Blaming the referee is an old and tired excuse

Mary Konstantopoulos Columnist

By Mary Konstantopoulos, Mary Konstantopoulos is a Roar Expert


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    There’s nothing more boring and predictable in rugby league than a coach deciding to blame the referees at a presser for their team’s loss.

    We’ve seen this twice in the last two weeks – last week Ricky Stuart decided it was appropriate to blast the referees after the Canberra Raiders lost to the Melbourne Storm and this week Paul McGregor did the same after the St George Illawarra Dragons lost to the Newcastle Knights.

    Let’s start with the game last weekend.

    The Storm beat the Raiders 20-14. In the post-match press conference, rugby league fans were treated to a five-minute speech from Stuart on why referees need to be held more accountable. According to Stuart, he received ’47 texans’ (read texts) from people after the game commenting on how hard done by his team was.

    The key for Stuart is accountability – apparently as a coach he has to sit in press conferences ‘every friggin’ week and answer questions’. His players are held accountable by the media, the fans and coaching staff. But for Stuart, the one group that is not held accountable enough are our referees.

    I don’t have a problem with coaches making suggestions about how the game should be administered. Open dialogue is important. A game that does not take ideas and suggestions from key stakeholders is one that will not move forward. But I do have a problem with the way Stuart decided to conduct himself. Not because it was offensive or inappropriate – but just because it felt to me like he was passing-the-buck. It felt like a cop-out.

    Interestingly, Stuart also blew up about how his team were treated by the referees, but there was no mention of the controversial incident in that game which very much worked in his team’s favour.

    While Stuart was cranky about the decision to let the Storm play on after Suliasi Vunivalu picked up a Raiders’ play-the-ball following a Melbourne infringement to score, that was a decision that was eventually overturned by the bunker. A decision that wasn’t overturned though was the decision to let Sia Soliola stay on the field after he had almost taken Billy Slater’s head off with a high tackle.


    (AAP Image/Mick Tsikas)

    I often find that in rugby league, much like in life, sometimes the call goes your way and other time it doesn’t. I like to believe that in the end, it all evens up.

    The reality is, Canberra were well and truly in this game, but they failed to convert their opportunities. They had 50 per cent of possession, had 11 offloads and made four line breaks. Conversely, they also had a 68 per cent completion rate, missed 30 tackles and made 13 errors.

    Even without Billy Slater and Cameron Smith on the field, Canberra were not good enough to win.

    Instead of going on a five-minute tirade about the referee’s, Stuart should have recognised that and owned it.

    You know who else wasn’t good enough to win? The Dragons against the Knights on Saturday.

    Let’s put this into perspective. The Dragons are a team that have absolutely surprised everyone this year, particularly after the way they started the season with six wins from their first seven games.

    It has gone downhill in recent weeks and this fall from grace culminated in a loss against the bottom-placed Knights on Saturday. With this loss their finals hopes are in serious danger.

    But instead of focusing on the Dragons sub-par performance, McGregor chose to focus on the calls that went against his team.

    Granted, I see this game as slightly different to the game between the Storm and the Raiders because there were two controversial decisions made in the first half. The first was a ‘no try’ decision for Tim Lafai because Jason Nightingale was ruled to have knocked on while contesting a bomb (despite the fact that he was falling backwards). The second decision happened only a couple of minutes later. Nene Macdonald was called back after Trent Hodkinson dived on the ball in the lead-up to Macdonald’s 90-metre dash. This dive from Hodkinson was ruled as interference.

    In his press conference, McGregor called the effort by the referee’s ‘embarrassing and incompetent’.

    I wouldn’t go so far as to label the Dragons performance ‘embarrassing and incompetent’ but the facts are this. The Dragons had 50 per cent possession but only managed to complete 62 per cent of their sets. Despite having seven line breaks and 17 offloads, the Dragons also made 15 errors and managed to only score 14 points against a team that has only won three games in the last two years.

    With all that in mind, it looks to me like refereeing is being used as an excuse.

    There have been some suggestions that coaches are now blaming referees as a tactic. After Stuart’s five minute speech, there was very little time to question him about his team’s performance or about the Soliola incident. Likewise, McGregor on Sunday. If that’s the tactic, then it certainly worked to deflect attention from the poor games that each of these two teams have had in recent weeks.

    While Stuart may not think that referees are held to account enough, I also think that as fans we often forget how challenging a job refereeing is. According to Todd Greenberg, a head referee, on average, makes 400 crucial decisions in 80 minutes. In all, 40 of these decisions are fifty-fifty decisions and could go either way.

    On average a referee makes eight errors per game – which seems insignificant. The problem of course, is that not all errors are created equally.

    Being a coach is one of the toughest jobs in footy. When the team wins it’s ‘full credit to the boys’, but when the team loses, the coach is the first one to be called out and held responsible.

