Referees the biggest worry for finals football

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Should referees harden back up? (AAP Image/Action Photographics, Renee McKay)

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September has brought with it a lot of things. Father’s Day, the first day of spring and unfortunately over recent days bush fires have sprung up across New South Wales.

But September also brings with it the pinnacle of club rugby league.

You know that thing that all fans thirst for.

That dream of seeing your team holding up the premiership trophy in the final game of the year.

Yes it is finals time in the National Rugby League and only eight teams are left standing.

But there has been a sprawling epidemic that has crept across the competition since Round 1 of season 2013. A plague that has entrenched itself in the fabric of the toughest game on the planet.

While we sit on the cusp of the most anticipated playoffs in history one thing remains a bugbear for supporters, coaches, experts and players.

Every week we are entranced by the athleticism and skill of the modern player.

Yet we shake our heads and throw whatever we can at the television screens week after week wondering what is happening to our game.

Only one thing can wreck this finals series.

The over-officiated way games are being policed by the referees.

Since the outlawing of the shoulder charge and the crackdown on fighting, the product has been altered dramatically. The snowball effect has been alarming to say the least.

Everything is dangerous and everything is illegal.

It was evident on Sunday night in the freezing cold of the nation’s capital between the Canberra Raiders and the Cronulla Sharks.

The 5 foot 11 inch, 90 kilogram Canberra centre Jarrod Croker was penalised for supposedly striking the 6 foot 2 inch, 112 kilogram Cronulla bookend Bryce Gibbs.

Anyone that knows anything about the game could see this was a desperate smaller man trying to release the grasp of the much bigger attacking player who had the scruff of his jersey.

This act has been seen thousands upon thousands of times in all levels of rugby league.

If that is a penalty one week before the finals then god help us.

It is time the officials put away their whistles and let the players play the game.

Media reports have confirmed that the two most penalised sides this season will go at it on Saturday night in a blockbuster match at Allianz Stadium. The Sydney Roosters (penalised 204 times in 2013) face the Manly-Warringah Sea Eagles (penalised 185 times).

Are these sides ill-disciplined or are the top sides in the NRL being punished for being consistently more intense through the season than other sides?

“Obviously we know we’re giving penalties away but obviously we’re defending it,” Sydney ace Michael Jennings told the media on Tuesday.

“We know that what we do after the penalty is going to be reflected … in the points.

“Really it’s just discipline that at the end of the day you’ve just got to fix.

“We are addressing it, it’s not a big deal,” he said.

It isn’t a big deal to Jennings or the other players.

They are professionals and will deal with whatever happens in the spur of the moment.

But what happens when a soft penalty costs your side a try or a penalty goal this weekend that may see your side eliminated from the race to ANZ Stadium on October sixth?

Keep Jarrod Croker’s “strike” on Bryce Gibbs in mind.

If that is a penalty then we are in trouble.

These referees won’t be able to handle the intensity that is most certainly going to rise over the coming weeks.

What happened to the brutality that can win you a game of football?

Forget brutality.

What happened to referees allowing a game to breathe?

When was the last time you saw an honest to goodness arm wrestle without hearing the whistle?

Let’s hope these officials remember their place and remember that the spectacle is the players and not them. That harnessing the image of the NRL has to be levelled with what makes our game different to all the others.

Please gentlemen, leave your whistles at home.

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