We need a new perspective on NRL refereeing ‘woes’

Madrid john Roar Rookie

By Madrid john, Madrid john is a Roar Rookie


37 Have your say

    The next time your team loses and you want to howl about the bleeding ref, think about these numbers.

    On game day, you team’s 17-member squad is pulling in something like $3.4 million bucks, while the best NRL refs might earn as much as a $100,000. “A top NRL referee reportedly earns between $50,000 and $100,000 a season. The average player salary is $200,000 and the minimum wage is $75,000.”

    On top of that, let us not forget that players have the support of their teammates, clubs, coaches, trainers, physios, managers, publicists, hair stylists and astrologists! Who do the refs have in their corner? And yet, we want to hang our team’s defeat around their necks?

    What got me thinking about this issue, and it is an unflattering one for the NRL, was watching the Wallabies versus the All Blacks last night. (Please, Rugby War Vikings stop reading now. Plenty of other posts for ye to grind that axe.)

    Anyone who saw the match would have to admit the win was well deserved. Not just because of the Wallabies’ passion and effort, but because they had to overcome several crucial referring decisions against them when the game was on the line; I had to take a deep breathe or I would have written blunders. (No, I won’t go into them, watch the game yourself!)

    What struck me as a lifelong NRL fan was the reaction from the commentators. No ranting or whingeing, just a balanced discussion about what the ref may have or have not seen. They were philosophical about the ref and quickly moved on to comments about “overcoming set-backs” and “having a winning mindset.”

    With ten minutes to go, sure enough, the All Blacks copped a ‘bad call’. Once again, the commentators maintained their perspective.

    While they did say the Wallabies got lucky, which given the closeness of the game and the All Blacks’ attacking field position, was undeniable, they did not use loaded phrases like, “looks like the ref is having a square up!” They were putting the onus where it ought to be, upon the players to win the game they are trained and paid so much to play.

    I even sat through the post-match wrap-up expecting to see slow-motion replays dissected and Wayne Barnes’ abilities as a ref called into question. But no, not a sausage. Admittedly the Wallabies did win, so the close calls were less of an issue.

    However, the Wallabies have lost big matches recently, not least another close one with the All Blacks and I don’t recall much of an issue made of the refs. It was really quite refreshing, dare I say professional.

    One final point is the futility of so much public scrutiny of NRL referees. It must be a huge distraction for the whistle blowers.

    In the back of their minds, there must be a little voice critiquing every call and anticipating what the public fall out might be. Do any of you, good readers, have a screaming mob looking over your shoulder at your workplace? How would that impact your performance?

    That right there is the key. We are talking about professional sport after all. So perhaps, with the 2018 season some months away, NRL commentators might decide to keep this reality in mind.

    The might consider setting a better example. ‘Bad’ referee calls are a given in most matches and yet are only a minor element among dozens which will impact on your club’s season. What if we focused on some of the others, and give the refs a break. Winning teams have cultures to match.

    Take a look at this year’s premiers. Though Cam Smith is famed as the referee whisperer, does anyone really think that was a major factor in their success? Surely their strong culture, coaching and ability to perform without key players was of much greater significance. And what of the Warriors? Is anyone going to argue that the refs are responsible for their inability to compete?

    Who knows, without the roars of angst and disgust from the peanut gallery, the refs’ performance might well improve. Either way, a more mature approach to those in the pink jerseys would reflect much better on both ourselves and our game.

    So as the salary cap inflates even further, let’s be mindful of who is earning the big dollars and who should really take the heat for victory and defeat.

    Getting hassled by a parent or partner about spending too much time playing video games? Now, you can tell them the story of how some ordinary gamers scored $225k for just seven weeks of work.

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    The Crowd Says (37)

    • October 23rd 2017 @ 6:01am
      Not so super said | October 23rd 2017 @ 6:01am | ! Report

      Please send to the daily telegraph, they are the main culprit

    • October 23rd 2017 @ 6:20am
      Dean said | October 23rd 2017 @ 6:20am | ! Report

      Please send to all supporters of teams who have just lost to The Storm. Again.

