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You think the referee hates your side? Check the stats first

Tim Gore Columnist

By Tim Gore, Tim Gore is a Roar Expert

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    Referee Gerard Sutton. (Photo by Mark Kolbe/Getty Images)

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    A weird phenomenon occurred before the Panthers vs Raiders match. On social media I saw both sides supporters claim that referee Henry Perenara was biased against their team.

    ‘Surely that can’t be’, I thought. The ex-Warriors, Storm, Dragons, Eels and Sharks player has courted some controversy as a referee, but how could he be biased against both sides? And if he was, how would that possibly be demonstrated?

    What this situation really brought home to me was that supporters frequently claim that certain referees are biased against their side and that their claims are most probably based on very little.

    With thanks to my great friends at The Rugby League Project, I crunched the numbers.

    To be included the referee had to have controlled, either as lead or assistant referee, at least ten games for the club in question.

    I’ve also included the referees with the all-time best and worst winning percentages for each side as well – and each sides winning percentage over the last decade for reference.

    Before we start, let me stress that I am firmly of the opinion that every statistical set as a matter of course must have outliers. The existence of outliers is not by any stretch proof of referee bias.

    Our officials are hardworking and dedicated. They take great pride in getting decisions right. That is their aim. Any suggestion of bias on the part of referees I believe to be spurious.

    But I also enjoy looking at the numbers.

    Let’s look at the sides in current ladder order.

    St George Illawarra Dragons

    Ten year winning percentage Best referee and winning percentage Worst referee and winning percentage Best referee and winning percentage (historical) Worst referee and winning percentage (historical)
    52.8% Henry Perenara (64.3%) Chris Sutton 27.3% Jason Robinson (76.2%) Gavin Morris (26.7%)

    And straight up we see Henry Perenara as the current whistleblower who the Dragons most routinely win under, with a winning percentage well above their average over the last ten seasons. Conversely, when Bernie Sutton’s little brother Chris controls the Dragons they lose three-quarters of the time.

    Penrith Panthers

    Ten year winning percentage Best referee and winning percentage Worst referee and winning percentage Best referee and winning percentage (historical) Worst referee and winning percentage (historical)
    50.2% Gavin Reynolds (76.2%) Adam Gee (30.8%) Gavin Reynolds (76.2%) Kevin Roberts (23.1%)

    The Panthers faithful should be very happy to see Gavin ‘Funky’ Reynolds rolling up to their games as they win 75 per cent of their games he is controlling. Gee is their best referee of all time percentage-wise. However, when Adam Gee turns up they would feel great trepidation as they win less than a third of the games he controls.

    Nathan Cleary Panthers.

    (AAP Image/Daniel Munoz)

    South Sydney Rabbitohs

    Ten year winning percentage Best referee and winning percentage Worst referee and winning percentage Best referee and winning percentage (historical) Worst referee and winning percentage (historical)
    53.5% Henry Perenara (68.4%) Gavin Badger (41.3%) Joe Murray (92.3%) 1921-1930 Tim Mander (25%)

    And look at who the referee is that the Rabbitohs have the best winning percentage under. That’s right: its Henry! The Cardinal and Myrtle win over two-thirds of their games under the Auckland born Perenara. However, his record pales to that of referee Joe Murray who controlled the Rabbitohs in the 1920s: 92.3 per cent!

    New Zealand Warriors

    Ten year winning percentage Best referee and winning percentage Worst referee and winning percentage Best referee and winning percentage (historical) Worst referee and winning percentage (historical)
    44.2% Gerard Sutton (63.2%) Chris Sutton (14.3%) Brett Suttor (64.7%) Chris Sutton (14.3%)

    Well here is a tale of two Suttons. On one hand the Warriors do quite nicely indeed under the oldest Coonabarabran Sutton sibling. However, under little bro Chris they barely win one match in ten. The Warriors would have been the side most disappointed when Brett Suttor had his whistle confiscated and replaced with a flag as he was the referee they have got their very best results under.

