Freddy learns why you should never take pronouncing the name, “Ben Hunt”, lightly.
So what’s going to happen with the whistle for the first State of Origin on Wednesday night?
Will it be blown to ensure the defending team is back onside, which includes the outside backs, or will it be kept in the pocket like previous years?
Will it be blown to ‘sin bin’ repeat offenders for slowing the play the ball, especially near the goal-line, or will it be thrown away after the first 20 minutes?
Will it be blown to ensure players actually play the ball correctly, or will the whistle stay nice and warm inside the pocket of the referee all night?
State of Origin is renowned for the whistle rarely coming out, and I’d suggest that if that’s the case again this year, this scenario will favour Queensland, who’ve gotten away with ‘Blues murder’ for years.
Why? Because Queensland know that State of Origin is different and that basically anything goes. Remember the late canon-ball charges of Nathan Myles into the ribs of NSW players when they were being held up in a tackle? It’s a prime example, and yet nothing was done about it.
Maybe this year it will be different.
Interestingly, the start of the 2018 NRL season saw a spike in penalties. For example, over the course of the first five games of Round 4 a total of 120 penalties were blown at an average of 24 per game and just 41 in the final three games at an average of 13.67 penalties per game.
Eventually players and coaches have gotten the idea. Players have been getting back onside, they’ve been getting back the ten metres from the play the ball, they’ve started to get off the tackled player, they’ve started to play the ball correctly and they’ve actually started to play more football. The reason for this is simple: they know they’ll be penalised if they don’t.
NRL CEO Todd Greenberg and his administrators have a big decision to make for the first State of Origin on Wednesday night: to blow the whistle if a penalty is there, which then sets the standard for the series, or to throw the whistle away, which is what most experts are predicting.
If referee Gerard Sutton and assistant referee Ashley Klein are consistent with how referees have managed the NRL games for 2018, then the first State of Origin on Wednesday night will be different. There’ll be more penalties, and I’m all for it. Ultimately this approach rewards the better, more disciplined football team.
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For those fans who might suggest that more penalties will spoil the spectacle, I’d argue that there have been some terrific NRL games this year, and the extra penalties at the start of the year have actually changed the way teams are now playing.
Once players and coaches know that they’ll be penalised for not being back onside, for not getting off the tackled player, for repeat offences that stop the momentum of an attacking team and can lead to a ‘sin bin’, they change the way they play to win the game. It’s not rocket science. Players aren’t stupid, nor are coaches. They’re all highly paid professionals. They just need to know the parameters that they are playing in and what they can or cannot get away with.
Please, Messrs Sutton and Klein, blow the whistle for State of Origin 1, and may the best team win.