    • October 23rd 2017 @ 7:10am
      Johno said | October 23rd 2017 @ 7:10am | ! Report

      Just because a ref doesn’t earn very much doesn’t mean he shouldn’t be held responsible for his poor decisions. They are there to do a job. More often than not, they get it right but sometimes they get it terribly terribly wrong.
      You’ll probably find that the ref from the Wallabies match may get a slap on the wrist for the bad calls. Rightly so if thats the case because they are crucial errors.

      The difference between the NRL and the Wallabies match was that Greenberg has introduced a slow motionathon bunker review for just about every decision. They have 2 on field refs in NRL, 1 in Union. Any outsider would think that because the NRL has more officials, a video ref and a bunker that it should be much more accurate with its officiating but I would suggest it isn’t. And if it is, its at the cost of the game itself. As pointed out, with Union, the faults are forgotten and downplayed but with the NRL, because they should more often than not get it right, when they don’t – there will be criticism.

      These differences the NRL say are to try and get better officiating results faster. Unfortunately they haven’t and have now been defended by Greenberg, saying that there will always be human error… well if he knew there would always be human error, why bother spending millions of dollars and why are we stopping for every crucial decision to watch a bunker replay over and over and over again to get the same errors.
      Thats where the frustration from the supporter base (and commentators) comes from. It doesn’t come from the commentators themselves. They are a symptom of the problem but the root cause is the idiotic way the game is being officiated at the moment. Need to go back to 1 ref and his live calls. Video ref only for tries and possibly only done at full speed?

      If the Wallabies game was officiated the same way as an NRL match, I bet my bottom dollar that the Rugby commentators would discuss the bad calls just the same. Its just the IRB manage and officiate the game much more professionally. Their system of 1 ref and his live calls is much greater than 2 with a video ref and bunker help.

      • Roar Rookie

        October 23rd 2017 @ 9:32am
        Matthew Pearce said | October 23rd 2017 @ 9:32am | ! Report

        The bunker is a whole separate issue. I’d agree with slagging the bunker, because they have no excuse for making howlers, but even then, some are pretty close 50-50’s, even when some fans want to insist they’re not.

        The game has never been played at a faster pace than it is now. it’s why they brought in the 10-metre rule, it’s why teams wrestle around the ruck – 10 metres isn’t always easily managed now. I don’t understand how you can just blindly insist that because there’s two refs now, their accuracy should be “better”? How? The game’s faster, the refs have to keep up with the players the entire game and constantly make split-second decisions without the benefit of hindsight that we take for granted. They’re going to get some wrong, that’s called human error.

        I’m just taking a stab in the dark here, but I would guess the reasoning behind the bunker was to try and satisfy the inane whinging that comes with every single “incorrect” decision made (they could make the right decisions and people still complain – re the Manly and Penrith final this year).

        I can understand being frustrated at inconsistencies around general play, because I am as well. But that’s human nature, there’s always going to be some inconsistency, because 50-50’s are never 100% balanced. The ref has to look at it and make a decision straight away. We get the benefit of perfect camera angles and multiple replays, so we can see that the ref got it wrong and slag them off for being terrible.

        I don’t see this “ditching the video ref” idea working at all. Besides how much faster the game is, we’re too far deep into this ref-blaming culture. Plenty of people’ll cry out about how it’s better, until a dubious decision goes against them that could have otherwise been overturned. It won’t stop the whinging.

        “If the Wallabies game was officiated the same way as an NRL match”. Hold on. What are you trying to say there? Are you saying that the union game was officiated near perfectly, errors pointed out in the article aside? Is that supposed to be the general trend, or was this just a one-off? And how are either of those scenarios different to a typical NRL game? Maybe the NRL could look just as professional if we weren’t so unreasonable that we blamed every excuse under the sun for our losses, instead of just copping it when they go against us. There’s no complaining when they go our way, after all.

        • October 23rd 2017 @ 2:25pm
          Johno said | October 23rd 2017 @ 2:25pm | ! Report


          By comparing the game and saying if they were officiated the say way, I am trying to point out that the NRL general public and its commentators would be more forgiving for mistakes if they were officiated the same as union. Union commentators understand mistakes will be made. I understand mistakes will be made. For that reason Im ok with the 1 on field ref making mistakes.

