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Better to be quick than correct: How the NRL screwed the Knights

Dylan Walker of the Sea Eagles (centre) celebrates after scoring the winning goal during the Round 8 NRL match between the Canberra Raiders and the Manly-Warringah Sea Eagles at GIO Stadium in Canberra, Friday, April 21, 2017. (AAP Image/Lukas Coch)
Expert
14th June, 2017
117
3140 Reads

On Friday night I watched in horror as the valiant but struggling Newcastle Knights were robbed of rightful victory because our game has become so screwed up that officials prioritise being quick over getting decisions right.

I looked on in dismay as the replays clearly showed Akuila Uate had dropped the ball and that Ash Klein’s decision to award the try without going to a review – especially in the shocking wet conditions – was a shocker.

The Knights – more than any other team right now – deserve the rules and rulings to be correct. When the Knights actually get close to beating a side it is horribly unfair that they get beaten by a wrong decision.

To stop it happening the answer is very simple: use video replays to check incidents and overrule wrong decisions.

This is so blindingly obvious a solution it makes me livid that people argue against it.

There are four types of people that are staunchly against the logical use of video replays to get rulings right.

The Saboteurs
A sabot is a wooden shoe that was worn by agrarian peasants in Europe. When the industrial revolution started impinging on their way of life through increased mechanisation, many of these peasants didn’t like it. They wanted things to remain the way they had been. They were scared of change. They thought they could fight it and win.

So they’d take their sabots off and throw them in the machinery to break it. Then they could go back to the way things were. Sabotage.

But of course they couldn’t… the change was inevitable.

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There are lots of rugby league fans out there who still yearn for bygone days when the sideburns were luxuriant, the Reschs was plentiful and the coverage of league was one game a week and covered by two black and white tube cameras with very few replays. These people see the video reviews as an unnecessary blight on the game.

“We didn’t need ‘em in my day and we were much happier for it!”

“We accepted the referees call and we got on with it!”

Here’s the problem with that old timer: the world has moved on. No one accepts the referee’s decision and just moves on anymore.

The refs know that if they get a call wrong – just like Jarrod Maxwell did the other night – that Tony Archer will drop them. The refs are instantly and continually assessed in every match by at least ten high definition cameras that cover every angle of the ground. These are accompanied with instant replays that the likes of Ray Hadley and Gus Gould can use to target an official’s competence as it unfolds.

Yet these rugby league saboteurs argue continually against video reviews and allowing the bunker to correct errors. So those errors stand, and the official gets dropped.

What a total crock of rubbish. Stop throwing your clogs in the machine old timers! If we just allowed overruling of these howlers we can get the calls right.

[latest_videos_strip category=”rugby-league” name=”League”]

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The “I’m alright Jacks.”
There are a lot of you in this category and you may not even realise it. Your argument goes along these very logical lines:

“We know referees will make mistakes. That is part of the game. It is ridiculous to suggest that their mistakes favour any teams. They surely even out.”

Both of these things are correct. Referees will make mistakes and it is virtually certain that they will even out amongst the clubs.

It is my contention that a majority of the people spruiking this line are supporters of five NRL clubs: The Storm, Roosters, Sea Eagles, Broncos and Bulldogs.

Why do I think this? Because over the 20 seasons of the National Rugby League those sides have been clearly the dominant teams. They have played in 47.5 per cent of the finals matches, 65.8 per cent of the grand finals and have won 63.1 per cent of the Premierships.

While the occasional close loss caused by a refereeing howler has certainly happened to them, they have still won far more than they’ve lost. Just look at these records:

Team Seasons Total games Matches won Win % Seasons made finals Finals played Grand final appearances Premierships
Storm 20 513 328 63.90% 16 40 7 4
Broncos 20 512 298 58% 17 38 4 3
Bulldogs 20 507 286 56.40% 13 33 4 1
Roosters 20 509 281 55.20% 12 35 6 2
Sea Eagles 17 421 228 54.10% 11 24 4 2
Dragons 19 472 243 51.50% 11 23 2 1
Eels 20 496 243 49% 9 22 2 0
Sharks 20 494 239 48.40% 10 20 1 1
Knights 20 500 238 47.60% 10 27 1 1
Raiders 20 493 230 46.60% 10 19 0 0
Panthers 20 486 224 46.10% 6 13 1 1
Warriors 20 491 224 45.60% 7 17 2 0
Cowboys 20 496 224 45.40% 9 23 2 1
Titans 11 258 112 43.40% 3 5 0 0
Wests Tigers 18 434 188 43.30% 3 9 1 1
Rabbitohs 18 431 173 40% 5 10 1 1

Basically, the supporters of those five clubs can better wear the injustice of a refereeing howler. They have the laurels of success to rest back on while they suck it up. Most clubs outside of the big five have basically been arguing over the scraps and have had extended periods of failure.

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When you support one of these struggling sides during a rough period and they are actually in with a chance to win a game – like the Knights were against the Sea Eagles last Friday – to have it cruelled by an easily correctable refereeing blunder hurts far more than the equivalent blunder hurts the supporters of a side entrenched in the top eight that has won a premiership in the last decade.

