With only three wins between them this season, Saturday night’s clash between the Brisbane Broncos and Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs at Suncorp Stadium threatens to turn into a mockbuster.
So it’s finally happened: Robert Finch has decided to draw a close on his tenure as NRL referees coach. My initial reaction was a high volume “YAHOOOO,” as I thought back to the constant frustration of the past eight years as Finch lamely supported another dud refereeing decision in the face of a mountain of evidence.
I considered changing my lunch menu to include the biggest bottle of champagne I could afford from the local bottle-o, but then I figured I may be getting ahead of myself.
Then, almost incredibly, I started to feel sorry for Finch.
Recently, Finch has resembled a broken man. His previous act of refusing to accept any referee could have erred has given way to just rolling over and accepting another howler has been made.
In the past few weeks, Bill Harrigan and Sean Hampstead have been demoted after howlers in the video ref’s box. Harrigan and Hampstead, two of the games most experienced referees, unable to make the right call despite all the technology and time in their favour.
Given their form, you’d be hard pressed to leave them in charge of putting on a DVD for the family, let alone deciding the fate of a Grand Final.
If all the coaching and professionalism means these two blokes can’t work out whether a ball has been dropped or a bloke has been tackled without the ball, despite the use of a dozen of angles and replays, then you have to wonder what the hell has been the point.
Finch will be jeered from rugby league office for two reasons. One isn’t his fault, one is.
The first is that it isn’t so much a case of shooting the messenger, but rather beheading him and sticking his head on a stake out the front of the NRL offices as a reminder to the next bloke: “DON’T STUFF THIS UP”.
Finch became the public face of refereeing errors.
Referees wouldn’t admit a blue, he would do it for them. Finch became the sole reason your team lost, your weekend was ruined, you got teased at work, and your wife hated your guts.
You wanted the two points back, revenge, someone’s head. You had Finch mumbling about doing better next time.
You could see why someone could have had enough.
However, Finch must also bear some of the responsibility for the current problem. He wasn’t just the spokesman, he was the coach. Coaches are paid because teams are meant to do better with them. When the team doesn’t do well, that cash becomes a waste and the coach cops the heat.
Robert Finch has enjoyed salaried role as referee’s coach for eight years, and I’m not sure many people would feel that the refereeing has improved a great deal in that time.
Finch may argue people will never be satisfied with referees. That’s true.
But he is not helped by the fact that people also feel deeply dissatisfied with refereeing at present, that they would feel that under his watch, refereeing standards have gone backwards.
So that is him out.
The real debate for the NRL is what option should the NRL go for now. I’ll be clear in my opinion: NOT BILL HARRIGAN.
Talk about frying pans and fires. Harrigan would be possibly the worst call the game could make.
Harrigan has been a big part of the system which has failed to deliver the sort of results people would expect, so he can’t be rewarded. The man should remain on the lookout for cement trucks, not pick up a new set of business cards.
Personally, I’d like to see an ex-NRL coach trialled in the role. There are plenty of good ones about and the biggest problem at the moment seems to be the understanding of how the rules should be interpreted.
An NRL coach knows a massive amount about the game should also know about handling the press, picking a team, bringing through young talent, and kicking the odd bum at training.
Step forward Graham Murray.