Refereeing in the modern game

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:

  1. 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.

  2. 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.

  3. 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.

  4. 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.

1 Like

Fine the clubs for excessive rule breaches.
That’ll get their attention. Giving coaches
a heads up is just plain ridiculous.


It drives me insane watching a referee “coach” players to do the right thing. Grown men at the echelon of their game being told what to do…

The quick tap is a prime example, if you have a player in front of you when you take a tap, it’s a penalty to the other side…these days we simply say, no go back and do it again.

What about playing the ball off the mark…nope go back and do it again little matey…thats ok

The game is becoming ‘manipulated’ by coach and player alike and that is at the detriment of the referees. I am a fan of 1 referee, they should incur the same fatigue any player does, maybe then the game will slow down a little because the ruck will be allowed to “have time” to get it right because the referee will need to get back the 10, and if he stays at the ruck, advantage defensive team. No one can tell me the ruck penalties are even. In almost every game you will find a “laying on the tackler” penalty range from 3 seconds to 8 seconds, how is that fair?

The biggest thing for me though, is we need to ‘review’ the impact these penalties have, I don’t think a rating system is the answer, but you cannot consistently give a team coming out of their end a 40m advantage due to a minor infringement. On the flip side, you cannot take the kick for touch away otherwise every man and his dog will be laying down on the 2nd tackle to get his team a breather.

I just realised I have a lot of opinion, a lot of change with no real answer…I will shut up now lol


I know it died in the Holden Cup, but I felt the “Captains Challenge” had merit. In the case of the Sharks v Raiders game it would have been the difference of Victory and Defeat. I know there was an argument of it ‘slowing the game’ but with the absurd amount of time wasted already by refereeing decisions, at least this one will give teams the sense that they have some recourse if they feel the call was wrong. If they waste it on using to stop time, it will only happen once.

The only change I would make to the Captains Challenge is that it shouldn’t be reset at half time, you lose the challenge, you lose the ability to call it for the rest of the match.

1 Like

Paul Kent referenced this on NRL 360 saying Nathan Brown was a fan after they trialled it in one of his trials a couple of years ago. Kenty went on to say that it was kiboshed at the preseason ‘conference’ because the coaches didn’t want it. His reasoning was because it doesn’t allow the players a breather, thus the video ref takes the time to ‘rejuvenate’ tired legs. SO this example is another “penalty” to sides like Penrith who have young, fast, fit enthusiastic players, where as sides likes Brisbane and the Raiders have too much bulk and need the rest.

Again I say, Coaches and players alike having too much influence. Did anyone see the Broncos tactics against us? Thaiday (tired hey) went off for a HIA, replaced by Lodge, comes back onto the field replacing Pangai Jnr…isn’t that a straight up replacement? Also, the McCulloch tactic on the last to stand in front of the play the ball to stop the defensive rush near the ruck, that is a blatant foul worse than the running someone off the ball.

Kenty also said the main ref can have up to 5 voices in his ear at any 1 time…THAT IS RIDICULOUS and whoever allowed that to happen should be sacked immediately for bringing the game into disrepute !

Anyway - Way too much crap going on in the game in general, not until we get the voices out of the refs head, coaches playing the game not the man and a fair and just playing schedule, will we see a true refereeing display. Note : I reference the schedule because no person should ref 1 team multiplied greater than another. Your echelon of refs get the rep and finals games that is it. The comp should be scheduled up front with refs adjudication scheduled at the same time.


Why are we so astonished that coaches (now) might bend the rules?

It’s been happening for years in Melbourne. And nothing’s been done.
The ref’s have been hung out to dry and the clowns get the last laugh!

Was gonna suggest installing VAR @ NRL headquarters, but nothing happens.

1 Like

Kevin, which set of rules do they use in ‘park’ football ???

Excellent point Puss, my last visit to local footy saw the referee adjudicate what was in front of them. There was even a penalty for “not playing the ball square”, admittedly he was touchline to touchline lol.

I watched about 20 minues of the game last night between the Broncs n Sharks. There were 9 penalties within the first 1/2 hour, all for nit picking issues…so frustrating. Both sides were trying to play an up tempo game but were stifled consistently by the whistle.

I will always try and watch the Panthers regardless, they are my team, but I am starting to understand the Stuart comments, i essentially “walked away from the game” last night, the fact they weren’t my preferred teams in addition to the refereeing made me change the channel. I can watch any game of footy within reason, but my attitude is changing with the refs overtaking the game.

