Here’s the problem with being consistent: sometimes it costs sides the game.
However, consistency is a great thing to bring back to the game of rugby league. Possibly the most necessary thing.
Where Gerard Sutton went upstairs in the 80th minute of the Broncos-Bulldogs game with the scores tied, I had no idea what he was looking for.
When the replays showed Moses Mbye had deliberately pushed the chasing Darius Boyd – albeit not very forcefully – there was a sinking feeling in my belly that the game would be decided by a penalty.
It seemed hideously unfair. The struggling Dogs had played so well. How could it be right that they’d lose on such an ineffectual incident?
But that is the way it panned out.
And we’ve all got to suck that up. Not just because it was technically the right decision but because the referees are being consistent.
We want the referees to be consistent. We need the referees to be consistent.
This season we’ve seen Ryan Matterson sin-binned for laying an offside finger on the swan diving Billy Slater. We’ve seen Latrell Mitchell sin-binned for holding back a Bulldog who wasn’t in possession. We’ve seen Jarrod Croker sin-binned for having a finger on Angus Crichton before he got the ball.
In all but one of those cases, it cost the dismissed players’ side the game.
Moses Mbye – in fact all NRL players – should have known not to even touch Boyd. Sure, it was instinctive. Sure, it probably didn’t stop Boyd scoring. But that doesn’t matter one bit.
The rules say you can’t do it and the referees have been consistent in enforcing the rule and punishing infractions with the bin.
It’s a horrible way to lose a game but the rules have to be the same whether it is the second minute or the 80th. The fact that it was the 80th minute amplified the incident. But that didn’t make it wrong.
Plus, none of it happens if Moses just catches the damn ball.
I’ve hated watching the referees swallow the whistle at the end of games or in extra time for fear of deciding the game on a penalty. The players knew the refs were paralysed and as a result mercilessly played offside, weren’t straight at marker, held players down, stripped the ball and held players back.
All the while some commentators were celebrating that the game was allowed to “flow.”
The problem with that was it wasn’t the game of rugby league that was being allowed to “flow.” It was some sort of mutated, bastardised version of rugby league. An ugly version where the rules seemingly mattered far less than a player’s stature in the game.
The shock of all NRL fans when Matt Cecchin sin-binned an insolent Cameron Smith in Round 4 was huge. It signified – more than any of the huge penalty counts – a seismic shift in the officiating of the game. The officials were taking back control of the game.
And anyone paying attention should have known it. And you would hope that NRL coaches and players are paying attention.
It isn’t just Matt Cecchin prepared to make hard calls either. Gerard Sutton is no shrinking violet when it comes to making a call and he surely made one in this case. Sure, the Broncos got a mystifying knock back call in the 50th minute that really helped them keep momentum. But that stuff will always happen. Unless of course a captain’s challenge is instituted.
I maintain that it is high time for a captain’s challenge to be brought in. One that allows incidents that have been let go or missed to be reviewed. The review can be of any incident during play, not just scoring plays, as some of the worst calls or missed incidents that affect games happen outside the actual scoring play itself. Just ask Bruce McGuire.
How would it work?
• When an incident occurs the captain will let the nearest official know as soon as possible that he has a challenge. The official will ensure the other referees know of the challenge.
• At the next appropriate stoppage in play, the lead official will ask the captain if he’d like to continue the challenge and, if so, the nature of the challenge.
• An appropriate stoppage is one where there would no longer be lost advantage to the opposing side. For example, if a quick play-the-ball might still lead to a line-break or try.
• The challenge would be treated as incorrect until there was clear evidence to uphold it.
• One challenge per half per side. If the challenge is upheld the team keeps it.
However, I think the NRL is a long way away from instituting a captain’s challenge.
What is clear though is that the officials are taking back control of the game. They are going to make the hard calls whenever those calls are there to be made and – apart from Bernard Sutton’s bizarre demotion of Ashley Klein and Matt Noyen for making just such a call – NRL HQ is right behind them.
So while it is a very bitter pill for the Bulldogs to swallow, the officials didn’t cost them the game. Moses Mbye did.