          The NRL is seeking perfection with officiating. 2 on field refs. 2 sideline refs. Video Ref. Multimillion dollar bunker. With these addition, they shouldn’t be getting the basic stuff wrong, but they do. Perfection will never happen. But every time they stop to check a try or 2 on field refs miss something which clearly happens, they will be under a lot more scrutiny than just the 1 Union ref.

          By the NRL throwing more at officiating – the outcome should be better. When it isn’t – frustration.

          • Roar Rookie

            October 23rd 2017 @ 2:43pm
            Matthew Pearce said | October 23rd 2017 @ 2:43pm | ! Report

            But as Nat pointed out, there’s effectively only one more official for league compared to union. And even so, you can’t say that two on-field refs should be getting more right. Basically, it can be four ways: one might overrule the other, either rightly or wrongly, they both see it incorrectly, or they both see it correctly. So half the time it doesn’t even make a difference, in regard to calls accuracy.

            And even for one ref calling something that the other missed/ignored, that’s still 50-50 in regards to whether or not it was a good call. I think this two on-field refs gripe, while it contributes to the frustration, doesn’t have that big of an effect. It applies equally as much to getting calls right as it does getting them wrong.

            I agree we’ve gone too far in the search for perfection. But there’s too much hypocrisy from the fans to make it a clear-cut issue. People say get rid of the bunker, but there were quite a few instances even just this season where the bunker correctly overruled the refs. They say go back to basics, but they still complain non-stop about decisions that went against them – even when the calls were right. People say they want to just go back to the basics, but I disagree. We have the technology, it should be used.

            The issue is inconsistency. It shouldn’t be about what the refs are and aren’t getting right. I don’t know what the answer is, but I do know that getting rid of the bunker or going back to one ref or whatever else isn’t going to change that. The culture is the biggest difference. Clearly, in union they don’t cop ref blaming or whinging. In cricket, you can get fined for showing dissent (although that’s an issue of inconsistency as well), and if you ever complained or tried to fake a call, you’re basically a pariah. League enables the whinging to grow and complicate the issue. We need to get rid of that culture before anything tangible can be done.

            • October 24th 2017 @ 2:54am
              Johno said | October 24th 2017 @ 2:54am | ! Report

              Fair enough. But I disagree about the only difference being 1 ref.

              Union doesn’t spend minutes reviewing every try. Unions officials aren’t scared to make decisions. They don’t allow players to be disrespectful. They may have the same video ref but they rely on it far less often.

              All my point is if that Nrl simplifies their officiating, viewers will be less likely to criticize. The search for a more accurate approach has only highlighted the fact that it cant be more accurate.

              1 ref, linesman who actually do something and a video ref who is only called upon when the on field ref cannot make a call. Not for 90% of the tries.

              • Roar Rookie

                October 24th 2017 @ 9:39am
                Matthew Pearce said | October 24th 2017 @ 9:39am | ! Report

                I get frustrated at the bunker sometimes, but really, they usually only take around 30 seconds. 45 at the most. It’s not “super-quick” like they were promoting but generally it’s not that long.

                I don’t disagree with your calls there, I just disagree that fans will be less likely to whinge or criticize if they’re implemented. The way things are now, I can’t see fans not whinging for anything.

      • Roar Guru

        October 23rd 2017 @ 10:39am
        Nat said | October 23rd 2017 @ 10:39am | ! Report

        Johno do you honestly think regression in the refs ability to monitor every aspect of a league game will improve the standard. The Bunker is only used for in goal decisions where millimeters count so it is hardly a “slow motionathon”. Union also uses a video ref for the same There are far more technicalities in the ruck and maul and the players only have to be behind that point to stay onside. So effectively League has only one more official than Union yet the latter is far more condensed. Even then, both Union and League refs get admonished and stood down for absolute howlers but they are rare. Your theory equates to Ignorance is Bliss but with every game played live with multiple close ups and replays, to the authors point, in the majority it is not the quality of reffing that needs to improve it is the commentators, press and public’s ability to accept and move from the 1% of occurrences.

    • October 23rd 2017 @ 9:23am
      rossco said | October 23rd 2017 @ 9:23am | ! Report

      There was 1 referee in the RU game; RL has 2. The reason for 2 was to help the game – it hasn’t.

      Are you saying that income has something to do with it? Players earn more than prime ministers and politicians . Should all criticism of them now cease?