    Melbourne Storm

    Ten year winning percentage Best referee and winning percentage Worst referee and winning percentage Best referee and winning percentage (historical) Worst referee and winning percentage (historical)
    68.4% Gavin Reynolds (100%) Henry Perenara (58.8%) Gavin Reynolds (100%) BIll Harrigan (35.7%)

    The key stat you need to know about the referees in regard to the Melbourne Storm is that only one of the whistleblowers who has controlled ten or more of their games had them with a winning percentage in the red: Bill Harrigan. However, when a side has a 68.4 per cent win ratio over the last decade, that is hardly surprising. The rest all have the Purple Horde on the happy side of the equation.

    However, they are never so happy as when Gavin ‘Funky’ Reynolds turns up. They’ve never lost when he has controlled one of their games. Henry is the current referee under whom they have the worst results, with just a 58.8 per cent win rate.

    Sydney Roosters

    Ten year winning percentage Best referee and winning percentage Worst referee and winning percentage Best referee and winning percentage (historical) Worst referee and winning percentage (historical)
    52.6% Matt Cecchin (65.9%) Gavin Badger (41%) Mark Oaten (90%) Tony De Las Heras (23.5%)

    Leading referee Matt Cecchin finally makes an appearance. The Roosters have won two-thirds of the matches he has controlled. That’s way better than their winning percentage. The perfectly manscaped Gavin Badger is the current ref whom the Bondi Boys do the worst under. The now retired Tony De Las Heras is the man under whom the Roosters historically have had their worst results under.

    Cooper Cronk

    (Brendon Thorne/Getty Images)

    Cronulla Sharks

    Ten year winning percentage Best referee and winning percentage Worst referee and winning percentage Best referee and winning percentage (historical) Worst referee and winning percentage (historical)
    46% Matt Noyen (70%) Gavin Badger (39.5%) Brian Grant (75%) Barry Barnes (27.3%)

    Once more we see Gavin Badger pop up as the referee under which a side has their worst results, the Sharks in this instance. When Matt Noyen controls the Sharks games there is a 70 per cent chance you’ll hear that stupid trumpet playing Roll out the Barrel incessantly so that it gets stuck in your head all the bloody way home. Can someone please ‘deal’ with that trumpet?

    Brisbane Broncos

    Ten year winning percentage Best referee and winning percentage Worst referee and winning percentage Best referee and winning percentage (historical) Worst referee and winning percentage (historical)
    58% Chris Sutton (72.7%) Matt Cecchin (50%) Kelvin Jeffes (85.7%) Tony Archer (45.2%)

    Wouldn’t it be nice if the referee under which your team gets the worst results still saw you win 50 per cent of the time? That’s the story for the Broncos with Matt Cecchin. And contrary to popular belief, it isn’t Gerry Sutton who is the Broncos most favourable ref, it is his little brother Chris. The Broncos have a 56.8 per cent win rate under Gerry. However, Kelvin Jeffes’ 85.7 per cent may never be bettered.

    Wests Tigers

    Ten year winning percentage Best referee and winning percentage Worst referee and winning percentage Best referee and winning percentage (historical) Worst referee and winning percentage (historical)
    45.8% Gerard Sutton (53.8%) Henry Perenara (33.3%) Adam Devcich (58.3%) Tim Mander (27.8%)

    Finally a side that has a case to claim that Henry Perenara is out to get them. The Wests Tigers have won only a third of their games under Perenara. Gerry Sutton is the current referee they do the best under. However, that benefit is marginal at best. Have a look at how the merged club fared under Tim Mander too.

