There is plenty of talk about crowd numbers being dismal for an NRL finals series and loads of reasons are put out there as to why.
Fixture timings, locations, public transport, the teams that are playing (interstate fans), and the ‘watch-ability’ of rugby league on the TV, right through to the price of tickets and hot dogs – these are all paraded out as reasons why these stadiums aren’t being filled.
Sure, some or all of those things are factors for some of the fans, some of the time. But none of these things will be a factor all of the time. None of these things are turning people away from the game itself.
Having three coaches from four games played on the weekend getting stuck into referees in the press conference is certainly not a good look for the game. But one thing that will turn people away from the game for good is being emotionally invested in a rugby league team and continually watching them lose games of football based off the poor or, even worse, inconsistent decisions of referees.
This is especially noticeable when it is costing your team a finals spot or a game within the finals.
I can feel for the Cowboys in years gone by and I certainly felt for the Titans last year. The fact the Cowboys may (or may not) have got one back from the universe for being ‘unlucky’ in previous years does not help the Manly fans this year.
Paul Kent said in his article on Monday that “no other game in the world questions its officials like rugby league”. While I would beg to differ on that point, especially when it comes to European football, I would also say that no other game in the world has referees that are so consistently inconsistent.
Every week we have howlers from our referees that are inexcusable. From a blatant knock on in front of the ref to a Bunker who gets to watch it multiple times in slow-mo and still comes up with a way to get it wrong, there’s no justification.
I bet if you asked all of the refs to rule on a send-off right now we would get plenty of different answers.
From game to game, the same referees are making different decisions on the same pieces of play. How are we supposed to get different referees to be consistent with each other?
Todd Greenberg said that the game needs to grow up. I say Todd Greenberg and all of his recent predecessors going back to David Gallop need to wake up.
Wake up to the fact that their referees are not improving. Not a single bit. Protecting them and fining coaches for calling out their incompetent performance is not going to help.
The fan that has just seen his team dudded wants his coach to rip into the referees as much as his players do. Like it or not, when that coach gets fined, that fan gets even more pissed off.
Now I can see those wanting to protect the referees now lining up to have a crack at me. But I doubt very few of you would say that Shane Flanagan, Trent Barrett and Brad Arthur have not a single thing to complain about – and you’re probably ready to tell me the refs weren’t the difference in three of the four finals games played on the weekend.
Then tell me this, how, in a competition that is meant to provide such an even playing field with an even salary paid out by each club, are teams supposed to win games when refereeing decisions appear to be so wrong?
Yet we want to focus on how many missed tackles or errors a team made, like it is impossible to win a game with so many errors or missed tackles.
Don’t get me wrong. I was delighted with the Cowboys getting over the Sharks and will still not give up a chance to stick it to a Sharkie fan if given the opportunity.
My little brother is a Manly fan and I will have no problem telling him that both the calls Barrett was blowing up about were more than likely right calls. Parramatta, on the other hand, had every right to be upset with the refereeing after really taking it to Melbourne on Saturday night. No explanations will convince Parramatta fans the first two Melbourne tries were iron-clad correct decisions.
On the flip side, Parramatta could have had players in the bin at one point in the second half. But I guess that’s my point. Some of the controversial decisions detracted from a fantastic spectacle.
Shane Flanagan is right. We can forget about these other reasons crowd numbers are so low because fans being gutted by refereeing is a bigger problem for the NRL than how long it takes to get a park at a Sydney stadium or the price of a hot dog.
Those fans that don’t turn up to games for these reasons aren’t lost to the game. They’re still sitting at home cheering on their team.
The NRL just has to find a way to do better.