Tony Archer has got to go

Tim Gore Columnist

By Tim Gore, Tim Gore is a Roar Expert

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    Tony Archer’s time as the National Rugby League referee’s elite performance manager should end now.

    Before I go on, let me make it clear that I am very much pro-referees and touch judges.

    A great many Australians have an anti-authoritarian streak that can be traced back to the convict days and the Eureka Stockade. That streak can also manifest as an automatic dislike of referees.

    If a great number of us rugby league fans can be fairly described as the unwashed, the referees and touch judges can be described as the unliked and the unrespected. If they have a great game, few will notice, but if they make a contentious or wrong call, they can fully expect to be lambasted by the players, coaches, fans and commentators.

    They are the ultimate scapegoats and, just like Milhouse Van Houten, only their mothers think they’re cool.

    However, for the game of rugby league to be well run, it is essential for us to have good, brave referees and touch judges, who strictly uphold the rules without fear or favour.

    In order for that to happen, we need an elite performance manager who creates an environment among his officials that cultivates those attributes. Who puts his staff first, takes bullets for them, and gives them the support, direction, training and protection that not only helps them to do their job well, but makes them feel secure and happy in their roles.

    Tony Archer does not seem to be that man at all.

    Since taking over in 2013, he has presided over a period that has included:

    • Massive inconsistencies in the use of video replays;
    • Rates of sin binnings for professional fouls plummeting to all-time lows;
    • Send offs becoming virtually extinct; and
    • The rate of penalties conceded exploding.

    These facts strongly suggest that the officials are not doing their jobs well. This then brings into question whether Archer inspires or has the confidence of his whistle blowers and flag wavers.

    Recently he has performed an action that suggested more strongly than ever that a big part of the problem – if not the central part – is that he is a dreadful boss.

    A few weeks ago, Archer publicly ascribed blame and apportioned punishment to one of the senior members of his team when there was neither need nor justification to warrant it.

    As a result, I’d be very surprised if any of the officials under his charge feel secure enough in their roles to make the crucial decisions we rely on them to make, for fear of being singled out and dropped from first grade.

    Just ask Rickey MacFarlane.

    “Who’s he?” I hear you ask. He’s a first-grade touch judge.

    Or he was, anyway.

    If you looked for his name in a game in Round 7, you wouldn’t have found it, as he’d been dropped by Archer.

    Why?

    Rickey is the guy who called the pass from Anthony Milford to Ben Hunt forward in the Round 6 Broncos-Roosters clash, which led to a try not being awarded.

    “Of course he should have been dropped!” I hear you cry. “It was a howler!”

    Ben Hunt reacts to knock on in 2015 NRL Grand Final

    You are right, the call wasn’t good. The pass appeared fine watching live, and with the benefit of slow-motion replays, it looked like a great pass.

    But don’t be too harsh on Rickey MacFarlane for making that call. Under the circumstances, I’m surprised we haven’t seen more like it.

    Because Archer completely dogged one of the NRL’s very best touch judges just weeks earlier over not calling a marginal forward pass.

    Jeff Younis is a great touch judge, if not the best. I know this because he got finals gigs over my mate Daniel Eastwood, who was an awesome touchie. As a result, I’ve never been that fond of Younis. He may well be a lovely guy, but I may have wished him a pulled groin or torn hammy now and then. However, I know he’s fast and makes great live calls. More often than not, he does State of Origin matches and grand finals.

    In the Round 3 game at Panther Park, between Penrith and the Roosters, the home fans screamed at Younis to call the pass from Latrell Mitchel to Daniel Tupou forward. He didn’t. He was soundly booed when the subsequent try was awarded.

    The try turned out to be the match-winner.

    Then, just hours later, Archer carried out the poorest piece of leadership from a referee’s boss since Graham Annesley humiliated Bill Harrigan in 2002.

    Archer came out publicly and voluntarily declared:

    “You can see a pass here from Latrell Mitchel. From the vision you can see that the touch judge is in good position to rule on the pass. After reviewing all the available angles and slowing the play up, I have determined that the pass is forward. It’s my expectation that the referees should have ruled that way.”

    He then dropped Younis to reserve grade for the following round.

    Tony, that was piss poor.

