The Roar
The Roar


Who actually owns the NRL rule book?

Roar Guru
29th May, 2012
Roar Guru
29th May, 2012
1245 Reads

State of Origin has highlighted the crisis that the NRL has on its hands at the moments around the officiating of the game. From referees to rule makers there is a genuine problem that the NRL needs to address.

Forget whether you think Inglis’s try was or wasn’t a try for a moment – let’s look at the official interpretation.

The explanation given by referees boss Bill Harrigan was that if Farah didn’t play at the ball with his foot it should be a knock on.

However, if Farah did play at the ball then we have to look at what Inglis’s intentions were. If Inglis played at the ball then it should also have been ruled a knock on.

So if Farah played at the ball but Inglis didn’t then it should be deemed a try. Fair dinkum?

How can such a simple game come up with such a convoluted rule for such a straightforward process?

How can a rule designed to eliminate the ‘grey areas’ be so reliant on a video ref making a judgement call on the intentions of players 100 metres away?

It’s either a knock or it’s not. Simple.


There are so many examples of these in every game, every weekend. From groundings to strips, from charge-downs to high tackles, where rules are made more complicated than they need to be.

Why is Bill Harrigan in charge of what rules are in vogue, what rules will be targeted and what will be ignored? I’m not so convinced that he’s the man at NRL headquarters that understands what’s best for the game.

For example, at the start of the year a big deal was made of players having to have their “body mass” (whatever that is) behind the referee to be considered onside. What’s happened to that now?

The refs are standing back 13 metres and letting teams stand three metres in front of them. Listen to crowds baying for offside penalties – there’s no way of knowing in an NRL game when a player is onside or off.

Why did this change?

A few weeks ago Bob Fulton and Wayne Bennett came out and said the game was slow and boring. The refs came out for a fortnight and gave a few penalties in the ruck and have since forgotten all about it.

There is absolutely no transparency as to why or how rules become a major focus or are suddenly shelved.


Then there’s the issue of the video ref. Has this really improved the game? The video ref in super slow mo is just as likely to get it wrong as the men on the field, particularly when they’re not supported by the rules, as in the Inglis decision.

Maybe it’s time to empower the refs on the field to make the call and allow captains the opportunity to challenge. Say two decisions per half as they do in other sports.

The rules around grounding the ball had to be changed from having control of the ball to having contact with the ball (separation) because you can’t deem control on a slow motion replay. Isn’t making a rule to suit the referee or the technology putting the cart before the horse?

The refs themselves cop a hard time and more than they deserve, but how many good refs are there out there?

I’m not going to name names but I can think of very few. There’s plenty of Barry Crockers.

The selection of Cummins and Cecchin for Origin 1 with one game between them was diabolical and setting them up to fail.

At your work do you send out two inexperienced staff members together to handle the biggest job of the year?


I would have thought blooding them one at a time with an experienced ref who can help them into the game would be a no-brainer.

How do we improve the qualities of refs? I don’t know but that should be Harrigan’s job, not changing the laws of the game or publicly commenting on every referee decision.

Wouldn’t punters rather hear from Sean Hampstead as to the reasons why he allowed the Inglis try rather than having ‘Hollywood’ explain it two days later?

There is also the issue of knee-jerk rule changes. A case in point was Origin 1, Akuila Uate was returning the ball from a kick when he was ankle tapped by Nate Myles. As a result he fell and a Cameron Smith shoulder charge connected with Uate’s head. I’m not suggesting for one second that Smith should have been penalised.

However earlier in the season Frank Pritchard, Manu Vatuvei, Ben Te’o and Matt Prior all had to face charges because of shoulder charges where the attacking players head dropped suddenly, for a variety of reasons, as they reached the point of impact.

Smith’s shoulder definitely made contact with Uate’s head. It could have been much worse because Smith’s arm was rising in much the same way Matt Prior’s was.

Smith’s case is different because Uate fell much further and much quicker than the others but my point is what is the benchmark? How far does an attacking player’s head have to drop before a shoulder charge to the head is considered legal?


This type of hit has been considered legal for over 100 years and can be evidenced in recent times by high profile hits by Pritchard on Wade Graham and Simon Dwyer on Jared Waerea-Hargreaves.

Because of the recent focus of the long term effects of concussion the NRL rushed to outlaw this type of tackle but now we potentially have a situation where we’re again left with someone at headquarters making a completely subjective call on whether one of these tackles is legal or not, with no guideline to work off.

I’m not saying these tackles shouldn’t be banned, but the NRL changed over 100 years of interpretation over the space of a weekend because of public opinion. Rules shouldn’t be changed on that basis.

Then there’s the issue of respect. Respect is a two way street. At the moment we have refs who speak down terribly to players and players who whose communication with refs leaves a lot to be desired.

I think a big part of this problem starts with refs insisting on calling players by their first names. Familiarity breeds contempt. “Braith, Braith, back with me Braith.” “Jamie, Jamie, get off him Jamie” doesn’t really engender respect.

The refs need to call the player by number and the player needs to call the ref sir. No one likes the look in soccer when the ref makes a decision and is surrounded by eleven protesting players. I fear that’s where we’re headed.

The NRL needs to crack down on captains continually questioning the refs. Every team does it.


If a ref penalises a team for a strip or offside or a high shot, does the captain really need to have a pow-wow to work out why the penalty was given? Limit the opportunity for captains to question the ref.

After Gallen’s outburst towards then end of Origin there were a couple of disturbing incidents in Monday night’s Bulldogs v Roosters match.

After Sam Kasiano had a try disallowed for interference, Michael Ennis questioned the ref (as is his right) as to why the try was disallowed. He must have dropped the F-bomb four times, completely unnecessarily, in a 10 second discussion.

I’m no prude but what are we coming to? Back in my day if you swore in the general vicinity of the ref you would at best get a stern talking to and at worst spend 10 in the bin.

Later in the game Braith Anasta went hard at referee Jason Robinson who he felt had missed a knock on. Anasta asked how two refs and a touch judge could have missed it and then asked if they needed three refs out on the field.

Neither of these incidents should have been tolerated.

But how can the NRL sanction Ennis or Anasta after letting Gallen getting away with it in the game’s showpiece event?


Johnathan Thurston got off scot-free from a four letter tirade aimed specifically at the referee

Finally there’s the wrestle. It’s pointless blaming coaches and players for the wrestle – they’ll look for any advantage they can get. The onus is on the refs to stop it.

When I grew up watching and playing the game, if you tackled someone and then rolled them on their back and lay all over them it would be a penalty every day of the week. When did that change? Why?

The wrestle would be a thing of the past by next week if refs penalised any second movements once an attacking player was on the ground.

Look at some of the Chooseday Night games on Fox from the early 90’s. There’s no wrestle, there’s no constant milking of penalties by the tackled player, defenders get up quickly and so do the attacking players.