NRL needs to say au revoir to 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)
The 2012 NRL season has come to an end with the Melbourne Storm becoming premiers. Unfortunately for the Storm, the 2012 season will not only be remembered for their feats on the field.
It will instead be remembered as one of the worst refereed seasons in living memory.
But before you stop reading and dismiss this as yet another attack on the men in pink, let me tell you this: I feel for these men.
This year the referees have been under more pressure than ever. External pressures from players, coaches, fans and the media are a continual presence.
Players always try to influence the men in the middle during a game. Coaches may try to subtly imply that certain teams do this or that and suggest the referee should be mindful of that come game day.
The fans, well, the fans will always give the referee grief. The media will always pick on an error, despite how big or small, because it is their job. These are givens and the referees know this. The increase of internal pressures this season is a different story.
Studies have shown that we all need to reach a specific level of anxiety to work or learn at an optimal rate. If there is a low amount of anxiety (boredom) we aren’t very productive. If our anxiety levels are too high (stressed out) we perform just as badly as if we were bored.
Think about that while thinking about the number of errors made this season. Now think about who is in charge of the referees.
Bill Harrigan and Stuart Raper are the men in charge of the refrees on paper, but Harrigan is the one calling the shots.
It is very difficult to imagine that Raper, an ex coach, would be pulling the strings behind the performances this season. Harrigan has shown his true colours after the laughable review held earlier this year.
Referees Luke Phillips and Ashley Klein, who had spoken to then CEO David Gallop in regards to their concerns about Harrigan, have hardly been seen since.
Harrigan has also instructed those who had towed the line that certain “interpretations” of the laws of the game were to be adhered to.
The clubs knew next to nothing of these interpretations with only a very brief email, sent sporadically to coaches throughout the season, being the only communiqué between the whistle blowers and those who actually play the game. So basically the referees have been told that it’s Bill’s way or the highway.
If the media, coaches, players and fans really turn it up over a contentious decision, Bill can throw you to the lions.
Yes, you’ve been a good boy and did what Bill told you to do, but the press don’t like it and the coach wants a one-on-one meeting with him. Bill isn’t the bad guy here, you blowed the whistle or pushed the “benefit of the doubt” button. Not him.
Therefore you made the mistake and everyone either saw you do it or saw the end result on the big screen at the stadium.
Somehow Harrigan has been allowed to rule the game as he sees fit, yet is not accountable when things go wrong. His foot soldiers are the ones carrying that burden. No wonder the referees are nervous wrecks.
So how do does the NRL lessen this burden? Three changes need to happen.
Firstly, the “benefit of the doubt” rule needs to go. It was a Pandora’s box when it was first introduced and look at what has happened.
In cricket the benefit is given to the batsman as he is defending his wicket and only has one chance, otherwise he’s out.
The bowler, who is attacking the batsman with the ball with the aim of getting his wicket, can have as many goes as they want. Imagine how many bowlers would have figures of five for not many if they had the benefit of the doubt?
Why has rugby league gone the other way and given the benefit to the attacking team? And why are there so many apparent interpretations on when to use it? Get rid of it. If you score, you score. If there is any doubt with anything (including the grounding of the ball), it isn’t given. Take the “50 shades of grey” out of the decision.
Secondly, the referees and coaches need to come together and sort out these new interpretations of the game’s laws. At the moment these two parties aren’t on the same page. They’re not even reading the same book, by the look of it.
Clear up the confusion that manifests itself into coach blowups in post-match media conferences and heated arguments between referees and captains on the field. I know that these little conferences seem to happen each year, but maybe in 2013 stick to it for the whole of the season.
Surely the referees will have an easier job if they go into every game with the same set protocols to follow. No more secret squirrel stuff. Transparency can be a wonderful thing.
Thirdly, you guessed it, sack Harrigan and Raper. I find it very hard to believe that the game cannot find a person or persons that have the right amount of rugby league knowledge, feel for the game, commonsense and leadership qualities required to run the referees.
I don’t expect the referees to be perfect, we are all human beings after all, but the number of clangers we have all seen this season simply cannot be repeated.
The “us and them” mentality must also be addressed for the right amount of respect to be conveyed between referees, players, coaches and those who run the game. But until all parties work together and not against each other, this won’t happen.
The 2012 season has been an embarrassment for the referees. And that is a shame as the players have done their part to make it an exciting season.
We can only hope that that the NRL do not put their heads in the sand and act. I don’t profess to have all the answers but if they follow my simple three step program, it can’t hurt.
The fact is, we will always have a whinge about the referees; as fans it’s kind of our job.
But there is a big difference between seeing your team get beaten because a try was awarded by a “benefit of the doubt” due to the boot lace having had contact with the ball when grounded, as opposed to seeing your team get their arse handed to them legitimately.
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