The Roar
The Roar


How to fix refereeing? Ask a referee

How do we fix NRL refereeing? (Photo by Mark Kolbe/Getty Images)
26th July, 2018

We still talking about referees? We are? This baby has more legs than a Mongolian army.

So many legs. So many angles. So many sexy hot takes.

Scrap the bunker. Beef up the bunker. Empower the refs. De-power the refs.

De-flower Tony Archer on a torture wheel in Martin Place. Admittedly no-one has suggested that. Not in those words, anyway.

Arm former players with digital voting machines, ruling on every try with a little committee of group think.

No-one has suggested that one either.

Or have they? There’s been so many solutions, and so few solutions.

And we’ve heard bugger-all from referees.

Because in terms of solutions to issues pertaining to refereeing it would appear best to ask, you know, referees.


Indeed unless you have refereed a game of rugby league then you aren’t in the best position to pass comment on refereeing a game of rugby league.

Could be just me. And Tony Archer. Don’t think it is.

Matt Cecchin

Matt Cecchin (Photo by Mark Evans/Getty Images)

Of course you may absolutely have an opinion.

But if you haven’t adjudicated the game – at any level much less the high-stress pressure cooker of this man’s National Rugby League – then your opinion on adjudicating the game could be treated with so many doses of Pfffft.


Yes: Pfffft.

As in, Pffft – what would you know about it?


It’s like telling a plumber how to unblock the toilet because you once used one.

Referees’ overlord Tony Archer does good Pffft. Indeed Tony Archer doesn’t listen to anyone who believes they know more about refereeing than Tony Archer.

Because to Tony Archer, in terms of refereeing, very few of those people even exist.

And fewer again are not referees.

Bob Fulton was not, apparently, one of them.

People might call Archer arrogant. And they could make a case. Old mate Arch’s opinion of old mate Arch does not lack love.

But you need a degree of self-love, of protective love bark, if you will, to do the blessed bloody job of refereeing, and to appear so confident in one’s adjudication.

Hollywoods Hartley and Harrigan were the same. Still are. Love is in the air between mirror and those fellows, and no argument.


And they would brook no argument. They’re right, you’re wrong. Remember that thing in the ’89 grand final, Balmain’s Bruce Maguire being pinged for obstruction using a Raiders player, Steve Walters, I think, or Chris O’Sullivan, as a human shield?

Bill’s response to those who disagree with Bill on it, and I quote: “Here’s twenty cents, call someone who cares.”

Tony Archer NRL

NRL Referees boss Tony Archer speaks to the media at Rugby League Central. (Photo by Mark Metcalfe/Getty Images)

So yes – it takes a bit of mongrel, your top level reffing. A bit of the… I dunno… the uppity, the born-to-rule.

Mainly this: it takes belief.

Which doesn’t necessarily mean people like you. Not meant to. Such is the referee’s job lot.

Parking inspectors the same.

Anyway – we’ve had a week of hot sexy takes and suggestions as to how to solve the Refereeing Crisis, and the bunker, and all the rest, and we’ve heard little enough about refereeing at the highest level from high-level referees.


Old mate Arch is a case in point.

Arch, you see, has created a post for himself above the manager of referees, Bernard Sutton, like a director or overseer or something, which appears to mean Arch does not have to defend decisions or referees, or get blamed for stuff, or to talk publicly at all. Old mate Arch just floats above it all like a god.

Pretty good gig, your floating god boss.

Yet it’s a shame. For it brings us no nearer a solution from those who’d know: our whistlers.

Mr Harrigan’s had a crack on radio. Ref manager Bernard has thrown two bob at those who care.

And Greg McCallum said Bernard Sutton should drop Gerard Sutton.

Rang him the other day, G-Mac (whom they likely call thus), and talked refereeing. He was involved in video reviews from ground zero.

“In 1995 when we brought into Super League, we took a lot of convincing from the broadcaster, Sky Sports,” says McCallum. “Then it took a lot to convince the clubs. They didn’t want it to become a major part of the game.


“But they understood – if the ball is rolling around, kicked into in-goal, it would be good to have video assisting.

“That’s how it started.

“And it grew and grew and grew. And [in the NRL] it went through a whole raft of tweaks. Referee’s call, send it up, send it back. Artificial ways to fix it.”

How do we fix it?

“The focus has to be on processes,” offers McCallum. “At the moment what we have is a potentially really good system, the mechanics of which aren’t working.”

Fact: last Friday night in Cronulla the touch judge made a mistake. We’ve all known a mental aberration. The referee knew one too.

What should’ve happened was: touch judge is sole authority on sideline. Flag’s up? Whistle’s blown.

“Then there would’ve been no debate on the try,” adds McCallum. “There’d have been focus on the touch judge.”


Yes. And we’d have had a whole other conversation – Sharks fans howling about the touch judge.

But the system – and the consistent application of the system – would have been right.

“Next was the bunker,” says McCallum. “There’s three in the bunker. Two look at angles. For some reason they didn’t see or recognise that the flag had gone up. And they went on to adjudicate a try.

“It was sent to them as no try. But there was no counter-balance to make the right decision: no try.”

Humans make mistakes, though, G-Mac, right?

“You can’t keep saying human element. There’s got to be a greater emphasis on processes that don’t allow those things to happen.”

What about having replays only for grounding and touch line, which puts onus upon refs. And then all that second man, inside shoulder, obstruction stuff, let the dice fall where they will?

Oh? People would blow up?


They do that now.

Would it not empower our whistle-blowers to make decisions and to own them?

Can we not let referees rule!

“Referees have lost that decision-making edge,” says McCallum. “To me it came about on Friday night when Gerard Sutton – who is an excellent referee, and outside of Matt Cecchin our most experienced – he didn’t know how to handle it.

“He went to blow his whistle. But he was trying to think of too many things. He had everyone in his ear, another issue. They’ve got to get rid of all the talk so they can concentrate their job.

“It’s the same for the bunker. It can be effective – but it can’t be at the moment because it’s being asked to do too much too often.”

Rugby league is losing excitement because of it. Brisk, precise, confident decision-making – even if ultimately shown to be wrong by the television god box replay – contributes to excitement.

In the game’s quest for perfection, television has taken away one of the cool things about it: the referee pointing to the spot and blowing the pea out of it. Continuity is killed.


Can we get back to what it was? Ball goes over stripe – unless the grounding’s dodgy, make a call, whistle man.

We could do it, for sure. But we the people, like those Russians chanting for Rocky over Drago, would have to change.

[latest_videos_strip category=”league” name=”League”]

We’d have to admit that the referee’s call is right, even when it’s wrong.

We’d have to cop it sweet.

Are we grown up enough to do that? You’d suggest not. G-Mac’s positive, however.

“Deep down I think everyone would like to do that,” he says. “Nathan Brown, who’s a realist, said it last Sunday: we had a decision that went our way. Last week we copped one.

“Deep down everyone understands.


“But when you’re struggling like Canberra you’re your own worst enemy. The Raiders are potentially great but don’t measure up. And when Friday night happens it knocks them out.”

Pop quiz, G-Mac: Captain’s challenge?

“Ideal – would’ve fixed the other night.”

Two refs?

“I’d have one.”

The bunker?

“Get it working. The technology is world class. It needs processes and people mixing together.

“There are far too many decisions going to the bunker.


“The least involvement it has, the more effective it is.”