Memo referees: don’t mess with Bill Harrigan
NRL referees co-coach Bill Harrigan speaks to the media about some of the controversial referee calls during last nights State of Origin during a press conference at Rugby League Central in Sydney, Thursday, May 24, 2012. The NSW Blues lost to Queensland in the first of three State of Origin matches. (AAP Image/Dean Lewins)
On The Roar yesterday, I suggested the NRL’s referee supremo Bill Harrigan was in the perfect position to lift the standard within his ranks for the sake of the code.
No referee has ever reached the elite level Harrigan set in his heyday, with 392 first grade games, 10 grand finals, 21 Origins, and 24 Tests.
Daylight is second.
But within 24 hours, the whole referee scene has blown into open warfare – against Harrigan. So much so that Harrigan is fighting for survival.
NRL boss David Gallop has been handed a document signed by the current top referees claiming the development future of rugby league is in danger if Harrigan remains in the job.
Is this a case of the in-mates taking over the asylum?
The document lists a number of complaints, including the now infamous late in the game Greg Inglis try in Origin 1, which sealed the result in favour of Queensland, 18-10.
Harrigan supported the decision of video referee Sean Hampstead, the signatories didn’t. Nor did the vast majority of fans. The signatories are angry Harrigan told them not to comment on the try.
There have been many heated arguments since among scribes and fans. The try will be cemented in Origin folklore.
Refereeing has also been in the unwanted headlines with the poor handling of Origin 1 by Matt Cecchin and Ben Cummins, who were way out of their league. And lowlighted with referee Jason Robinson copping a gobful from Roosters captain Braith Anasta, and especially Bulldogs skipper Michael Ennis dropping a few f-bombs on the way.
Both in the same game.
It begs the question: where is the limit before captains bring the game into disrepute?
Ennis clearly breached that line.
But because he didn’t aim the f-bombs directly at Robinson and only his decision, Ennis won’t be charged with any wrong-doing according to match review chairman Greg McCallum, himself a former top referee.
Millions of television viewers saw that live, many more saw replays with bleeps in the aftermath. It was a bad image for rugby league.
Australia’s two top sporting administrators, the AFL’s Andrew Dimetriou and Gallop, are on different sides of the fence over Ennis.
Demetriou said: “In our case, he (Ennis) would have been disciplined severely. We’ve got a real problem in our game that we’ve got more umpires leaving than we are recruiting.
“So we’ve got to do everything we can to help promote umpires”.
Does that read that Demetriou is more concerned with protecting his umpires than the language Ennis used?
Surprisingly, the silence from Gallop has been deafening.
I have the greatest respect for him as he’s expertly juggled the code through many off-field atrocities during his decade in the big chair.
Now he’s faced with an internal coup looming over Harrigan which may well have an even bigger and deeper impact on the code than any atrocities.
Harrigan is a tall poppy, and far too many Australians love to go tall poppy chopping. It’s a “sport” and it’s endemic.
But be warned you refereeing pretenders who have called for Harrigan’s dismissal: he is a mighty tough hombre honed by a stint with the Tactical Response Unit during his time with the police force before he became the greatest referee in rugby league history.
Messing with Harrigan could prove to be career-defining.