    But surely, coaches can be more gracious in press conferences and accept when their teams are beaten by the better team – as was the case in both these games.

    Mary Konstantopoulos
    Mary Konstantopoulos

    Mary Konstantopoulos is a lawyer, sports advocate and proud owner and founder of the Ladies Who empire, including Ladies who League, Ladies who Legspin, Ladies who Lineout and Ladies who Leap. You can find her podcast on iTunes and find her on Twitter @mary__kaye and @ladieswholeague.

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    The Crowd Says (74)

    • August 1st 2017 @ 8:09am
      kk said | August 1st 2017 @ 8:09am | ! Report

      Hi Mary,

      Rugby League has only one referee with the skill required to his job
      commensurate with the standard now delivered by players.

      His name is Matt Cecchin.

      • August 1st 2017 @ 1:48pm
        Albo said | August 1st 2017 @ 1:48pm | ! Report

        Sorry Max ! I can’t agree with you on this one.
        Did you see Cecchin’s inept display in NZ last Friday night ? Apart from some very dubious penalties and decisions throughout , there was one real shocker that changed the course of the match when the Warriors were on a roll getting back into the game ( at 12-14). Giving a penalty & “put on report” a Warriors ball carrier because his tackler knocked himself out due to his own poor tackling technique ? Rightfully the “reported” player subsequently had nothing to answer for, but the ridiculous decision right when the Warriors had all momentum and were coming to get the Sharks, changed the course of the game with the Sharks scoring off that very set of 6 that Cecchin had gifted them. Maybe he was told adjudicate that way by the bunker officials ? Either way , the decision was patently wrong and had a significant impact on the match.
        Just like the players, all the refs / officials have good and bad games. I wouldn’t be singling out any one of them for any special awards. None of them are consistently applying the rules of the game, in favour of confecting a preferred exhibition that seems to be mandated from the top ?

        • August 1st 2017 @ 4:35pm
          kk said | August 1st 2017 @ 4:35pm | ! Report

          I defer to the Right Honourable Member for Penrith on this one particular game.

          If a point score was kept on Referees Performances during a season I am confident
          Matt Cecchin would top the list. He was also appointed as Head Referee for Origin.

          May I take this opportunity of thanking you for your informative opinions on a variety
          of topics concerning the game we both love dearly. May the run continue.

          BTW Albo, could you advise on emoluments earned by NRL referees, linesmen and
          bunkermen. Whatever it is I have a feeling they may be underpaid. I had previously
          asked Mary, but she must have missed my post.

          • August 2nd 2017 @ 2:10pm
            Albo said | August 2nd 2017 @ 2:10pm | ! Report

            Geez Max ! “emoluments” ? Aren’t they the residences just off Darlinghurst Rd ?
            I have no idea how much our match officials are paid for their fine work, but I suspect it won’t be a performance based structure ! And I reckon some of them are over using the RDO ‘s !

      • August 1st 2017 @ 7:11pm
        Dr Chop said | August 1st 2017 @ 7:11pm | ! Report

        You’ve gotta be joking. Cecchin is one of the worst going round and has been for years. Just because he’s been around for ages and refs big games, doesn’t mean he’s good.

    • August 1st 2017 @ 8:30am
      Wascally Wabbit said | August 1st 2017 @ 8:30am | ! Report

      You’re right Mary.
      The funny thing is coaches call for consistency from the refs, yet are so inconsistent themselves.
      Has a coach ever faced the media after winning a game because of refereeing blunders and said
      ” You all saw what happened, we shouldn’t have won that game – there has to be an investigation ! ”
      Can’t say I have.

      What I suggest is that every NRL coach get their referee ticket ( if they don’t already have one ), and next year when their team has the bye mid season, go and referee an U/15s game in their district, just so they can have a small taste of what the officials have to go through.
      Might just temper the whingeing a bit.

      • Columnist

        August 1st 2017 @ 10:54am
        Mary Konstantopoulos said | August 1st 2017 @ 10:54am | ! Report

        Great comment, wascally! And completely agree with you.

        I remember interviewing Kasey Badger last year and I didn’t really appreciate how challenging it is for referee’s. Not only do they need to be as fit as the players to keep up, but as I mentioned they are making 400 crucial decisions per game.

        They will make mistakes and they should be held accountable – but blaming them for a loss? Give me a break.

        • August 1st 2017 @ 3:03pm
          Womblat said | August 1st 2017 @ 3:03pm | ! Report

          How is “being held accountable” and “being blamed” different Mary?

          Ricky has a point and being a football coach and not a diplomat, I’m not surprised he delivered it less than gracefully. And not once did I hear him say he was robbed. I think he was critical of all aspects of the referees performance, not just those that went against him. And was Cecchin or Archer sitting next to him? Have they ever been at a press conference justifying their performance? Nope. They just hide behind that $10,000 threat and their $150,000 a year pay packet, which anyone else would have to justify. Not fair.