Yep. Seldom do I bother with a game that’s not Panthers anymore.
I used to think Gus was the messiah. I mean Panthers would now survive
without Gus, but will the game. We may never find out.

I should explain.
Prior to his arrival at Panthers I thought Gus would wind up
@ NRL headquarters as Director of all things footy. No not
an administrative role but a specialist on the game, it’s
direction and how best to safeguard it’s future. I don’t
always agree with his commentary or his actions but I will
say he’s no mug and in today’s climate IMO he is still the
best choice for an unbiased assessment on how the game
shld be run. That his encouragement could lead to many
more solutions than problems lead to my biblical ‘messiah’
reference. Happy to have him at Panthers but I think he
missed his calling.


I agree Puss, for all his faults and ‘smugness’ he does understand the game and it’s people. A few of his interviews with the powers at be in the past have had me saying “step up and run it yourself genius”.

1 Like

read today Matt Cecchin walking away from the game at seasons end.
Love him or hate him, take your pick, but you can’t have your most
experienced man throwing in the towel. I think Greenberg shld go.

That is sad news. Look at it from your own employment perspective though, if your qualified and paid to do a job, but your stifled by bureaucracy, what is the result, underachieving and hypocrisy. You either suck it up and do as your told, which means giving up on any values you have personally, or you move on to a place where respect is based on a performance result not a ‘salute’.


I was doing some stat work for the site this morning, and thought some of you may be interested in these stats.

This is the current roster of referees and thier strike rate in Panthers matches.

Referee Started 2018 Overall
Adam Gee 2011 (0/1) 0% (4/13) 31%
Alan Shortall 2008 (2/2) 100% (22/30) 73%
Ashley Klein 2009 (1/4) 25% (7/24) 29%
Ben Cummins 2006 (3/4) 75% (15/42) 36%
Chris Butler 2014 (2/2) 100% (2/4) 50%
Chris Sutton 2014 (3/4) 70% (7/10) 70%
Dave Munro 2011 (1/1) 100% (7/12) 58%
Gavin Badger 2004 (2/2) 100% (21/42) 50%
Gavin Reynolds 2010 (1/2) 50% (16/21) 76%
Grant Atkins 2011 (1/1) 100% (11/16) 69%
Henry Perenara 2011 (3/3) 100% (11/23) 48%
Jon Stone 2016 (1/1) 100% (2/4) 50%
Matt Cecchin 2001 (0/2) 0% (13/31) 42%
Matt Noyen 2015 (1/2) 50% (4/7) 57%
Peter Gough 2017 (0/1) 0% (0/4) 0%
Phil Henderson 2018 (0/2) 0% (0/2) 0%
Tim Roby 2016 (0/0) - (0/0) -

Re Cecchin 2018 (0/2), which games were they, home or away???

Cecchin started 2001.
Longest serving ref had enough eh.

So Cecchin starts refereeing 17 years ago and only has us for 31 games <2 games a year, Cummins starts 5 years after that and has had us for 42 games >3 games a year, neither % is good for us and without Cummins 2018 performance for us he was at around 31%…

You cannot tell me that these blokes are not being presented with stats, based on the above we want Cecchin for a few more games this year !

Just an interested observer on TV of last nights game - tipped Brisbane for what it’s worth. Am sure Cummins, for whatever reason, wanted to help Broncos as best he could. There will always be 50/50 calls, which Broncos always seem to get, but last night it was crazy.

At one point, dogs were on attack close to Broncs line & it was clearly heard over the audio the pocket guy calling out hand on ball, hand in there as the Bronc tried to slow down the play the ball - TOTALLY IGNORED by Cummins, who then finds a penalty to Broncos for some reason that his arm actions did not clarify. Players looked mystified.

Later in half McGuire is tackled by Tolman & McGuire ends up on top of the tackler. Pocket guy can clearly be heard calling to McGuire not to push down on him. McGuire makes two clear press downs on the tackler and then rolls on top of him. Cummins awards penalty to Broncos. Tolman gets up complaining.

At this point I think to myself, if I was the pocket guy, I would tell Cummins where to stick it in the halftime break & go home, telling him you can do it yourself, you obviously don’t need me.

Not sure what happened in the break, but in 2nd half pocket guy controlled much of the game & there was very little contentious calls???

Yeah, it was Peter Gough. He is fairly new to the First Grade ranks, but have heard good thinks about him in the lower grades.

See how long it lasts though, as I remember that same thing said about many referees in the past until they get bogged down in the NRL bureaucracy.