    Canberra Raiders

    Ten year winning percentage Best referee and winning percentage Worst referee and winning percentage Best referee and winning percentage (historical) Worst referee and winning percentage (historical)
    45.3% Matt Noyen (66.7%) Chris Butler (30%) Graeme West (66.7%) Tony Archer (30%)

    Chris Butler is the tallest of the referees. The Canberra Raiders win less than a third of the games he controls. Conversely, they win two-thirds of the games that Matt Noyen controls. Historically Tony Archer is the referee they did the worst under. Graeme West controlled matches during the Raiders heydays so his percentage is unsurprising.

    Nick Cotric

    (Hannah Peters/Getty Images)

    Newcastle Knights

    Ten year winning percentage Best referee and winning percentage Worst referee and winning percentage Best referee and winning percentage (historical) Worst referee and winning percentage (historical)
    38.6% Gavin Badger (60%) Gavin Reynolds (21.4%) Paul McBlane (72%) David Munro (11.8%)

    Gee, look at that ten-year winning percentage. It’s the worst of all the clubs by quite a way. However, Gavin Badger has bucked that percentage as they win six out of ten games under him. The Novocastrian faithful would sincerely wish they could get the same sort of results under Funky Reynolds under whom they only win one in five. David Munro finished up at the end of last season and I’m guessing the Knights fans aren’t missing him.

    Gold Coast Titans

    Ten year winning percentage Best referee and winning percentage Worst referee and winning percentage Best referee and winning percentage (historical) Worst referee and winning percentage (historical)
    43.5% Henry Perenara (52.4%) Gavin Reynolds (36.8%) Tony Archer (64.7%) Phil Haines (25%)

    For the third time Perenara – although only marginally – is the official under whom a side gets their best results, the Titans in this instance. On the other end is Reynolds. The Titans have won just over a third of their games under him. Referees supremo Tony Archer is the referee under whom the Titans experienced their best results.

    Manly Warringah Sea Eagles

    Ten year winning percentage Best referee and winning percentage Worst referee and winning percentage Best referee and winning percentage (historical) Worst referee and winning percentage (historical)
    56.6% Gerard Sutton (60%) Adam Gee (30%) Graeme West (80%) Adam Gee (30%)

    Despite their poor season to date, the Sea Eagles over the last decade have a good winning percentage. When Gerry Sutton has controlled their games they have won 60 per cent of the time. While it isn’t as good as how they went under Graeme West back in the day, the Brookvale Boys would vastly prefer it to what has happened under Adam Gee.

    North Queensland Cowboys

    Ten year winning percentage Best referee and winning percentage Worst referee and winning percentage Best referee and winning percentage (historical) Worst referee and winning percentage (historical)
    53.1% Chris Sutton (64.7%) Grant Atkins (40%) Chris James (82.4%) Mark Oaten (30.8%)

    Once more Chris Sutton is on the extreme edge of a side’s results. In this instance the Cowboys win two-thirds of the games he controls. Chris James finished up without warning at the conclusion of last season. However, when he controlled Cowboys games they won four times out of five.

    Cowboys Johnathan Thurston and Jason Taumalolo

    (AAP Image/Dean Lewins)

    Canterbury Bankstown Bulldogs

    Ten year winning percentage Best referee and winning percentage Worst referee and winning percentage Best referee and winning percentage (historical) Worst referee and winning percentage (historical)
    54.8% Ash Klein (67.6%) Ben Cummins (44.9%) Barry Barnes (84%) Steve Lyons (30%)

    The Belmore faithful must love seeing Ash Klein rock up as they win two-thirds of the time he controls their games. However, under Ben Cummins they only have a 45 per cent win rate. Back in the day the Doggies got a lot of wins under Barry Barnes, losing only 16 per cent of the time.

    Paramatta Eels

    Ten year winning percentage Best referee and winning percentage Worst referee and winning percentage Best referee and winning percentage (historical) Worst referee and winning percentage (historical)
    40.4% Adam Gee (60%) Gerard Sutton (28.6%) Matt Hewitt (81.8%) Col Pearce (13.6%)

    Col Pearce’s record of having the Eels lose 86.4 per cent of their games under him is the biggest losing outlier I found. Gerry Sutton controlled a lot of the Eels games in 2011, 2012 and 2013, which helps explain their poor win ratio under him.

