Magic Round promised to be the round of the year – and it delivered that promise in spades.
The referees’ union insist their voices were not properly heard before the NRL made the decision to go back to one whistleblower for the remainder of 2020.
The NRL confirmed on Wednesday night that the pocket referee would be gone for the rest of the season, turning back the clock by a dozen years to 2008.
Under the changes, the NRL will save money by no longer using touch judges, who are employed on a casual basis.
Instead, those roles will be filled by those who are normally full-time referees, ensuring no officials are made redundant.
The change will be reviewed at the end of this season before the start of 2021.
But the Professional Rugby League Match Officials said they were unhappy with the change, and would not rule out considering their options further.
It comes after the union’s chairman Silvio Del Vecchio earlier this week refused to rule out industrial action.
“We are obviously very disappointed at tonight’s decision by the ARLC,” the union posted on Twitter.
“A lack of meaningful consultation and proper consideration around such a significant decision remain an issue.
“We will continue to consult closely with our members and reserve our rights at this time.”
The union has previously questioned how much money will be saved in the move, amid claims it will be in the millions.
ARL Commission chairman Peter V’landys on Wednesday night claimed the move would help stop the wrestle and ensure the best match officials are always on the field.
“The decision shouldn’t been seen as taking one referee out,” he said.
“It should be that we are using three full-time experienced referees controlling the game, which will ensure greater surveillance of the ruck and the wrestle.”
But there has been opposition from coaches ever since it was first suggested last week, as well as fears from players it would still slow down the ruck.
Coaches Des Hasler, Michael Maguire, Paul Green, Paul McGregor, Stephen Kearney and Justin Holbrook had been among those to speak out against the change.
But by Wednesday night, there had been softening from some players.
Parramatta enforcer Nathan Brown reasoned he was ready for the game to shift to one on-field official.
“Most of the NRL players have played their whole careers with one ref so I don’t think it really matters,” he said.
Former South Sydney star and now assistant coach Sam Burgess also claimed he hadn’t noticed the difference in Test football, with his view at odds to many other international players.
Meanwhile Queensland coach Kevin Walters has been a vocal supporter of the move in the past week, arguing the game had previously survived fine for 100 years with one referee.