Cheats continue to prosper as Tony Archer fails to bring back the bin

Tim Gore Columnist

By , Tim Gore is a Roar Expert

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    “I’m expecting the referees to action those warnings… If a side complies, then play on. If they don’t, well I expect the referee to [take] action.” Tony Archer, February 21, 2017.

    What a total load of rubbish!

    What really annoys me, Tony Archer, is that I actually believed you were going to do it. I really thought you were going to make your referees bring back the sin bin.

    However, the home-and-away NRL season 2017 is only a quarter gone and already your strong pre-season words, as reported in the Fairfax press, ring as hollow as a politician’s non-core promise.

    To quote the Bard of Avon, from Macbeth, “It is a tale, told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.”

    Teams are still clearly and deliberately cheating their guts out in their defensive 20 to thwart their opponents’ attack and maintain their own line.

    Have a look at these statistics:

    Ladder position Team Penalties conceded rank Number of penalties conceded Average penalties per game Tries conceded 2017 Players sin binned for professional fouls
    1 Dragons 15th 30 5 16 0
    2 Storm 2nd 49 8.18 10 0
    3 Sharks 1st 50 8.33 13 0
    4 Roosters 7th 39 6.5 18 0
    5 Cowboys 13th 34 5.66 21 0
    6 Raiders 11th 35 5.83 20 1
    7 Broncos 8th 37 6.16 14 0
    8 Sea Eagles 5th 41 6.83 18 0
    9 Rabbitohs 16th 25 4.16 22 0
    10 Warriors 6th 40 6.66 22 0
    11 Bulldogs 12th 34 5.66 19 1
    12 Panthers 3rd 46 7.66 18 0
    13 Eels 4th 41 6.83 21 0
    14 Wests Tigers 14th 33 5.5 30 0
    15 Titans 9th 36 6 32 0
    16 Knights 10th 36 6 29 0
    Overall 606 6.3 323 2

    The awful truth is that the two most penalised sides of 2017 currently sit second and third on the NRL ladder, having between them won just three of the 11 penalty counts they’ve been involved in. The Storm have only won one penalty count so far in 2017 – their win against the Broncos in Round 3. The Sharks have won two – in their one-point win against the Knights in Round 5, and against the Storm in Round 6.

    In spite of both sides giving away 30 per cent more penalties than the year’s average, neither team has had a player sent to the sin bin.

    Conversely, but not at all coincidentally, both sides are easily the lowest try conceding sides in the NRL so far this season. We’ve seen this story repeatedly for the last ten seasons. However, this year Archer said he was going to fix it.

    He hasn’t.

    Season Average penalties per team Total penalties Sin bins Number of penalties per sin bin
    2017 6.31 606 7 86.5
    2016 6.8 2718 17 159.9
    2015 6.5 2610 13 200.7
    2014 6.4 2585 22 117.5

    While the average penalties per team per game is slightly down, and the sin bins are tracking higher than any time in the past four seasons, the reality is that little to nothing has changed.

    So far this season there has been one sin binning for every 89 penalties. That is distinctly better than last season, when it was one sin bin per 163 penalties. However, of the seven binnings so far this year, four have been for fisticuffs, one for dissent. The other two? Josh Jackson, in Round 4, was given ten for a professional foul that potentially stopped a try and Clay Priest was binned for his side’s repeated infringing in Round 1 (it was Priest’s second penalty conceded).

    So there has only been one sin binning for repeated infringements for every 606 penalties. That’s as dismal as ever – if not more.

    And let’s be clear: sin binning for punching has nothing whatsoever to do with cracking down on repeat transgressors.

    In particular, the fact that James Maloney has not been sent to the sin bin this season makes a fool of Tony Archer and his referees.

    Maloney – who Michael Ennis lauded for having spent all six years of high school in detention – has taken over the mantle of most penalised player in the NRL from his old hooker this season. He has already conceded 13 penalties at over two a game but, unlike his high school principal, none of the referees have had the courage to give him ten on the pine.

    James Maloney of the Sharks

    Not Ben Cummins in Round 3, when Maloney conceded three penalties. Not Matt Cecchin in Round 4 or Round 6, when the boy from Orange transgressed in triplicate. These aren’t just any two referees either, these are the blokes who Archer picked to officiate the 2016 NRL grand final.

    And it’s not like Maloney has been flying under the radar in regards to giving away truckloads of penalties for years now. In 2013 he was the worst offender in the NRL. In 2014 and 2015 he came in third, before coming in second in 2016 to Ennis. Over that whole time he has not been sin binned even once.

    WTF?!

    The referees are akin to Clancy Wiggum calling out an APB on Snake where Maloney is concerned, “Suspect is hatless. Repeat. Suspect is hatless.”