          NRL referees just aren’t accountable. Everyone else is, right up to Greenberg. And it starts with throwing your hands up, and facing the music for it.

          And pointing out deficiencies in the performance of a paid employee isn’t illegal in Australia… except if it’s an NRL referee.

          • August 1st 2017 @ 3:57pm
            Wayne Turner said | August 1st 2017 @ 3:57pm | ! Report

            Regarding the Dragons bunker decisions that were wrong: Nightingale never knocked on.It went back,and never hit SKD after hitting Nightingale. Bunker wrong.

            Hodkinson was in front of the Knights kicker,so he was offside and doesn’t come into play – All failed to be mentioned by the bunker and Archer.Plus,he took a bit of a dive,and was never going to stop Nene – Have a look how far away he was from the play.They ruled James Graham wasn’t going to stop Penrith from scoring,yet he was interfered with.So that should have been the case for fara away,and offside anyway Hodkinson.

            • August 1st 2017 @ 8:42pm
              Chris Wright said | August 1st 2017 @ 8:42pm | ! Report

              I think this is a big point that has not had much airplay. I can understand to some extent getting judgment calls wrong such as Nightingales knock on. But when it is black and white rulings like Hidgkinsons that is when the Bunker needs to answer. Hodgkinson was offside. It was the first infraction. But this was not even looked at by the bunker even though commentators quickly picked it up. Why was it not picked up when there is not just one Bunker Ref but three?

          • August 1st 2017 @ 4:56pm
            Sammy the Tank said | August 1st 2017 @ 4:56pm | ! Report

            Then and become a referee…you have all the solutions then just do it. Seriously, we need people who are passionate about becoming a referee, and you seem passionate about it. Let me know how you go.

            • August 3rd 2017 @ 12:12pm
              Womblat said | August 3rd 2017 @ 12:12pm | ! Report

              Been there done that keyboard warrior. 15 years, 1000 games, 350 of them A grade.

              How about you?

    • Roar Guru

      August 1st 2017 @ 8:38am
      The Barry said | August 1st 2017 @ 8:38am | ! Report

      Hear, hear.

      I have no problem with coaches commenting on referees mistakes but this folded arm, bottom lip out “they cost us the game” attitude is salty, puerile and screams bad sportsmanship.

      Especially sitting there after your team has lost to one of the poorest performing teams of all time.

      60% completion rate, errors and missed tackles all over the place, but yeah the refs cost you the game.

      One of your players just tried to decapitate an opponent, didn’t get matched. But yeah refs cost you the game. It’s

      If six year olds came off the field whining about refs like professional coaches do you’d pull them into line quick smart.

      There was a joker on the Roar blog refs faulting Manlys loss to the Storm after the game. What was the score? 40-4 or something. It’s absolutely lame and wouldn’t have been tolerated in years gone by.

      • Columnist

        August 1st 2017 @ 10:55am
        Mary Konstantopoulos said | August 1st 2017 @ 10:55am | ! Report

        Could not have said it better myself ‘The Barry’. There is a massive difference between calling out mistakes and pouting.

        • August 4th 2017 @ 12:46am
          Rachel said | August 4th 2017 @ 12:46am | ! Report

          I notice you only reply to people who agree with you Mary, pretty pathetic really! I love the way Sia’s late arm on Slater gives you and others fodder for vilianising a good ma and great sportsman who has played more than 200 games and has never been on report. It’s cheap shots like the one you made along with a good portion of the media that taints an otherwise spotless record. He is one of the most humble, fair sportsman in the NRL,

      • August 1st 2017 @ 7:42pm
        Craig said | August 1st 2017 @ 7:42pm | ! Report

        Especially when you’ve just had one of your blokes take someones head off who should’ve been sent-off. Ricky regularly benefits from such calls and fails to mention that.

        The storm had also had a try disallowed for the storm bloke being in the play the ball, yet when the ref sent it upstairs he said “I’m ok with the play the ball”, yet the bunker overruled him.

        1 clear ruling that (send off) that gave Canberra a sniff of a chance that they shouldn’t have had, and another ruling (that I think the bunker called correctly tbh) that could easily have gone against the raiders and didn’t.

        It’s downright embarrassing the childish outbursts from sticky and co.

    • Roar Guru

      August 1st 2017 @ 8:45am
      Con Scortis said | August 1st 2017 @ 8:45am | ! Report

      Hi Mary Alphabet

      I recall a match between Souths and Parra from a few years ago. My Rabbitohs were the favourites but fumbled and bumbled their way throughout the match, making copious errors and poor decision making.

