooning penalty count which drew the ire of fans and influential media figures.
After 14 rounds, the referees have blown 1888 penalties in 108 games at a rate of 17.48 per match, according to Fox Sports Stats.
Over the past 15 years, the season average has ranged from 13.93 in 2004 to 10.52 in 2012 and this year's figures are around a 50 per cent increase on 2017 (12.77 per game).
In reaction, Greenberg announced what he described as an easing up and an attempt to find middle ground.
"There has been a tendency for the referees to continue to nitpick," Greenberg said.
"So we've got to be really careful that we find the balance. We want to see the flow of the game continue.
"There has been a lot of penalties in the first half of the year. I am desperately keen to find that balance.
"I don't want referees looking for penalties.
"What we want is for referees to police those areas we've asked them to and allow the game to flow."
The NRL was accused of double standards after just five penalties were blown during last week's showpiece State of Origin series opener yet, two days later, Canberra and Penrith were penalised 15 times during their match.
Greenberg said he didn't want the game to lose its free-flowing nature and referees had been told not to over-police.
"Don't over-referee, don't look for things," Greenberg said.
"Referee what's in front of you. I watched every game on the weekend and I thought some of the games were fantastic and others less so."
As well, Greenberg announced the sin-bin could now be used for late cheap shots, a move designed to protect playmakers better.
Immortal Andrew Johns and North Queensland skipper Johnathan Thurston have vocally campaigned for bigger penalties for anyone who targets a playmaker after they have passed or kicked the ball.
A fortnight ago, Thurston was cut down heavily by Manly's Jack Gosiewski with a late shoulder charge, prompting the most-recent outcry.
"If a player is hit late and in a way that is detrimental, we want to give the power to the referees to put them in the sin-bin," Greenberg said.
"The rules previously didn't allow that to happen."