      What would the journos and partisans do if that happened?

      • October 23rd 2017 @ 9:49am
        Mushi said | October 23rd 2017 @ 9:49am | ! Report

        False equivalence alert!

        The referees share the same field as the players and are involved in the same processes. So you need some kind of severe issues with the old grey matter to suggest the link with politicians.

        The author is highlighting that the lowest objectively valued participants on the field are being held to the highest standard of accuracy and accountability.

      • Roar Rookie

        October 23rd 2017 @ 10:01pm
        Madrid john said | October 23rd 2017 @ 10:01pm | ! Report

        Not at all Rossco. I just think that as the players earn much more dollars and have much greater support behind them, they should be the major focus when discussing why their team did or did not win.

        Too often, one ref decision dominates the airways instead of the fact that the losing team made 32 missed tackles, 12 handling errors or gave away 8 penalties. If a team tidies up that area of their performance, they can cop a few poor calls and still win the match.

        On top of that, there are 24 rounds to play before the finals start. I just don’t accept that even the poorest referring performance will make much of a difference to a professional team’s season. It seems the attention we give to the refs is way out of proportion to the impact the have on the game.

        • Roar Guru

          October 24th 2017 @ 9:37pm
          Cadfael said | October 24th 2017 @ 9:37pm | ! Report

          I agree here. Rugby fans do look at the overall ppictuure, they may not like it but they accept that missing 24 tackles and losing the ball on your own line out is a bigger reason for a loss than a ref’s decision.

          But the big reason why a ref’s decision in league is so critical is that it can affect the outcome. Rugby allows players to continually compete for the ball where in league, the bomb is really the only form of competing for theball.

    • Roar Rookie

      October 23rd 2017 @ 9:41am
      Dogs Boddy said | October 23rd 2017 @ 9:41am | ! Report

      I agree completely.

      If RL wants to see how things are done please use Union as an example. Not just for commentators, but players as well. There was one instance where a Wallabies player was on the ground in a ruck and yelling at the ref. The result was a penalty and marching the Wallabies 10m, all the time the ref was saying “you were yelling at me that is not on.” After the kick to touch was taken I heard the ref then say to clarify “I will not yell at you, please don’t yell at me.” Nothing was said about this any further, and that penalty led to a try for the All Blacks.

      If a League ref marched teams 10m every time someone yelled at them it would be non stop penalties, and non stop whinging from everyone concerned afterwards.

      RL has an issue with respect for officials. Certain coaches are renowned for blaming the refs for their teams results, so if Gus bloody Gould. Giving out fines doesn’t seem to worry anyone, they just carry on regardless. Yes I would agree they have made a rod for their own back with rules around stripping, and the bunker and additional referee. It’s time the RL realised these are hurting their refs, not helping them.

      I will always feel frustrated for bad decisions against my team, but anyone who has ever played sport knows that happens. I have however always accepted decisions and moved on. Sure some may argue that the stakes are nowhere near as high with paddock footy, but the stakes in Rugby are just as high, and even higher considering the amount of international games played.

      • Roar Rookie

        October 23rd 2017 @ 9:59am
        Matthew Pearce said | October 23rd 2017 @ 9:59am | ! Report

        Spot on. The refereeing has never been perfect and never will be, the culture in league is what is the problem.

      • October 23rd 2017 @ 10:39pm
        Mike Julz said | October 23rd 2017 @ 10:39pm | ! Report

        I thought league do give 10 meter penalties sometimes

    • October 23rd 2017 @ 9:55am
      Paul said | October 23rd 2017 @ 9:55am | ! Report

      I think this article highlights a few points;

      1 Slagging the refs in post match interviews or in the media is not going to make them any better

      2 Should refs pay be commensurate with players salaries? Certainly something for the NRL to look at. Maybe there might be an improvement in decision making if the officials were full time professionals.

      3 Are games being over officiated to the detriment of the game? Again, something for the NRL to look at. I’ve watched a lot of English super league games where they have one referee and this official seems to manage the game well. The NRL should not only look to see if decision making has improved but whether the game experience has as well. That is, what do people watching the games think. Personally, the bunker takes way to long and makes too many bad decisions.

      4 Referees must stop treating players as their best mates on the field and take complete control of the game, ie they make a decision and captains may only ask for an explanation.