    This season only Gavin Badger and Ben Cummins have used the bin for reasons other than punching. And only Cummins has used the sin bin for repeated infringements. However, there have clearly been a number of games where repeated infringements have occurred. Bearing in mind that the average penalties in a game this season is 12.6, the following games featured far too many transgressions to not be accompanied by a binning:

    Penalties Game Referees Sin bin?
    20 Storm vs Brisbane Rd3 Gerard Sutton, Matt Noyen No
    19 Panthers vs Roosters Rd3 Grant Atkins, Chris Butler No
    19 Cowboys vs Sea Eagles Rd3 Henry Perenara, Peter Gough No
    18 Eels vs Sharks Rd4 Matt Cecchin, Chris James No
    18 Panthers vs Knights Rd4 Henry Perenara, Gavin Reynolds No
    18 Storm vs Panthers Rd5 Ashley Klein, David Munro No

    When each of the referee’s performances in 2017 are examined, it shows those who are more likely to use the whistle:

    Referee Games Games as lead referee Penalties per game Total penalties Average penalties per game Sin bins for professional fouls
    R1 R2 R3 R4 R5 R6
    Henry Perenara 6 6 11 10 19 18 17 15 90 15
    Matt Cecchin 6 6 15 10 16 18 14 16 89 14.8
    Grant Atkins 6 6 12 17 19 16 10 12 86 14.3
    Gerard Sutton* 7 6 15 13 20 10 10 26 94 (78) 13.4
    Ashley Klein 6 6 8 15 14 10 18 10 75 12.5
    David Munro* 6 4 9 13 11 14 18 11 76 (47) 12.6
    Adam Gee* 4 2 12 10 9 13 44 (22) 11
    Gavin Badger 6 6 13 11 14 13 8 9 68 11.3 1
    Ben Cummins 6 6 15 7 12 6 11 11 62 10.33 1
    Matt Noyen 6 15 13 20 16 17 15 96 16
    Peter Gough 3 11 10 19 40 13.3
    Gavin Reynolds* 3 18 9 13 40 13.3
    Chris James 6 8 15 14 18 14 9 78 13
    Chris Butler 6 12 17 19 6 11 10 75 12.5
    Jon Stone 5 13 11 14 13 8 59 11.8 1
    Chris Sutton* 7 15 20 11 14 10 12 82 11.7 1
    Alan Shortall* 7 24 10 16 10 10 10 80 11.4
    Average 12.6

    *Alan Shortall officiated in two games of Round One.
    *Chris Sutton officiated in two games of Round Two.
    *Gerard Sutton officiated in two games of Round Six.
    *Adam Gee promoted to lead referee in round 5.
    *David Munro demoted to second referee in round 5.
    *Gavin Reynolds replaced Peter Gough as second referee in round 4.

    The most interesting thing that this chart points out is that Cummins and Badger – the two lead referees that blow the fewest penalties per game on average – are the only ones to have used the bin for professional fouls over the first six rounds of 2017.

    So much for repeated infringements being the catalyst for the sin bin.

    If the referees won’t sin bin players who routinely transgress, perhaps the NRL could take a leaf out of football’s book. In the round ball game, when a player incurs a predetermined number of yellow cards during the course of the season they have a mandated one-match suspension.

    In the NRL a player should have a mandated one-match suspension once they incur ten penalties. Over the last four seasons, the percentage of players who have conceded ten or more penalties has been steadily rising. In 2014 it was 20 per cent. In 2015 it was 23 per cent and in 2016 it was 24 per cent. This season it is already tracking to be well over 25 per cent.

    Referee Gerard Sutton sin bins Bulldogs David Klemmer

    In each of the last three seasons, James Maloney would have had to sit out two games – or alternatively cut down on the number of penalties he concedes.

    This system works extremely well in football and lets the referees officiate each game in total isolation, allowing themselves to pretend that none of the players are clearly long-term recidivists. Unlike the use of the sin bin, it is in no way reliant on the courage of referees.

    If Archer continues to do nothing, the NRL will continue to be blighted by such stats as these two:

    1. The fewest penalties conceded by a side in a game this season was just one, by the Wests Tigers in their Round 4 match against the Storm. They lost.
    2. The most penalties conceded by a side in a game this season was 12, by the Storm in their Round 5 match against the Panthers. They won.

    For all of Tony Archer’s words about cracking down on sides that repeatedly infringe, there is clearly no actual will or courage to make it happen.

    Once again, it’s safe to say that if you want to be competitive in the NRL, you’ve got to cheat.

    Tim Gore
    Tim Gore

    Tim has been an NRL statistician for ABC Radio Grandstand since 1999, primarily as part of their Canberra coverage. Tim has loved rugby league since Sterlo was a kid with lots of hair but was cursed with having no personal sporting ability whatsoever. He couldn't take a hit in footy, was a third division soccer player making up numbers, plays off 41 in golf and is possibly the world's worst cricketer ever. He has always been good at arguing the point though and he has a great memory of what happened. Follow Tim on Twitter.

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