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Refereeing crackdown the right thing for the game

Mary Konstantopoulos Columnist

By Mary Konstantopoulos, Mary Konstantopoulos is a Roar Expert

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    ‘With great power comes great responsibility’; Uncle Ben from the first Spiderman film had it right.

    Unfortunately, when it comes to rugby league, those with the greatest power and those who are charged with educating people and fans about the game are instead looking to create sensationalist headlines, push their own agendas and hurt the game which they say they love the most.

    This has been exceptionally clear to me over the last couple of days as the controversy around refereeing and penalties continues.

    It’s also becoming increasingly clear that those with the loudest voices are not hearing the voices of the fans.

    Penalties has been the buzzword of this season so far and for good reason. According to Fox Sports, before this round, 17.82 penalties were being blown per game. This number is almost four more than were blown during this same period last season.

    This increase in penalties has come off the back of directions from Todd Greenberg, who has said that over the offseason he asked the referees to focus on two things during this season. First that ‘the play of the ball was cleaned up’ and ‘to make sure the players are staying back onside’.

    I applaud Todd for coming out and taking ownership of this issue and protecting the referees. I also applaud him for having the courage to ask referees to be strong in these two areas in particular.

    The reality is that this clean up, particularly on offside, is long overdue. And unfortunately, because some teams and players have been able to get away with pushing the boundaries for so long, it means that the first couple of weeks are going to be difficult to watch because of the crackdown in penalties.

    What fans have been able to appreciate (and what some people with loud voices have not been able to appreciate) is that a couple of weeks of pain is worth it in the context of a game which will be markedly better when players abide by the rules.

    Todd Greenberg

    (Photo by Matt King/Getty Images)

    Let’s look at what has happened this weekend.

    On Thursday night in the game between the Penrith Panthers and the North Queensland Cowboys, 21 penalties were blown. James Tamou was sent to the sin bin for the Panthers continued infringements around the ruck.

    On Friday night, there were two games of footy. The first between the South Sydney Rabbitohs and the Canterbury Bulldogs and the second between the Cronulla Sharks and the Melbourne Storm. 54 penalties were blown in 160 minutes of footy.

    Most of those (33 in fact), were blown in the game between the Sharks and the Storm. It comes as no surprise to me that two teams that have benefited from pushing the boundaries for so long are now being penalised. Two players were sin-binned in this game too – Luke Lewis for a professional foul and Cameron Smith for dissent. Cameron Smith being sent to the bin was something I thought I would never see.

    The message is obvious. If players abide by the rules, there will be no need for penalties to be blown.

    While commentators in the media are losing their minds about the number of penalties being blown, they are also not listening to the players or the coaches.

    In this week alone, we have seen Bunnies coach Anthony Seibold acknowledge that the number of penalties being blown are impacting the flow of the game, but also encouraging the referees to keep doing what they are doing.

    Josh Jackson was also exceptionally mature following the Bulldogs loss to the Bunnies. In this game, Ben Cummins apologised to Jackson for awarding a try to Greg Inglis while Jackson was still getting back into position after having a discussion with Cummins. Cummins apologised for not seeing Jackson getting back into position when play had already resumed.

    The easy approach for Jackson here would have been to have blamed Cummins for his team’s loss. Instead he called out his own team for better game management.

    Wayne Bennett has also made it clear that should the Brisbane Broncos break the rules, that his team deserve to cop the consequences.

    As a fan, speaking honestly, it is exceptionally frustrating to see the referees blowing this number of penalties per game. It certainly contributes to a stop-start style of play and impacts the flow of the contest.

    But, I don’t blame the referees for this. I blame the players for not abiding by the rules. I also blame any coach who has coached their team to play in a manner which breaks the rules.

    Matt Cecchin

    (Photo by Mark Evans/Getty Images)

    So many fans have complained about lack of consistency from the referees in the past. We are now seeing consistency and I’m confident in the next couple of weeks we will see players and teams continue to change the way they play the game.

    If I had any words of encouragement for the referees, it would be to continue to go harder and also, to not be afraid to use the sin bin.

    Particularly when teams are defending their own line, there is a tendency to give away penalties not only because a penalty goal is favourable to four points being scored, but also because it gives the team defending the opportunity to catch their breath and reset their line. Blowing penalties in this situation is not going to stop offside infringements or infringements around the ruck.

    What will work though is sending players to the sin bin. We’ve seen referees give countless warnings to players for these types of infringements. Warn both teams before the game and do not be afraid to send players to the sin bin for infringements.

    I also encourage commentators to think about their positions in the game and how influential they are in educating the public about rugby league. Their role is not to create headlines or to push their own agendas.

    And if fans can see the bigger picture, surely those who are experts in footy should be able to see the same.

    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 (67)

    • April 2nd 2018 @ 7:38am
      Jimmmy said | April 2nd 2018 @ 7:38am | ! Report

      I am totally with you on this Mary. The play the ball has needed cleaning up for a long time . It is imperative that the (as Wayne Bennett said) Refs don’t blink because the players and coach’s will push the boundaries again, back to where they were.
      If I had been In charge of the Sharks , Storm game there would have been 43 penalties. Both teams love that second effort to roll the player over after the tackle is complete. That BS is ruining our game . Keep up the good work Refs.

      • April 2nd 2018 @ 7:50am
        frnq said | April 2nd 2018 @ 7:50am | ! Report

        All these rubbish going on is about getting the MIGHTY STORM, nothung to do with referring game. If its about cleaning up the game then what about start feeding the ball in the middle of the scrum or is not a rule of the game anymore? I saw the Broncos and Titans and they were all offside all day yesterday.

