When it comes to rugby league and refereeing, there are many fans and members of the media calling for consistency.
Consistency is a buzzword. Whenever there is a perception that two referees have made different decisions on separate occasions or that a rule is not as black-and-white as it seems, people scream for consistency.
I find it baffling that despite these increased calls for consistency, there has been a narrative emerging over the last couple of days that would give rise to complete inconsistency in the way the game is refereed.
Prior to the preliminary final between the Canberra Raiders and the South Sydney Rabbitohs, Andrew Johns came out and said that in the final ten minutes of big games, the referees should put the whistle away and let the boys play.
These comments were in response to the Jake Trbojevic sin-binning the previous week.
But Johns is not the only person to hold this view.
We all knew the game between the Sydney Roosters and Melbourne Storm would have fireworks – I just didn’t think they would go off so quickly.
Within the first 30 seconds we had two players sent to the bin for some push and shove in the opening plays – Nelson Asofa-Solomona from the Storm and Sio Siua Taukeiaho for the Roosters.
Both decisions were correct, particularly because the slapping rule was introduced in response to calls from fans and the media to get rid of it from the game.
Asofa-Solomona struck Taukeiaho twice in the face with an open hand. Taukeiaho clenched his fist, ready to throw a punch but didn’t manage to connect. This brought in both teams for a bit of push and shove.
In response to the sin-binning, social media erupted with several high-profile people suggesting that there was nothing in it and that in games like this, the players should be able to sort these sorts of incidents out for themselves.
When it comes to comments like these, particularly the ones Johns made, I have to call them out for what they are: absurd.
I don’t even really know what Johns was trying to say.
It seems that he is suggesting that in the last ten minutes of big games (whatever they are) that referees should referee the game differently and allow the players to determine the result.
This approach raises more questions than answers. What constitutes a big game – is it a Round 25 fixture where two teams are battling it out for the final top-eight spot? Is it a game of significance for a club or a player or is it just finals footy and State of Origin?
If I understand correctly, it also means that referees shouldn’t enforce the rules for the final ten minutes or be able to decide which rules they can and can enforce.
Could you imagine what such an approach could lead to?
If players know that they can decide the outcome of the final ten minutes, it could lead to deliberate professional fouls, foul play and unnecessary niggle to get a result.
But additionally, which rules are referees meant to enforce in the final ten minutes and which are they supposed to let go according to Johns?
Should a slightly forward pass be let go? What about a shoulder charge? A professional foul?
So many commentators are blaming referees for not being consistent enough. So the solution is to put referees in a position where they can decide which rules they can and can’t enforce but only during a certain period of the game? Makes sense.
The problem with people that think referees decide games is that in most cases, they seem to forget that there are 26 players on the field that at any given point have the ability to make decisions that will impact the final result.
The referees are not responsible for results. Johns’ comments completely absolve the players of any responsibility for their actions.
The referees have a responsibility to uphold the rules, and in the case of Trbojevic last weekend plus the three players sin-binned this weekend, the referees were doing just that.
Rules are in place for a reason and our game will be a better one when the focus shifts from referees making the correct calls to players behaving illegally or making silly mistakes on the field.
This weekend is the NRL grand final. We have quite the spectacle ahead with the people’s team, the Canberra Raiders, up against the reigning premiers, the Sydney Roosters.
For once, I urge the people commentating this game to do just that: commentate the game.
Don’t lose the plot about a referee call. Don’t talk about the feel of the game (again, whatever that means) and don’t encourage referees to forget about a rule just because it doesn’t suit a particular narrative.
Both teams have 80 minutes to win this game. Let’s see which team is good enough to do just that.