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Australian rugby league referee retires after death threats

Top Australian rugby league referee Matt Cecchin announced his retirement Friday after receiving a barrage of death threats following Tonga’s nail-biting World Cup loss to England last year.

Cecchin, who will officiate his 300th National Rugby League match Sunday, told the Sydney Morning Herald he and his family received “hundreds and hundreds” of death threats after the match last November.

After a crucial — and correct — knock-on decision late in Tonga’s 20-18 defeat, Cecchin was whisked out of the country by New Zealand police, and he received another police escort when he arrived back in Sydney.

“I started thumbing through my phone and there were more than a thousand messages,” said Cecchin, 44.

“They were vile. I’ve never had that before in my whole career, even after Origins and grand finals.”

Tonga staged a stunning comeback against England at Mt Smart Stadium and looked like taking the match in the dying seconds before Andrew Fifita lost the ball in a tackle just metres from the line.

Cecchin called a knock-on and did not refer to the video referee, enraging emotional Tongan supporters in the sold-out stadium.

“When I got home to Sydney, our house was put on alert. I was picked up from the airport by the AFP (Australian Federal Police),” Cecchin said. “It was really, really serious.”

NRL officials have faced a difficult season this year, with increased scrutiny from coaches, fans and players after the league tightened its interpretation of some rules, leading to a dramatic rise in penalties.

Cecchin, who has battled mental illness in the past, said he would leave the Australian league at the end of the season, after needing therapy twice daily following the World Cup match.

“Imagine if I got the call wrong?” he said.

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