Friday night’s elimination final was, as far as refereeing decisions went, an abomination. Those players worked hard all year only to have their season derailed by poor video refereeing.
It is unexplainable and unforgivable. The people officiating have lost the plot and should no longer be employed! Ultimately, though, the blame must be placed at the feet of the NRL.
They have created a dynamic where people expect the right decision every time and that is never going to happen. You have two referees, two touch judges and video replays but officials are not machines and will occasionally make the wrong decisions, regardless of if they’re running around the middle, running the line or sitting in a box.
The public emphasis must be taken off getting it 100% right all the time, because it’s patently obvious you cannot do that.
The official in the middle needs to be given absolute control and their decision making process needs to be simplified so they make the call as they see it. No replays, no video conferences, no checking. That way the referee – as it has been for hundreds of years across all sports – is always right.
With one significant difference – we should allow teams an opportunity to challenge controversial decisions. If you get it wrong you lose that chance, if you get it right the challenge remains.
Players who are involved in these decisions generally know what has happened and under this system they would be forced to be honest or risk losing the advantage a challenge affords them.
Using Friday night’s game as an example:
The first example saw Manly have the ball stripped and it was missed. Manly could have challenged the call instantly and received a penalty – the correct decision made. If the Cowboys instead had been penalised for knocking the ball out, then they could challenge the call but the bloke that knocked it out would not challenge as he’d knowingly be sacrificing his team’s challenge.
The second example had Manly score out wide but there was doubt in the try. The on-field referees would have allowed it, so it’s up to the Cowboys to challenge the call. I’d like to think that if this was only the second thing the video referee was looking at, he would make a better call than the one made last night. But, regardless, if the evidence is conclusive and the try was definitely a try, then the Cowboys have used up their challenge.
If, as was the case on Friday night, the try was awarded with benefit of the doubt, then the try would stand but the Cowboys keep their challenge. They would not be penalised. Friday night’s decision would stand but everyone would be given more certainty and feel better about what had transpired.
The referee made a confident call on the spot. The video proved inconclusive in attempting to reverse the decision move on.
Third example, Manly score to put the game beyond doubt. I’m not sure if the referees would have awarded the try based on what they saw live.
Let’s say they didn’t award the try. There’s no way Manly would have challenged the call. Firstly, Lyon knows he pushed Thurston in the back on the kick chase and Foran knows he knocked on. They would believe that the video would show these things up clearly and would likely not challenge.
If you think that, given the state of the game and the time left on the clock, Manly would have rolled the dice and challenged the call, then you could introduce the equivalent of an AFL 50m penalty, whereby if you’re found on the video replay to be ‘lying’ as it were, you would be marched 50m up field and lose possession. A small price to pay for cheating really!
Let’s say the on field referee had awarded the try. The Cowboys would challenge the try. They would ask that the video referee look at the things they were unhappy with in the movement. Given this is only the third thing the video referee was looking at, you would hope they could make a better call than the one they made last night.
If the call is just as bad then last night’s decision is unchanged but again the referee made a confident call on the spot and the video proved inconclusive in attempting to reverse the decision. That’s sport. Hard to swallow but that happens sometimes.
To make this work, ideally you would have the support of broadcasters not to be replaying decisions, trying to find errors by the officials. I’m not sure that this would be possible but you would hope that by empowering the players to potentially rectify howlers, while simultaneously demanding that they be more honest (or they’ll be found out and potentially disadvantage their team), these instances of controversy would largely be mitigated.
The argument for any continued errors within a game is simple – the players involved were unsure, so didn’t challenge the call, and we as officials called it as we saw it.
The referee is empowered to do their job without fear of being undermined but the teams have an avenue for review if they’re sure an error has been made.