The Canberra Raiders will finally get a shot at revenge when they face the Sydney Roosters in the grand final rematch on Thursday night.
There’s no use pussyfooting around: rugby league has become soft.
In stark contrast to the good old days, when every weekend you could depend on seeing several all-in brawls and at least half a dozen instances of severe head trauma shrugged off by real men, today every game in the NRL resembles a kind of badminton and jazz ballet hybrid.
It’s a game played by metrosexual cowards whose first instinct after a compound fracture is to go to a doctor, instead of just gathering up the splinters of bone, slipping them in your pocket, and scoring in the corner.
The reason? The same reason for everything that has ever gone wrong in the game: referees. Frankly, they have no feel for the game. It’s like they’ve never even sat in the stands screaming obscenities.
What is needed is a comprehensive re-education for all referees, so they can learn the central truth of rugby league officiating: it’s about the spirit of the rules, not the letter.
When given a choice between making a decision based on what the rules ‘say’ and what the rules are, deep down inside, thinking, always go for the latter. That’s what they need to be taught.
To that end, I’ve prepared a handy test for all NRL match officials – and aspiring NRL match officials – to take. Anyone who can successfully answer every question is ready to take the field with whistle in mouth.
Anyone who fails on any point needs to go back to the re-education camps that Phil Gould is setting up under the Panthers carpark.
Take it now and see if you’ve got what it takes!
The attacking team puts in a kick towards the tryline. As attackers and defenders alike race to reach the ball first, one of the defending team reaches out and pulls the jersey of an attacking chaser, preventing him from competing for the ball.
As the referee, do you:
a) award a penalty to the attacking team and sin-bin the defender for a clear professional foul.
b) award a penalty to the attacking team, but don’t sin-bin the defender because it was only a little jumper-pull and you’d probably have done the same and nobody’s perfect are they?
c) award a penalty against the attacker for deliberately running faster than the defender, forcing him against his will to commit an offence, which is entrapment.
d) get both players to fight each other and award the penalty to whoever’s left standing.
A player slaps another player in the face. As the referee, do you:
a) penalise the player for slapping, because that is against the rules.
b) penalise the other player for getting slapped, because clearly he was asking for it.
c) penalise the player for slapping, because a real man would’ve thrown a punch.
d) slap both of them yourself.
A grown man actually pulls another man’s hair. Literally. He pulls his hair. In a football game. Grabs his hair and pulls it. As the referee, do you:
a) blow a penalty and probably sin-bin him as well, because for god’s sake, hair-pulling, seriously?
b) call play-on as hair-pulling is very much within the spirit of rugby league and a good flowing game needs to tolerate the odd hair-pull.
c) tell the player whose hair was pulled to get a hair cut as he looks like a girl.
d) high-five the hair-puller and congratulate him on his astounding manliness.
A player trips another player with his leg. As the referee, do you:
a) penalise him and give him a stint in the bin, because you remember Phil Gould demanding referees crack down on trips.
b) let the game go on, because you remember Phil Gould demanding referees stop being so harsh on trips.
c) rule no infraction, because the trip was below the shoulders.
d) award a penalty try to whichever team you like best.
A tackler attacks the head of his opponent with a swinging arm, connecting sickeningly with his face, shattering his nose and causing a severe concussion. As the referee, do you:
a) send the tackler off immediately to send a strong message.
b) put the tackler on report, in case someone accuses you of sending a strong message.
c) warn the tackler that if he does that four or five more times you might consider giving a penalty.
d) check whether it’s a State of Origin game or a final, and if it is, penalise the tackled player for being soft.
A player is lifted upside down and dropped directly on his head, creating a serious risk of permanent spinal damage and paralysis. As the referee, do you:
a) send the tackler or tacklers off, because the risk this type of tackle poses to the wellbeing of the tackled player is so extreme that the very harshest sanctions must be applied in order to stamp it out of the game.
b) do as specified in a), but only if it’s not at an important point in a close game, because that would be unfair.
c) consider doing as specified in a), but withhold judgment until you have spoken to the tackler’s friends and family and any members of the media who might have met him once, to check whether he is a decent bloke who does great work in the community. If this is the case, let the tackle go, as you’re sure he didn’t mean to hurt anyone.
d) submit the video to the producers of a new compilation series, Footy’s greatest piledrivers, poleaxings and punch-ons.
How did you go?
I won’t tell you the correct answers: if you’ve got what it takes, you know what they are.