When Bill Harrigan talks about rugby league referees, everyone must listen

David Lord Columnist

By David Lord, David Lord is a Roar Expert


32 Have your say

    Bill Harrigan is to rugby league referees what Don Bradman was to cricket – peerless.

    In a stellar career from 1986 to 2003, Harigan controlled 392 first grade games, including ten grand finals, as well as 21 Origins, and 25 Tests – all records.

    So when the now 57-year-old talks about the standard of referees, everyone must listen, for the benefit of the 13-man code.

    Headlines blazed when Sharks coach Shane Flanagan teed off blaming the refereeing for an early exit from the NRL finals series, and was followed by Manly coach Trent Barrett with his massive spray for the same reasons.

    Enter NRL boss Todd Greenberg with a spray of his own, fining Flanagan $30,000 and Barrett $20,000, and telling them both to grow up.

    Greenberg went on to explain referees must be a protected species, and while they make mistakes because they are human, they mainly get it right.

    Cold comfort for those teams sawn off by those human failings.

    Every administrator, coach, player, spomsor and fan are fair game for media attention, but not the whistlers. There would be a fair argument if by protecting refs they keep improving, but that’s certainly not the case.

    Enter Harrigan, who went a whole lot further in condemning his peers, adding if referees boss Tony Archer can’t lift the standard, show him the door. That’s mighty heavy ammunition being fired from the greatest referee of all time.

    Sure, Harrigan made mistakes during his long time at the top, but they were few and a long way apart.

    Harrigan’s success story had a simple formula, he was respected by all 26 players on the paddock because 99 per cent of his decisions were spot on, and he was the only referee.

    That was included in Harrigan’s spray to return to a sole referee, because two refs get in each other’s way, and with two touchies as well, today’s games are over controlled, and they still get it wrong.

    And that includes the multi-million-dollar Bunker, which wasn’t around in Harrigan’s day.

    It’s not as if Tony Archer was some rank and file referee, far from it.

    Between 1999 and 2012, Archer was a standout referee, with 319 first grade games, including three grand finals, along with 13 Origins and nine Tests – an impressive career.

    But it doesn’t matter where you look in rugby league, the pivotal area are the referees.

    Human error is acceptable to a point, but there are no excuses for missing forward passes, offsides, poor play the balls, and defenders lying all over the ball carrier, choking play.

    I haven’t watched every second of every game on television, but I’ve seen a fair bit. Not once has every player been on-side from the kick-off – not once. Yet there’s never been one penalty.

    It’s those obvious misses that don’t give referees any credit points, and lead to not trusting decisions.

    The way rugby league is played today is a credit to the fitness, athleticism and talent of the players. It’s up to the referees to lift their game as well.

    David Lord
    David Lord

    David Lord was deeply involved in two of the biggest sporting stories - World Series Cricket in 1977 and professional rugby in 1983. After managing Jeff Thomson and Viv Richards during WSC, in 1983 David signed 208 of the best rugby players from Australia, New Zealand, Fiji, England, Ireland, Scotland, Wales and France to play an international pro circuit. The concept didn?t get off the ground, but it did force the IRB to get cracking and bring in the World Rugby Cup, now one of the world?s great sporting spectacles

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    The Crowd Says (32)

    • September 20th 2017 @ 8:02am
      no one in particular said | September 20th 2017 @ 8:02am | ! Report

      The only thing bigger than Bill Harrigans ego is the Bill Harrigan myth. Horrible referee, only reffed one team and it all had to be about him

      • September 21st 2017 @ 3:13pm
        Peeko said | September 21st 2017 @ 3:13pm | ! Report


    • September 20th 2017 @ 8:38am
      jeandetroyes said | September 20th 2017 @ 8:38am | ! Report

      Your propensity for writing articles that I entirely disagree with is truly astounding! It’s just like you’re reading my mind.
      Bill Harrigan was highly controversial during his day and has been instrumental in creating this myth about himself ever since. All 26 players on the field respected him? You’d better go and have a talk with Gordon Tallis – but please invite me to come along when you do! Love to see that conversation.

