The NRL has experienced some teething problems with the two referee system this year, but it appears some clubs are using it as a scapegoat for their own poor performances.
Manly coach Des Hasler launched a scathing attack on the referees following the Sea Eagles controversial loss against Gold Coast last Sunday, making the stunning comment, “The players are professional, the officialdom isn’t.”
Firstly, Hasler’s criticism of referees professionalism were a bit rich considering that Manly officials and owners have been carrying on like pork chops all season, with Chief Executive Grant Mayer left to hang dry due to a political stoush between co-owners Max Delmege and Scott Penn.
Hasler has been a major critic of the two referee system from the season’s outset, after the Bulldogs disposed of his Manly side in the opening round.
The Sea Eagles’ demise was largely because their wrestle and go-slow tactics in the play the ball area were exposed by the more creative and skilful Bulldogs outfit.
The two referee system does have flaws, like every new experiment. But Hasler’s relentless attacks are triggered more by his side’s inability to adapt to the more open style of football that it has created.
Hasler’s forward pack isn’t suited to a quicker game.
While the referee decision involving Matt Orford and Preston Campbell that prompted Hasler’s blast on Sunday was contentious, Hasler used the ruling as another chance to have a shot at the two referee system.
He told ABC after the match: “At the end of the day you’re not attacking the referees, it’s just they’re not up to it.
“They’re just not up to it, particularly the junior referees when they’re put in that situation. They just haven’t got the experience and (referees boss) Robert Finch and the NRL they were told that, they were told that at the very start.
“But they insisted on doing it, so there needs to be a full investigation done on it.”
Manly isn’t the only side to be caught out by the two referee system. Melbourne Storm, Sydney Roosters and Cronulla Sharks have all been caught out by the faster game.
Melbourne Coach Craig Bellamy had his side so finely tuned to a robotic game, but changes in the speed of the game due to having two referees has made it hard to wrestle and control the ruck area as they once did.
This year the Storm have been caught out by sides that like to use the football and their attack, except for one game against Canberra, has been sterile and easy to defend against.
The Sharks were another team that least year played a spoiling game and had the ability to get their opponents to do the same. Now with the loss of Brett Kimmorley and Isaac De Gois, they’ve also lost any creativity they might have had.
The Roosters recruited a big side for 2008 and overpowered teams with the kicking games of Braith Anasta and Mitchell Pearce doing the rest. Backs such as Amos Roberts, Shaun Kenny-Dowall, Sam Perrett and, when available, Anthony Minichiello were good at finishing off the forwards’ work.
But now the Roosters forwards have been caught out as slow and not mobile, and the pressure is building.
Coach Brad Fittler was fined for an attack on the referees, and this week there were reports of heated arguments between the coach and senior players.
On the other side of the coin, Bulldogs coach Kevin Moore would have valid claims to attack the refereeing this year but he hasn’t done so, despite winning only two penalty counts all season.
The two referee system suits the Bulldogs style of attacking football and Moore’s only complaint has been about video refereeing, and this was before the no try ruling against Idris in the match against the Dragons.
Brian Smith, a noted critic of referees who made an art of blaming referees for losses during his long coaching career, has barely said a word as Newcastle coach this year.
The Knights are a young, fit and enterprising side and therefore the two referee system is suiting their style of football. Smith has carefully planned his side this year and hasn’t been caught unaware, as Hasler, Fittler, Bellamy and Ricky Stuart have.
When you hear a coach attack the two referees after full-time, just think about whether they are attacking the actual decisions being made or if they are pushing for their own personal vested interests.
The NRL has to remain strong on the two referee systems and ensure that when rules are being tweaked, that coaches, club officials and even former referees such as Bill Harrigan are kept out of the process and that independent people are left in charge.
However, the video referee is another matter and needs serious change. Decisions should be left to the four officials on the field and the video referee should only be used for grounding of the ball and whether a player is in or out of play.
Decisions such as obstructions, off-side and things that happen from goal line to goal line should be left to the on-field referee – as is the case during non-scoring plays within the game.
The “Challenge System” that has been proposed by some coaches should NOT be used at all and the focus should be with the on-field decision makers getting the calls right rather than always having to revert to the touch and go video analysis as an on the spot human error is better and more acceptable than drawn out technical errors.
Finally, my next Roar article won’t appear until after the opening State of Origin so I will make an early but bold prediction and comment about game one in Melbourne.
I believe New South Wales can and will win.
Aside from Brent Kite, the side is largely picked on current for. Kite’s performance in the Test match and the Grand Final last year earns him many credit points, particularly as NSW’s front-row is not overly strong. Terry Campese started the season off with a bang before hitting a form slump, but bounced back last Sunday to seal the five-eighth position.
Yet, while the Queensland side looks great on paper, Steve Price, Nate Myles, Dallas Johnson and Cameron Smith are all in ordinary form, Darren Lockyer and Greg Inglis aren’t playing consistently and the Bulldogs and Titans have revealed blueprints on how to handle Billy Slater.
Expect the enthusiasm of the Blues line up to shock the complacent Maroons and grab the points in game one setting up for a thrilling series.
In Edition Seven of Discord this week, Rleague.com weekly feature columnist Steve Mascord talks about the leaking of the NSW Aussie Blues side prior to the Cowboys v Knights game, which halfback Jarrod Mullen found out he wasn’t playing for a position. Discord also discusses the dramas surrounding Sharks Chairman Barry Pierce, the racism allegations leveled at Sharks Captain Paul Gallen, Michael Jennings rise to NSW selection and his International eligibility Setana’s relationship with the NRL showing matches in the UK, the halfback woes at the Warriors and how he rather be at Alexandria Hotel than Etihad Stadium next Wednesday night. Matthew O’Neill is a Director and Columnist with www.rleague.com.