I got involved in a discussion in a Facebook group regarding refereeing in the NRL, and made this response. What are people’s thoughts?
I watched Ricky Stuart’s press conference yesterday (something I rarely do because he annoys the hell out of me), and he brought up a couple of interesting points.
Firstly, he said that all the coaches received an email through the week regarding which rules the referees were concentrating on this week. I don’t know if this is a weekly thing, or happens a few times throughout the season or what, but to me this sends a worrying message. Do the NRL lack confidence in the officials, and are slowly teaching them a few rules at a time? If this is the case, how have the officials made it to the top level to begin with? Or is it that they are trying to teach the players the rules? If this is the case, that’s not their job, that’s the job of the coaching staff at each individual club to make sure their players know how to play within the rules.
The other point Ricky raised was that he thinks the referees have too many people in their ears at the moment, and it is distracting them from doing their job, which is to call the game. I tend to agree with this, based on his earlier comment.
From my own experience as a former basketball referee I can make a few observations, despite coming from a different sport:
The idea of clamping down on a rule, or a few rules for a week is plain stupid. This is majoring on the minors. If they are being told to look for certain things, the are going to miss other things, sometimes big things, because it isn’t what they are being pressured to look for. It also creates the situation we all talk about, being inconsistent from week to week & game to game.
Despite any denials we might get from the NRL, we all know that one team gets a run of penalties, then the other team gets theirs to even things up. This is ridiculous. Even a casual observer of sport would realise that a situation where one team does nothing wrong, while the other team does nothing right for an extended period, then they suddenly swap positions is highly improbable at best. If one team is doing the wrong thing more than the other, they deserve to be penalised more, there is no need to reward them later with a few get square penalties to make it look good. Back in my basketball refereeing days, I could see the foul count on the scoreboard in at least 75% of the games I called, at no stage did I ever look up & see a 7-1 count and start calling a few the other way to even things up. Sometimes teams would point it out & appeal for me to do so, but I’d just tell them to stop fouling & I’ll stop calling it.
I think the practice of referees changing positions mid-set needs to stop. While I think they shouldn’t be at the same end all the time, it could be better for them to swap ends during stoppages (ie scrums, penalties, scores). Again this comes from my basketball experience, where we would swap ends on fouls & time outs, but not during play. I think there are certain players who are smart enough to know that when the refs are transitioning they have a better chance of getting away with small things that are outside the rules.
I think the current practice of on field referees making a decision, that the bunker has to then find evidence to prove or disprove is wrong. If the referee can’t make the decision by himself, let the bunker make it without the burden of proof (I’m sure we have all seen calls that are illogical, but don’t have definitive proof). The old system, when the on field referee could say I have an opinion, and then it be returned as a refs call if the bunker can’t decide, is probably better than what we have now.