South Sydney coach Wayne Bennett has put the NRL referees back in the spotlight, insisting their backdown on the penalty crackdown had resulted in the ruck descending into farce.
Bennett sent a strongly-worded message to NRL CEO Todd Greenberg and head of football Graham Annesley after his side’s lacklustre 14-6 win over Canterbury on Good Friday.
Last year the referees were the focus of attention for all the wrong reasons – their attempt to crack down on play the ball infringements and the 10m rule resulted in a revolt from fans.
In response, the officials were told to relax their interpretations and penalties have fallen markedly this year.
Through the first 43 games this season, including Friday’s fixtures, there have been 516 penalties blown – compared with 763 at the same point last year.
“I don’t intend to get myself fined here today. But I’ve been a fan with what the refs have been trying to do, give us more football,” Bennett said.
However, seven-time premiership-winner Bennett said sides were getting away with too much and the whistleblowers were being too lenient.
“You all saw today, that had a huge impact on the game, what was going on in the play the ball area,” Bennett said.
“I’ve never been in an era of the game when the players are less compliant, they stretch everything they possibly can on the field.
“That puts more pressure on the referees. It’s not a criticism, it’s just a fact. Today was the worst I’ve seen.”
Bennett stopped short of calling for another crackdown, saying the referees had to find a middle ground between policing the ruck and not overshadowing the game.
“They are trying to be lenient and try to get us to cooperate and work within the rules and they’re trying to put the whistle away, but I’m saying at times we’re not complying with the rules,” Bennett said.
“We’re way outside the rules.
“You talk about the Lachlan Lewis, the Sam Burgess blow-up coming into halftime, that was all about what happened in the play-the-ball area. What are you allowed to get away with? Sam didn’t want to tolerate it.”
Bennett said sides had figured out that they could get away with spoiling tactics and it had only gotten progressively worse over the first five-and-a-half rounds.
“Because they’ve tried to have less penalties and less down time, the players are abusing it,” Bennett said.
“You all saw it today, you all sat and watched it.
“I’ve got to talk about it. If I didn’t talk about it, not one of you (the media) would write about it. That’s the thing that annoys me.”