      • September 20th 2017 @ 9:06am
        Marshall said | September 20th 2017 @ 9:06am | ! Report

        Gordie and Bill work together for TripleM almost on a weekly basis, and I can assure you there is plenty of mutual respect there.

        News flash, adults can have a disagreement/blow up and still respect each other.

    • September 20th 2017 @ 9:17am
      matth said | September 20th 2017 @ 9:17am | ! Report

      Wasn’t Harrigan the referees coach a while back and got sacked for his squad’s poor performance?

      • September 21st 2017 @ 3:14pm
        Peeko said | September 21st 2017 @ 3:14pm | ! Report

        Don’t let facts get in the way of davids story

    • September 20th 2017 @ 9:20am
      Lowdown said | September 20th 2017 @ 9:20am | ! Report

      Why do we need to listen to his ego-maniac – everything out of his mouth is critical of everyone but him. He is incapable of constructive advice. All he does is pull others down and builds himself up. He will feast on the carcass of NRL officiating for the rest of his days.

      • September 20th 2017 @ 1:46pm
        spruce moose said | September 20th 2017 @ 1:46pm | ! Report

        Talking about Harrigan or the author?

        • September 20th 2017 @ 5:04pm
          chump said | September 20th 2017 @ 5:04pm | ! Report

          At least Glenn Maxwell found his way into the australian squad despite Lord’s best efforts.

    • September 20th 2017 @ 9:27am
      Jacko said | September 20th 2017 @ 9:27am | ! Report

      Bill Harragan a great ref????Peerless?????Far out he was crap…..Useless….If he is the standard then no wonder they are in such dire straights

      • September 20th 2017 @ 10:34am
        Womblat said | September 20th 2017 @ 10:34am | ! Report

        This comment is pure wayward emotion with not a hint of proof, balance or respect… it’s like abusive blog graffiti.

        Just another sideline heckler with no solutions and nothing positive to offer.

        • Roar Rookie

          September 20th 2017 @ 5:45pm
          steveng said | September 20th 2017 @ 5:45pm | ! Report

          Rubbish Wombat!!! Its people like you (who haven’t or don’t know) RL and how it was and how it should be. Mr Lord has been a journalist for many years and has allot of expertise (which is far greater than you would ever have) on the game of RL. The refereeing in the NRL is going from bad to disastrous and if you and many people like you are in ‘denial’ then this wonderful game is in trouble and will disappear, as it will die a slow death the way that it is run and refereed these days!!! The writing is on the wall and you don’t have to be an expert to see what is happening.

          • September 20th 2017 @ 9:34pm
            Womblat said | September 20th 2017 @ 9:34pm | ! Report

            I wasn’t talking about Mr Lord you genius. Follow the thread if you can. Do you even understand how they work and that I’m was supporting Mr Lord? I was talking about the hateful anti-Harrigan comment left by who is obviously a good friend of yours.

            Amazing the likes of you presume to know what I know about Rugby League. That’s called arrogance and you and Jacko both have it in spades. Congratulations on that but it’s worth nothing.

            Communication failures like the one you’ve exhibited are woeful.

            • Roar Rookie

              September 21st 2017 @ 9:27am
              steveng said | September 21st 2017 @ 9:27am | ! Report

              Right you are, it should have been aimed at ‘Jacko’ I take it back.

              • September 21st 2017 @ 10:27am
                Womblat said | September 21st 2017 @ 10:27am | ! Report

                No worries, all good.

    • September 20th 2017 @ 9:54am
      Ron Norton said | September 20th 2017 @ 9:54am | ! Report

      Can’t believe there are so many Bill Harrigan haters around. Every word of David Lord’s article is spot on. There may have been a couple of referees as good before him, but certainly NONE since. From memory, Harrigan wasn’t sacked as referees boss for incompetence … he was merely shoved aside like all others with rugby league knowledge when John Grant and his merry band of NRL Directors came into existence.