    Firstly, have a listen to your own words: “After reviewing all the available angles and slowing the play up…” So in order to make your decision and establish the ball went forward you watched multiple angles and slowed the play up? Yet you not only dropped Younis for not calling it live – from one angle and in real time – you voluntarily branded it a howler to the media and hung Younis out to dry down in the reggies.

    Secondly, there was no requirement whatsoever for you to give your opinion on the issue, or even respond to it. Yet you willingly volunteered it.

    Thirdly, in the Round 6 game between the Sea Eagles and Dragons Jason Nightingale physically manhandled Daly Cherry-Evans off the ball and stopped him from getting to dummy half, directly allowing Gareth Widdop to pick up the ball and score. How any official could not call that back is beyond me. It was a howler.

    Archer defended the situation saying that the video referee was only able to review from the point the ball is played and that, under those parameters, everything was just hunky dory.

    So just like the forward pass in Round 3 that got Younis dropped, the incident couldn’t be reviewed by video. And just like in Round 3, both Gavin Badger and his touch judge were clearly in a great position to make a call. However, unlike Younis in Round 4, all four officials and the video referee backed up for first grade last weekend.

    That’s at best inconsistent, Tony. At worst it is incompetent.

    That sort of ‘leadership’ is almost guaranteed to make every member of your team not trust you and be concerned for their own positions.

    Referees and touch judges get paid well per first-grade game. Getting dropped isn’t just humiliating, it is very costly. And remember, unlike players who can go to other clubs or competitions – or even codes – when they fall out with their coach, referees have nowhere else to go except the English Super League.

    So now put yourself in Rickey MacFarlane’s shoes.

    After seeing that even a touch judge of Jeff Younis’ undoubted status can get dropped and publicly maligned for missing a marginal live call, poor old MacFarlane must have been worried about getting a call wrong.

    With the score at 14-8 in the 46th minute of the Broncos-Roosters match, Milford streaked into space. He was caught by Mitch Aubusson but got a pass away to Hunt, who went over.

    It’s a fair guess that MacFarlane was sweating on forward passes, determined not to miss one. With a split second to make the call, MacFarlane told lead referee Gerard Sutton that Milford’s pass went forward.

    Broncos player Anthony Milford

    It was a howler of a call and Rickey was in reggies last weekend. His name is not listed against any of this weekend’s first-grade games either…

    I suspect MacFarlane completely misunderstood the message that Archer sent when he so publicly dropped Younis. The message wasn’t “don’t miss forward passes” it was “don’t stuff up during a game because if you do I’ll be the first in line to publicly bag you out.”

    The beatings will continue until morale improves…

    This is consistent with his message at the 2014 season launch for officials, when the newly-appointed Archer told his charges something closely along the lines of “Some of you have some insurance banked from your years of service and from the standing you have in the game. However, when performances don’t match expectation that insurance can be withdrawn, and when it runs out it’s not there anymore.”

    However, how many of them thought that withdrawal would include being blamed in the media just hours after the game, for a marginal call at worst?

    That Archer could treat any of his officials that way is appalling. You would never see one of the NRL club coaches do such a thing in public. The likes of Trent Robinson, Ricky Stuart, Craig Bellamy and Wayne Bennett would never dream of it. A coach can lose his playing group by doing that and then everything can quickly fall to pieces. That can happen with referees too.

    In fact, I’d argue – given the above-listed facts – it has happened.

    Roosters captain Boyd Cordner, in the News Limited press, said, “I thought [the pass] was OK. If the NRL has come out and said [it was forward] so be it … that’s footy and it can be tough for the refs at times. They’re human. I couldn’t imagine refereeing.”

    Spot on Boyd. Now imagine being one and having the added worry that your boss was more concerned with joining in with the media in bagging you out than standing up for you.

    Archer should have zero interaction with the press. The press are remorselessly looking for stories, scandals and scapegoats. They mostly don’t have fairness high on their agenda either.

    Archer should back his charges to the hilt. He should be the first to rally behind them and show support. He needs them to know that he stands between them and all criticism – just like Wayne Bennett always does for his boys, drawing the flack upon himself whenever he can.

