The Roar
The Roar


We need a new perspective on NRL refereeing 'woes'

NRL referees are under the blowtorch as usual. (AAP Image/Action Photographics, Robb Cox)
Roar Rookie
22nd October, 2017
1785 Reads

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.