The Roar
The Roar


Why complain about the NRL's black and white decisions?

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12th October, 2019
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“Has the whole world gone crazy? Am I the only one around here who gives a shit about the rules?” I was reminded of these words from Walter Sobchak all too frequently this NRL season.

Every time the refs made a big decision, there would be those who railed against the game’s officialdom.

These whingers demanded that the whistle-blowers have a better ‘feel’ for the game and stop being such pedants about the rules.

So Jake Trbojevic took out an attacking player who didn’t have the ball, in a try-scoring situation. It doesn’t matter that his action was a professional foul and the rules dictate he be sent to the sin bin.

This was a finals game. The refs should have the courage to ignore the rules.

So Jared Waerea-Hargreaves tried to trip an opposing player and ended up at the judiciary for the sixth time this season. The panel should have had the stones to realise he didn’t need to spend time on the sidelines for what was his fourth guilty offence of the year, because he’s heaps good at footy and the fans want to see people who are heaps good at footy play footy.

So Suliasi Vunivalu didn’t actually brush the sideline in Melbourne’s crucial finals match against Canberra but ended up being mistakenly called out. The real problem here was that the touch judge cared either way, because the sideline isn’t actually there to be respected in certain situations.

Well, that was Phil Gould’s take in the days following the Storm’s controversial 12-10 loss.

Speaking on the Six Tackles with Gus podcast, Gould said, “If he did touch the line, one finger, is that really what the sideline rule is for? One finger? Is that really what it is? I don’t think it is.”


That’s where you completely lost me. What do you mean “is that really what the sideline rule is for”?

Phil Gould

(Photo by Mark Metcalfe/Getty Images)

Granted, touch judge Michael Wise got the call wrong – Vunivalu was, in fact, always in the field of play – but Gus thinks that our officials should now ignore something as clear-cut as whether a player is in or out.

Because apparently the sideline rule’s sole job – to determine in or out – is not actually what it’s there for.

I once again defer to Walter: “Fuck it, Dude. Let’s go bowling.”

Seriously, what’s the point arguing about whether the NRL’s officials are up to snuff or not with people who suggest that something as black and white – well, green and white – as the sideline rule is actually a grey area?

You don’t get to decide when the sideline matters or not – it’s in or out.

Likewise, refs don’t get to decide if a professional foul in a try-scoring situation isn’t worthy of the sin bin just because the incident occurs at an exciting moment. It’s right there in the rules, yet apparently a ref should only give a penalty because the game’s nearly over and we wouldn’t want an incident like that to determine the outcome – even though, by committing a professional foul, Trbojevic had purposely broken the rules to try to determine the outcome.


Nor do the judiciary get to decide a player should just get a fine instead of being barred from a game when they’re fronting the panel for the sixth time in a season. It’s a three-strike policy – you can commit two low-grade illegal acts and pay to play – yet apparently, the judiciary have gone soft by not letting players act like grubs all year and just do a bit of salary sacrificing so as not to miss a minute for foul play.

While there was no end of controversy over the game’s officiating, the refs and judiciary have correctly deferred to the rule book far more often than not.

And, on the whole, it’s a pretty good rule book.

Professional fouls in try-scoring situations should result in sin bins.

Low-grade illegal acts should result in suspension when it’s become clear a certain player isn’t learning their lesson.

(Photo by Mark Metcalfe/Getty Images)

And – I can’t believe this needs to be written – out should be out.

As for the concern that a lack of understanding of the subtleties of rugby league – not allowing for any grey areas – would ultimately ruin the biggest game of the year, well, let’s revisit the incident that caused the decider to be permanently tarnished (well, the second incident).


In the wake of the ‘six again’ controversy, NRL head of football Graham Annesley sorta-kinda backed the call that “six tackles should not have been awarded” after referee Ben Cummins indicated it was a fresh set, then expected the Raiders to have heard his about-face over the screams of 82,922 fans.

“I accept it created confusion among the Canberra players,” Annesley said, going on to say his officials “actually got the decision right – but they got it right in a way that’s caused controversy.”

So the call was right but in a way that’s wrong. That, ladies and gentlemen, is the explanation of a man who is neck-deep in a grey situation – and it offers cold comfort for steamed Raiders fans.

Events such as these are the times the game understandably attracts controversy because there is no black and white explanation – otherwise, Annesley would have quoted extensively from the rulebook to back his team.

And I’m not saying that all the game’s rules are perfect – seriously, that Roosters trainer being on the field in the opening minutes is such a farce and needs to be completely overhauled because every team does it.

But maybe we save the outrage for incidents that deserve it and simply ignore people who want to argue that there are times when out isn’t actually out.