      Cut to the closing minutes. There was 30 seconds left and the Eels dropped the ball 10 metres from their try line – this was our last chance!!

      The Rabbitohs forwards scrambled to form a scrum. Reyno and GI were ready to conjure up a golden finish. But the Eels players dawdled and before we had time to form the scrum, the ref called full-time.

      Some Bunnies fans were ropeable: The ref stole it from us!! He denied us the opportunity to win it!! He should have called time-off!! Bl___dy ref!!

      I took the view that if we couldn’t win it in the previous 79 1/2 minutes then we only had ourselves to blame. The same applies to the two matches you highlighted. Both the Raiders and Dragons had their opportunities.

      • Columnist

        August 1st 2017 @ 12:35pm
        Mary Konstantopoulos said | August 1st 2017 @ 12:35pm | ! Report

        Completely agree with you Con – it is always easier to blame someone else.

      • August 1st 2017 @ 2:04pm
        Duncan Smith said | August 1st 2017 @ 2:04pm | ! Report

        Exactly right. see the big picture.

    • August 1st 2017 @ 9:04am
      Oingo Boingo said | August 1st 2017 @ 9:04am | ! Report

      I agree 100% about the two examples given , but the standard of refereeing has become average at best .
      The issue here is , as youve pointed out, that the coaches only complain about the rulings that go against them , if their player plays the ball towards the side line and they score a try off the back of it , all is good , if the opposition gets away with it they have a conniption.
      If they were to be genuine enough to make a comment about how they were lucky to get away with it and the refs need to police this kind of thing more actively, maybe we would take them more seriously.
      The Roosters are coming second and I am wrapped , but the overall state of the game is becoming hard to watch , and I for one , am not happy to see my team win on the back of dubious decisions , it tends to take the gloss off it a bit.

      • August 1st 2017 @ 9:08am
        KingCowboy said | August 1st 2017 @ 9:08am | ! Report

        Average at best? Get over it and just enjoy the game for what it is. Everything isn’t always clear cut. You win some and you lose some.

        • August 1st 2017 @ 9:34am
          Oingo Boingo said | August 1st 2017 @ 9:34am | ! Report

          I , and it would seem many , struggle to enjoy the game due to the fact that the rules have been watered down to some kind of vague guidelines .

          • Columnist

            August 1st 2017 @ 12:36pm
            Mary Konstantopoulos said | August 1st 2017 @ 12:36pm | ! Report

            But is that the referee’s fault? If it’s the rules that have been watered down, then surely that just makes it harder for referee’s to make decisions?

            • August 1st 2017 @ 1:10pm
              Oingo Boingo said | August 1st 2017 @ 1:10pm | ! Report

              Ya miles off the mark here Mary , the rules still say ..
              A ball propelled towards your own tryline is a forward pass and that you have to face your tryline when playing the ball on top of that I’d say Somewhere near 50% of players step over the ball when playing it ,
              These are rules .
              The refs have almost become redundant , except for in scoring or foul play situations, and I for one am over this pathetic defence of them.
              Obviously they are instructed by other people not on the field ( having said that the players seem to have plenty to say most if the time ) who are in a position to change attitudes towards adjudicating properly.
              There is a problem here and sticking ya head in the sand will only see it get worse .

              • Columnist

                August 1st 2017 @ 1:24pm
                Mary Konstantopoulos said | August 1st 2017 @ 1:24pm | ! Report

                OB, I wasn’t commenting on a particular rule – more than you said that the rules have been muddied down to vague guidelines. How is a person meant to make a definitive decision if all they have are vague guidelines?

              • August 1st 2017 @ 1:38pm
                Oingo Boingo said | August 1st 2017 @ 1:38pm | ! Report

                It is their interpretation, that is the watered down version, the rules are still quite clear.

        • August 1st 2017 @ 7:55pm
          Rob said | August 1st 2017 @ 7:55pm | ! Report

          Mary, at the end of the day the players can only play to the best of their abilities. Unfortunately the officials have a huge ability to influence the outcome.
          An example of how a ref can control the momentum and result of a game can be viewed every weekend at present.

    • August 1st 2017 @ 9:06am
      KingCowboy said | August 1st 2017 @ 9:06am | ! Report

      I agree 100% Mary. Every year it is the same rubbish from coaches and people in the media. This is why there is so many issues with Junior Footy. People like Phil Gould, destroy Refs in their TV roles and then in his role with the Panthers are critical of people for having a go at Refs at Junior Footy. Is it all cause and effect like stuff. It needs to stop!!!!

      • Columnist

        August 1st 2017 @ 12:52pm
        Mary Konstantopoulos said | August 1st 2017 @ 12:52pm | ! Report

        I think what infuriates me the most is when commentators make comments about decisions and don’t understand the rules. Fans listen to commentators and this can be extremely damaging.