        • April 2nd 2018 @ 8:35am
          i miss the force said | April 2nd 2018 @ 8:35am | ! Report

          Maybe should take your MIGHTY STORM goggles off. you guys have ruined a great sport

        • April 2nd 2018 @ 8:42am
          Jimmmy said | April 2nd 2018 @ 8:42am | ! Report

          It’s not about the Storm . (See Storm v Tigers penalty count. ) All teams push the boundaries . Some are better at it than others though.
          The Refs are just rightly redrawing those boundary lines. It’s about cleaning up the ruck so we can start to see some more attractive footy played.

        • April 2nd 2018 @ 3:40pm
          soapit said | April 2nd 2018 @ 3:40pm | ! Report

          if you think enforcing the rules is about getting the storm you might want to have a think about the way the team you support go about playing the game

      • April 2nd 2018 @ 7:58am
        Roberto said | April 2nd 2018 @ 7:58am | ! Report

        Bellamy and Smith have brought this all on us. Bend the rules to their wim, and the whole comp is stooping to that level.
        If they are so good at the other facets of play in attack, why cant they defend fairly instead of all that rubbish in the ruck and required 10m from the play the ball.
        Why even mention the immortal tag at all, win at all costs type named Smith dont play by the rules at all.

      • Columnist

        April 3rd 2018 @ 6:53am
        Mary Konstantopoulos said | April 3rd 2018 @ 6:53am | ! Report

        And to be honest, Jimmmy the Sharks and the Storm are two teams that I think have managed to push the boundaries the most over the last couple of years. It comes as no surprise to me that in the game between the two teams the most penalties were blown.

    • Roar Rookie

      April 2nd 2018 @ 8:25am
      up in the north said | April 2nd 2018 @ 8:25am | ! Report

      I’d like to see a two tier grading of sin bins with either 5 or 10 minutes. Ten mins seems too long for minor indescretions. I’m with this current crackdown as well.

      • April 2nd 2018 @ 8:48am
        Jimmmy said | April 2nd 2018 @ 8:48am | ! Report

        I think five in the bin for professional fouls will come North. If I have one criticism of the current crackdowns it is the reluctance of Refs to bin players. Bradley had to go in the Sharks game . He was named as giving away four penalties. Another Storm player should also have gone for repeated offside in the twenty metre zone.
        Player know once one player has been binned the chance of a second one going is zilch.
        Five in the bin woluod make them more likely to send off more.

        • April 2nd 2018 @ 1:01pm
          Albo said | April 2nd 2018 @ 1:01pm | ! Report

          Jimmy, I think if you bring in 5 minute sin bins you are only half serious about cleaning up the infringements ! If you want to stop them infringing use the 10 minute bin that is already in place. And use it without hesitation after one team warning. And if the infringements continue send more to the bin. It will soon stop them, when they are down to 10 or 11 players !

      • April 2nd 2018 @ 9:46am
        Soda said | April 2nd 2018 @ 9:46am | ! Report

        Perhaps this idea is a little left of centre but what if for the penalties for offside within the 10 metre zone how about the offending player have to sit out the next set of tackles on the sideline, so the punishment is that they have to set on their own try line down a man. I would think that it could have a few benefits such as;
        *attacking team less likely to go the two points when an attacking opportunity against 12 players is on offer
        *defending team should stop giving away easy penalties
        *one less player in the defence may encourage creativity from attacking sides. Set plays and trick moves.

    • Roar Guru

      April 2nd 2018 @ 8:37am
      peeeko said | April 2nd 2018 @ 8:37am | ! Report

      well said Mary, need more people like you in the media rather than the newspaper equivalent of a shock jock like Rothfield and Tony Adams. Their type remain one of RL greatest problems

      • Columnist

        April 3rd 2018 @ 6:54am
        Mary Konstantopoulos said | April 3rd 2018 @ 6:54am | ! Report

        Appreciate it very much, peeeko. There are some people in the media that really frustrate me too, because their agenda seems to be either to hurt the game or to protect a club or player that they like. It’s completely inappropriate when you consider the mass reach and influence that they have.

    • April 2nd 2018 @ 8:37am
      souvalis said | April 2nd 2018 @ 8:37am | ! Report

      If it’s reffed this way in the SOO Qld can’t win..

    • April 2nd 2018 @ 8:40am
      shirtpants said | April 2nd 2018 @ 8:40am | ! Report

      Players and coaches will eventually adapt to the way the game is being refereed, but until then, it’s going to be hard to watch. I can totally understand the fans frustration but it’s up to the players and coaches to produce a spectacle worth watching.

      • April 2nd 2018 @ 8:46am
        Jimmmy said | April 2nd 2018 @ 8:46am | ! Report

        Shirt , we just have to grit our teeth and bear it. The teams are now starting to respond by always taking the two, Penalties are now costing teams the game . Change is not far away.

        • April 2nd 2018 @ 1:08pm
          Albo said | April 2nd 2018 @ 1:08pm | ! Report

          Spot on Jimmy ! With lots of penalties being blown, teams should be more readily taking the easy 2 points on offer, despite the protestations from the commentary box ! There is more likely to be another chance in the next set of six in the current infringing environment.

      • Columnist

        April 3rd 2018 @ 6:55am
        Mary Konstantopoulos said | April 3rd 2018 @ 6:55am | ! Report

        Shitrpants, out of curiousity which games did you find hard to watch? I found a couple really tough going on the weekend, but on the whole I think teams are slowly starting to adapt.

    • Roar Guru

      April 2nd 2018 @ 8:43am
      Michael Keeffe said | April 2nd 2018 @ 8:43am | ! Report

      Spot on. The coaches and players need to get on board with getting back onside and keeping the play the ball clean. It’s no surprise that the Sharks vs Storm game has been the most penalised to date as these two teams are consistently some of the biggest offenders when it comes to giving away penalties on their own line and there was always bound to be so much niggle as they genuinely hate each other too.

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