    As stated above, I am firmly of the belief that none of the referees are biased for or against any sides. These are dedicated professionals who take pride in their impartiality and proficiency. These statistics only demonstrate that every statistical set has outliers, nothing more.

    While it could be argued that some referees are responsible for more than their fair share of the outliers, that is probably drawing a long bow too.

    So next time you hear someone say that this ref is biased against their side, refer them to the statistics.

    Tim Gore
    Tim Gore

    Tim has been an NRL statistician for ABC Radio Grandstand since 1999, primarily as part of their Canberra coverage. Tim has loved rugby league since Sterlo was a kid with lots of hair but was cursed with having no personal sporting ability whatsoever. He couldn't take a hit in footy, was a third division soccer player making up numbers, plays off 41 in golf and is possibly the world's worst cricketer ever. He has always been good at arguing the point though and he has a great memory of what happened. Follow Tim on Twitter.

    State of Origin 2 is here, with the Blues looking to wrap the 2018 series up and the Maroons hoping to keep it alive and force a decider. Follow along with our NSW vs QLD Origin 2 live scores and blog.

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    The Crowd Says (52)

    • Roar Guru

      June 14th 2018 @ 7:00am
      The Barry said | June 14th 2018 @ 7:00am | ! Report

      I knew Ben Cummins hated the Bulldogs…🤣

      • Columnist

        June 14th 2018 @ 7:58am
        Tim Gore said | June 14th 2018 @ 7:58am | ! Report

        It’s all he talks about.

    • June 14th 2018 @ 7:02am
      punter said | June 14th 2018 @ 7:02am | ! Report

      Love your work Tim. Great job with these numbers.

    • June 14th 2018 @ 7:03am
      Arcturus said | June 14th 2018 @ 7:03am | ! Report

      Thanks Tim. Great statistics, but I am still going to base my refereeing facts on hearsay, conjecture, and what Wally reckons down the pub.

      • Columnist

        June 14th 2018 @ 7:59am
        Tim Gore said | June 14th 2018 @ 7:59am | ! Report

        Look, Wally knows a bloke who heard stuff.

    • June 14th 2018 @ 7:16am
      Gray-Hand said | June 14th 2018 @ 7:16am | ! Report

      Excellent article Tim. A great counter to much of the immature referee bashing that plagues the game.

      Some of the historic statistics would no doubt be thrown out a bit by particular referees careers coinciding with long term form issues for teams. For instance most referees will have high win rates for the storm over the last ten years, due to the storm having such a great team and coach. Similarly, most referees during the 90’s through to about 2010 would probably have had low win percentages for Souths due to the Rabbitohs being such a garbage club at the time.

      • Columnist

        June 14th 2018 @ 8:00am
        Tim Gore said | June 14th 2018 @ 8:00am | ! Report

        Yep, absolutely. Graeme West did a lot of Raiders and Manly games during their late 89s early 90s periods for example.

    • Roar Guru

      June 14th 2018 @ 7:27am
      Con Scortis said | June 14th 2018 @ 7:27am | ! Report

      Hi Tim, I am biased against both the Roosters and the Broncos, so it can happen! 😊

    • June 14th 2018 @ 7:56am
      Zedman said | June 14th 2018 @ 7:56am | ! Report

      Interesting Tim, a couple of years ago the Roosters were complaining that Cummins had a set on them and all the while it was that pesky Gavin Badger. How much influence does the pocket ref have on a game, the lead ref has been seen to ignore his mate at times, probaly the worst would be Chris Sutton reffing a Qld team.😇

      • Columnist

        June 14th 2018 @ 8:01am
        Tim Gore said | June 14th 2018 @ 8:01am | ! Report

        I thought about the picket ref issue but decided a ref is a ref and – as long as they’ve done 10+ – the figures are valid.

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