      5 The media stops it’s sensationalist rubbish reporting about referees and focuses on the real reasons why games are won and lost. Sure, report absolute howlers, but don’t hype all the 50:5o calls made in a game

      The elephant in the room is the rules referees are ignoring, all in the name of making the game ” a better spectacle”. Blatant forward passes, all the niggle in the play the ball, the blocking of runners trying to compete for kicks, etc, do nothing but frustrate players and spectators. The NRL needs to go back to basics with the rules of the game and most importantly, tell the clubs this is going to happen, so coaches can’t whinge post game.

      • Roar Rookie

        October 23rd 2017 @ 11:52am
        The FatMan said | October 23rd 2017 @ 11:52am | ! Report

        Spot on.

        The fundamental culture towards referees between the two sports is what sets them apart. Referees in RL call every player on a first name basis. In RU, only the captains are spoken to by name, the rest of the players are called by jersey number. It’s a tiny detail but it sets the tone for all communications to/from the referee.

        The blame for officiating lies directly on NRL HQ instead of the match day officials. They have chopped and changed rules to the point of inconsistency, all in the name of “aesthetics”. The rule that does my head in is the 7-tackle set after a dead-ball. For as long as I know, RL has always had 6 tackle sets. Zero tackle for errors makes sense because it simply replaces the scrum. But restarting the set after one tackle has absolutely zero consistency with the rest of the game. If they were really insistent on punishing dead-ball, either advance the restart to a 30m tap, or revert to the RU rule of an option between 20m restart or scrum where the ball was kicked from (IMO the best option because it truly punishes the negativity they were trying to remove).

        Also, I know this subject pops up now and again, but I have no idea why NRL HQ didn’t implement the challenge system after its trial in the NYC. The greatest benefit is that it puts the onus back on the players – if you don’t like the call, challenge it. If you’ve used up your challenges on 50:50’s, too bad, and we all have a genuine distinction of when the bunker/video ref is used. Simples.

      • October 23rd 2017 @ 1:58pm
        beepee said | October 23rd 2017 @ 1:58pm | ! Report

        “The elephant in the room is the rules referees are ignoring, all in the name of making the game ” a better spectacle”.”
        Spot on Paul. I believe this is the area where fans get most frustrated…and where the game could make quickest progress toward credibility. The play-the-ball has deteriorated markedly over the years – just check older clips on Youtube. Lying all over the player with the ball to slow it up, an extra little stomp or elbow if you can get away with it, and not playing the ball correctly with feet. Outside of the play-the-ball, you can add the lack of protection for the kicker, dragging a tacked player metres toward the touch line AFTER he’s on the ground, and the other points mentioned above – and yes, its a big frustration that’s easily fixed by the NRL via the referees. Harsher enforcing of the basic rules will give players and coaches more respect for the officials and for the game.

        • Roar Rookie

          October 23rd 2017 @ 10:08pm
          Madrid john said | October 23rd 2017 @ 10:08pm | ! Report

          Absolutely beepee, PR geniuses and marketing gurus should stay the hell away from referring. Let the whistle blowers apply the rule book and the players deal with it as the game rolls on. Surely that kind of game management is just one more skill that separates the solid first graders from the elite.

      • October 23rd 2017 @ 8:37pm
        George Jetson said | October 23rd 2017 @ 8:37pm | ! Report

        And this is exactly how it all started: I wouldn’t make this point 5, it should be point number 1. For far too long the tail has been wagging the dog. Gus Gould et el

        5 The media stops it’s sensationalist rubbish reporting about referees and focuses on the real reasons why games are won and lost. Sure, report absolute howlers, but don’t hype all the 50:5o calls made in a game

      • Roar Rookie

        October 23rd 2017 @ 10:05pm
        Madrid john said | October 23rd 2017 @ 10:05pm | ! Report

        Hi Paul, very much don’t think refs should earn anything like the top players of the NRL. I would suspect they wouldn’t either. The game is about the players. The refs’ role is to provide a controlled environment for NRL players to display their skills and endurance.

        Ironically, I think the more we ignore them, the better they can do their job. We can rest assured that coaches and players will see to it that poor refs are dumped and good ones rewarded. I just don’t see the merit of that process playing out in the public sphere.