NRL touch judges are the elephants in the room

David Lord Columnist

By , David Lord is a Roar Expert

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    Every rugby league administrator at Kangaroo, Origin, and club level is fair game – open to the media and its criticism.

    Administrators are replaced if they’ve done the wrong thing, coaches and players are dropped for lack of form, but the referees seem to sail through without many ramifications for whatever errors they make.

    To criticise refs is runs the risk of a $10,000 fine or more for “bringing the game into disrepute”, but we rarely see out of form referees dropped for making the wrong calls.

    But there’s an elephant in the room – the touch judges.

    With four sets of eyes pinned on the play, how do so many apparent forward passes go begging, and how many offsides from downtown kicks go un-noticed, let alone the numerous times the attacking team takes off in front of the kicker to restart play?

    Often is the right word, despite the referee yelling “stay onside” before the kick.

    This should be the domain of the “touchies”. They should be extra vigilant in policing forward passes, calling offsides downtown, and watching for players being taken out not in possession.

    Invariably all three infringements happen before the build-up to a try, where decisions must be made to decide the outcome.

    NRL boss Todd Greenberg yesterday admitted referees make mistakes, and that nobody is perfect. What he didn’t say was how those mistakes will be treated by the NRL appointments board for next week.

    He also told Manly coach Trent Barrett and his Sharks counterpart Shane Flanagan to not blame referees for their teams’ early exits from the finals race.

    Manly Sea Eagles NRL coach Trent Barrett

    (AAP Image/Paul Miller)

    Barrett would’ve had more substance if he had he also mentioned the underdog Panthers enjoyed 51 per cent possession, scored three tries to two, ran 1644 metres to Manly’s 1536, and had 12 offloads to eight.

    The Panthers also managed 706 kick metres to 592, and missed 41 tackles to Manly’s 36. Yet the Panthers won 22-10.

    Likewise, Flanagan would’ve had more weight to his argument if he’d saluted the underdog Cowboys for coming back from 8-0 and 14-6 with 57 per cent possession, running 1934 metres to the Sharks’ 1721, with Cowboy wrecking ball Jason Taumalomo busting 256 metres to score a solo try.

    Had Flanagan also mentioned the Sharks missed 34 tackles to just 15, when defence has always been a Sharks’ strength, more fans would have taken notice.

    And Flanagan should’ve chipped his captain Paul Gallen for making the hero decision to go for the try when right in front of the black dot was one of the very best drop goal exponents in James Maloney to win the game 15-14.

    Instead, the Cowboys won 15-14 in extra time.

    But I’ll leave the last word to Todd Greenberg when he tells us why there was a drop of 30 per cent in crowd numbers for the first four games of the 2017 NRL finals series.

    He should concede that it’s at least partially due to many fans not having confidence in the decision-making abilities of some of the touchies and referees.

    David Lord
    David Lord

    David Lord was deeply involved in two of the biggest sporting stories - World Series Cricket in 1977 and professional rugby in 1983. After managing Jeff Thomson and Viv Richards during WSC, in 1983 David signed 208 of the best rugby players from Australia, New Zealand, Fiji, England, Ireland, Scotland, Wales and France to play an international pro circuit. The concept didn’t get off the ground, but it did force the IRB to get cracking and bring in the World Rugby Cup, now one of the world’s great sporting spectacles