    While Archer might address matters differently behind closed doors, the referees and touch judges must have complete faith that in public they have no greater advocate, supporter and defender than their coach.

    Right now, I’d be surprised if any of them feel that describes Tony Archer’s approach to leadership.

    And because of that, we will continue to get officials too scared to sin bin or send off players, no matter how deserving they are, and we’ll continue to see the sort of bad decisions that mostly come when people feel panicked and unsupported.

    Get your act together Tony, or get out.

    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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    The Crowd Says (115)

    • April 20th 2017 @ 5:07am
      Matt Jones said | April 20th 2017 @ 5:07am | ! Report

      i nominate Tim Gore for the position. Have people ever been happy with the head of referees?

      • Columnist

        April 20th 2017 @ 7:24am
        Tim Gore said | April 20th 2017 @ 7:24am | ! Report

        I would love it! My first course of action will be to ensure that all the refs knew I was their number one supporter and that I’ll defend them publicly and not single them out arbitrarily.

        • April 20th 2017 @ 9:28am
          andrew said | April 20th 2017 @ 9:28am | ! Report

          I agree and disagree with you.
          I agree his lack of support for the men on the field is underwhelming and i would agree he is inconsistent.

          Where i feel he is inconsistent, is that while he may throw the men on the field under the bus, he is unwavering in his support of the Bunker – whose jobs are much easier. He continually uses statistics to try and justify their results with comments such “5 errors out of 709 referrals” in 2016 which is an insult to everyone’s intelligence.

        • April 20th 2017 @ 11:53am
          spruce moose said | April 20th 2017 @ 11:53am | ! Report

          Take the job Tim.

          It pays nothing unless your crooked. Plus you get to make lifelong links to organised crime.

          Mmm…organised crime.

          • Columnist

            April 20th 2017 @ 3:40pm
            Tim Gore said | April 20th 2017 @ 3:40pm | ! Report

            Thatsa gooda donut!

            • April 20th 2017 @ 3:53pm
              Peter said | April 20th 2017 @ 3:53pm | ! Report

              Either you know that spruce moose is some sort of try-hard comedian and you’re playing along, God knows why, or he’s the worst sort of ref-bagger and you should have climbed all over him.
              There are plenty of dickheads like him who are an excellent reason for the decline in the numbers of people willing to become officials – every decision against my team is only because the ref/touchy is in the pay of the other team or some murky betting syndicate.
              Your willingness to go along with it may be an indicator that you shouldn’t be the referees’ head honcho after all.

              • Columnist

                April 20th 2017 @ 4:36pm
                Tim Gore said | April 20th 2017 @ 4:36pm | ! Report

                I told you already. You don’t get a gun until you tell me your name!

              • Columnist

                April 20th 2017 @ 4:37pm
                Tim Gore said | April 20th 2017 @ 4:37pm | ! Report

                He’s a fellow Simpsons devotee and we share quotes. His line was just a set up for a Don Homer quote…
                Yes, we are sad.

              • Columnist

                April 20th 2017 @ 4:39pm
                Tim Gore said | April 20th 2017 @ 4:39pm | ! Report

                I do think that the referees head honcho should be an ex ref or ex player or ex coach. I think that sort of contact with the game is essential.

              • April 21st 2017 @ 9:11am
                spruce moose said | April 21st 2017 @ 9:11am | ! Report

                I’ve had it up to here with you and your ‘rules’ Peter.

    • April 20th 2017 @ 5:57am
      Gray-Hand said | April 20th 2017 @ 5:57am | ! Report

      Tim, do you think that the increase in penalties being conceded might be because referees have beenmore willing to blow a penalty for stuff like holding down a player rather than teams becoming more cynical and willing to break the rules?

      • Columnist

        April 20th 2017 @ 7:26am
        Tim Gore said | April 20th 2017 @ 7:26am | ! Report

        While it is possible GH, I’m fairly certain it is the latter, not the former. Sides can concede a penalty with little fear of the bin. Refs are too scared to use it. And can you blame them?

        • April 20th 2017 @ 8:10am
          Gray-Hand said | April 20th 2017 @ 8:10am | ! Report

          Not really. As an aside, I think a lot of the blame has to go to the commentators and other members of the media who are so quick to target referees rather than players.