The Knights have won just seven games out of their last 57. That’s just 12 per cent. Yet in spite of this, they have averaged 15,000 fans to their games over that period. That’s hard core. That’s true belief. That’s the sort of rusted on support that the NRL should be falling over itself to protect.

There will be a large number of those supporters who don’t have that much. But when they rock up to the game they are part of something bigger. They are there in their army to urge their side to victory. When their boys get up they can feel great for days and life seems good. When they lose it can turn the world to shit. And if they get unjustly robbed it is just plain miserable. How those hardy Knights supporters keep backing up each game in such numbers amazes me.

The NRL as it presently runs is an incredibly unlevel playing field. There can be no draft to distribute talent because – unlike Major League Baseball, the AFL and the NFL – the best up and coming league players can just go to rugby union or overseas.

The cap doesn’t really even things out because players will take less money to play at the more competitive clubs.

Then the third party payments – along with the screamingly unfair distribution of free to air games that supports the status quo and drastically effects sponsorship dollars – have reduced the salary cap to a notional measure that does virtually nothing to stop inequity between the sides.

Newcastle Knights players Trent Hodkinson and Daniel Saifiti

(Photo: Joe Frost)

And the gap between the haves and have-nots is growing.

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The only way you can hope to triumph is to get truly lucky that a superstar – an Andrew Johns, Benji Marshall or Johnathan Thurston – appears in your ranks and actually stays.

Ensuring the rules are applied correctly and wrong decisions can be overturned is the only actual fairness that we can hope to have applied in the NRL. Using video replays to do that is a no brainer.

You supporters of the big five cannot truly feel the pain of the supporters of the lesser clubs. For you to glibly say that we who support the perennial loser sides have just got to wear refereeing mistakes because they happen to everyone – even though there is a clear mechanism that could fix so many of them – is infuriating to those of us who are desperate for a win to just keep our freaking sprits up.

All we basically hear coming out of your mouths is, “I’m alright Jack!”

I want you to take that sentiment, print it on a pineapple and shove it where the sun don’t shine.

The broadcasters
Somehow it has happened to our officials that their number one Key Performance Indicator is not how accurate their decisions are but how fast they make them. Jarrod Maxwell’s over eagerness to tell Ash Klein to award the Uate try makes this clear. This year we have seen a move towards making more and more live decisions.

Partially this push towards making decisions quickly and using the Bunker less is due to the pressure applied by the Saboteurs and the “I’m alright Jacks.” However, it is mostly down to the broadcasters wanting to keep to schedule.

When video replays first came in they were used constantly and every thing was checked. It could take an age. Put three or four such reviews into a half of football and it could take 60 minutes to elapse. Add golden point extra time to that and all of a sudden your match that started at 6pm and was scheduled to end at 7:30pm is hard up against, if not pushing into, the 7:50pm fixture.

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Think of all the post and pre-game banter that must be missed if this happens. But mostly think of all the ads that can’t be run. The broadcasters don’t pay billions for the rights so they can’t make money out of it. And neither should we expect them to. They need to sell advertising to make the deal work.

The delayed kick off times and extended half time breaks for State of Origin fixtures shows that they’ll happily stretch things out when it suits them. However, in general there is pressure for the schedule to be adhered to and too many reviews threatens that.

The video replay system is still in its relative infancy. Just like any new thing it has suffered from teething and implementation issues. No one runs before they can crawl. Over time, with patience and support, video replays will become more refined, precise and quicker. That cannot happen if we do not properly embrace them.

The NRL Bunker has been a major source of derision in 2016

And we must embrace them. I guarantee you that in 20 years people will be amazed that the use of video replays for getting decisions right and overturning bad calls was even contested.

The timing of broadcast schedules, while it must be considered, cannot overrule getting decisions right. I can think of no other business where someone says, “Well, we made the wrong decision but at least we made it quickly. No, we can’t change it now. We’ve got to stick with the wrong call because that bloke blew a whistle. Oh, and you’re laid off.”

The not-really-fans
These are the people who argue against the use of video replays to get decisions right because it makes the game go too long. They want a nice, succinct package to fit into their schedule before they go off and do other things.

If these people have something better to do than watch football can I suggest they go do it without delay. They clearly don’t care about a team because if they did they would never come up with such a ridiculous reason not to get decisions right.

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I’d be watching football right now if there was a live game on. I’m in mourning from October to February when it’s off-season. These people act like the football is an inconvenience to be endured. Forgive me if I don’t put any credence whatsoever in their opinion.

Jarrod Maxwell did not mean to cause the howler last Friday night that cost the Knights the game. He, and the other officials, have been served up a shit sandwich that has somehow prioritised being quick over getting it right.

His mistake was then entrenched by a system that inexplicably has no mechanism for overturning howlers, but plenty for castigating those that make them.

The above four types of people have gone a long way to causing this perfect storm of absurdity.

But only Todd Greenberg and his minions at NRL HQ can fix it. If only they had the balls or the inclination.