          The inevitable criticism that referees are exposed to whenever there is a 50/50 decision is ridiculous. It has also poisoned the game at junior levels.

          • Columnist

            April 20th 2017 @ 8:30am
            Tim Gore said | April 20th 2017 @ 8:30am | ! Report

            Totally agree.
            My boss Tim Gavel pretty much never blames the referees, I suspect as a policy.
            I always try to be two eyed. I hope I mostly achieve it.
            Refs at junior level must have unconditional and unanimous support.

          • Roar Guru

            April 20th 2017 @ 12:13pm
            Hoy said | April 20th 2017 @ 12:13pm | ! Report

            I concur. Commentators, social media etc. When people like Gus Gould blame the referee for too many penalties, idiots think he is right… and then pour more blame on them. Instead, they need to apportion blame to the players for giving the penalties away.

            I don’t know who you have to kill to get given a card in a game of NRL these days… so many blatant professional fouls being committed and the only consequence is a penalty, and I am sure it is because of people like Gus, who then cry foul, and say the Ref has ruined the game.

            Simple fact is, enforce the laws, and players will play within them… If they don’t, the ref hasn’t ruined the game, he has enforced the laws of the game. A not so subtle difference.

        • April 20th 2017 @ 9:01am
          spruce moose said | April 20th 2017 @ 9:01am | ! Report

          “little fear of the bin”?

          This is the only time I will disagree with you today Tim. You are mistaken.

          You should have written “zero fear of the bin”.

          • Columnist

            April 20th 2017 @ 10:21am
            Tim Gore said | April 20th 2017 @ 10:21am | ! Report

            Marge, I’m not gonna lie to ya…

        • Roar Guru

          April 20th 2017 @ 4:04pm
          Cadfael said | April 20th 2017 @ 4:04pm | ! Report

          The question has to be asked, why are they afraid to use the bin. Greenberg came out the week before the season started and told all and sundry that referees were going to get tough on deliberately slowing down play especially in the attacking zone. What have we see. Sweet Fanny Adams. Yes the refs are afraid that using the bin could change the outcome of a game. On the other hand, not using the bin can change a match.

          On the forward pass, why can’t the bunker ruleon forward passes? There are lines every 10 metres on the field to help the bunker. The TMO in the other code can rule on forward passes why not here.

          Its frustrating to see players deliberately breaking the rules and nothing happens. I also like my union where referees are much more prone to banish a player for a professional foul.

          • April 20th 2017 @ 5:20pm
            Gray-Hand said | April 20th 2017 @ 5:20pm | ! Report

            They are afraid to use the bin because once they send someone to the bin (especially for a repeated minor infringement), every single decision they make or don’t make will come under the kind of scrutiny that a Kardashian would find intrusive. Any later mistake will get blown out of proportion and the accusations of incompetence, bias and the inability to control players will come thick and fast.

            With that sort of scrutiny, the likelihood of being dropped the following week will skyrocket.

      • Roar Rookie

        April 20th 2017 @ 10:36am
        Bunney said | April 20th 2017 @ 10:36am | ! Report

        Hi Tim,

        99% agree with you!

        The missing one-percent is where you cite an increase in penalties as a reason that Archer isn’t doing his job. Actually, there should be a penalty blown every single time there is an infringement. If that makes for poor viewing, so be it – that’s not the refs job.

        If the refereeing is to be fixed / improved, there should be a big upswing in penalties – its the only way to be consistent, which is what everyone is crying out for. The onus will then lie with the teams not to infringe, and win within the rules. It should work out that the upswing in penalties is short-lived.

        But as to your main premise about the boss not backing his charges – couldn’t agree more. Tony needs to read some management manuals. I recommend From Good to Great, by James Collins. Insightful.

    • April 20th 2017 @ 6:00am
      Mike from tari said | April 20th 2017 @ 6:00am | ! Report

      Tim, I am so pissed off by the inconsistencies by our referees, in a recent game my team was penalised once for “hand on the ball” in front of the posts, 2 points gone, yet that was the only penalty for that misdemeanour for the rest of the game despite at least 3 “hands on the ball” in every set & as everyone knows this “hands on the ball” happens in every tackle when teams defend their try line.

      • Columnist

        April 20th 2017 @ 8:02am
        Tim Gore said | April 20th 2017 @ 8:02am | ! Report

        I saw that exact thing in Warriors Vs Storm. Drove me nuts.
        My Clay Priest is the only NRL player to be sin binned for repeated infringements this season in a game we lost in golden point. That hurts.

    • April 20th 2017 @ 6:01am
      Crosscoder said | April 20th 2017 @ 6:01am | ! Report

      The day people stop complaining about refereeing decisions(at last reports they are human),will be the day when people are unable to form an opinion.

      Ever since Marco Polo laced on a pair of boots, there have been complaints about inconsistencies with refereeing.

      I’ve complained and regardlesss of who you get on board overseeing the set up, you will have the human factor involved Meaning an interpretation, that is different from another incident.

      I will say this ,after watching the code for yonks, the current set up whilst having its share of problems, is eons ahead of what transpired in the past.

      If you want perfection Tim,sorry you will never get it ,whilst a human is in control.Imperfection and errors happen in business,schools,sport and in the social sphere.Hell look at amazing decisions made in Courts of Law.

      • Roar Guru

        April 20th 2017 @ 6:58am
        The Barry said | April 20th 2017 @ 6:58am | ! Report

        The article isn’t about human error and refs making mistakes, it’s about the muddled processes that sit behind the refs and leave them out in the breeze.

      • Roar Guru

        April 20th 2017 @ 7:16am
        Magnus M. Østergaard said | April 20th 2017 @ 7:16am | ! Report

        This article is about Tony Archer not backing his referees, and, more importantly his sideline officials. That being said can we get Kasey Badger into a head referee role, she does not back down!

        • Columnist

          April 20th 2017 @ 7:28am
          Tim Gore said | April 20th 2017 @ 7:28am | ! Report

          Baz, always nice when someone gets it.
          NQC, No she does not.
          But ideally she’ll be a first grade ref first.
          If I’m going to be fair, Archer has supported Sleeman and K badger into top grade. Both good appointments.

          • Roar Guru

            April 20th 2017 @ 7:34am
            Magnus M. Østergaard said | April 20th 2017 @ 7:34am | ! Report

            If I have my memory in the right order Tim, I do believe Kasey is currently the head ref in many NSW Cup games and doing a wonderful job by all accounts, probably does need a years worth of experience there a couple of games as the pocket ref before she takes the step up. Also wonder if Sleeman has been doing a smiliar apprenticeship.

            And I’ll be honest, I was a bit worried when I read the headline. I have a comment down below thats awaiting moderation you might be keen t look at.

            • Columnist

              April 20th 2017 @ 8:03am
              Tim Gore said | April 20th 2017 @ 8:03am | ! Report

              She’s really good. Wouldn’t be there if she wasn’t. Belinda Sleeman is also doing well.

              • April 20th 2017 @ 9:09am
                Moonshot said | April 20th 2017 @ 9:09am | ! Report

                Marco Polo was the perfect RL player – kept on moving from club to club

    • April 20th 2017 @ 6:24am
      Stu said | April 20th 2017 @ 6:24am | ! Report

      After the performance of the refs in the raiders v warriors game id thought you’d be happy to be on the favourable end of a terribly inconsistent referring display.

      • Columnist

        April 20th 2017 @ 7:18am
        Tim Gore said | April 20th 2017 @ 7:18am | ! Report

        We definitely got a couple of calls, no question.
        But we didn’t Vs Cowboys. That’s always going to happen. Refs aren’t perfect. That’s why they need a boss who steadfastly protects them.

    • April 20th 2017 @ 6:31am
      Billy boy said | April 20th 2017 @ 6:31am | ! Report

      Lot of whinging over not much here.. I would hope our refs are a little bit tougher than you suggest.

      • Columnist

        April 20th 2017 @ 7:16am
        Tim Gore said | April 20th 2017 @ 7:16am | ! Report

        They are very tough but tough people require consistent direction and support to perform well or they’ll make more mistakes than usual. That means us fans get bad adjudicating. That’s what My ‘whinging’ was all about. Not toughness at all, about good refereeing and the environment needed to achieve it.

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