There are eight rounds remaining in the shortened 2020 NRL season and the race for finals places will continue in earnest this weekend.
The NRL have secured a significant win, with the referees’ union dropping their threat of industrial action and the pocket official scrapped just as their feud threatened to go nuclear.
After a dramatic day where both sides fired shots at each other, the referees’ union eventually relented on Friday night and called off weekend arbitration.
Under the deal, 22 full-time referees will be employed both this year and next with the one-referee system to be a “trial” that is reviewed at year’s end.
A working committee of players, coaches referees and management will be set up, with their feedback handed to the commission before a call is made on 2021.
The development came after the union infuriated the NRL on Friday by accusing them of overlooking player safety and labelled them “arrogant” and like a “bull in a china shop” in rushing to make changes.
“It’s simple: Today’s game is safer with two refs,” the Professional Rugby League Match Officials said in a statement.
“On numerous occasions, the second referee has picked up potential causes of harm to players, which were not detected at the same time by the other three match officials, nor the bunker.
“This includes tackles, holds and throws that can cause significant injury.
“Identifying and responding to these incidents promptly is crucial in ensuring player safety, and in complying with concussion protocols where a head injury is suspected.
“But this does not appear to concern the league’s bosses.”
The union claimed that 80 per cent of ruck penalties are spotted by the pocket referee, who has been eliminated in the NRL’s new model.
They also said the NRL had ignored the pleas of coaches of players during a May 11 Project Apollo meeting in moving to the one-referee system.
“The league bosses were simply arrogant with this one-ref decision,” the statement said.
“They were like a ‘bull in a china shop’.”
The comments angered ARL Commission chairman Peter V’landys, who immediately said the referees had lost all credibility through the claims.
He insisted that under his plan there will be extra qualified eyes on the ruck, with officials who have previously been pocket referees now acting as touch judges.
Both they and the bunker will be given license to communicate with the central referee on the ruck as part of the changes approved by the commission.
He also attacked claims that the game would save “peanuts” by eliminating the pocket referee, arguing the figure would be close to $2 million in a full season.
“I think the NRL knows what the cost savings are more than an association would,” V’landys told AAP.
“The commission should be allowed to change its rules and policies to maximise its revenues.”
Hours later V’landys had seemingly won the battle, with confirmation just before 8pm the PRLMO had called off a Fair Work hearing following meetings with the league.
“It is a constructive sign that the NRL have agreed to do this on a trial basis until the end of the year,” PRLMO chairman Silvio Del Vecchio said.
“Our case in the Fair Work Commission will be resumed, if necessary, and can be revisited, following the ARLC Commission’s response to the working group’s deliberations at the end of the season.”
Vlandy’s praised the actions of “individual referees” following the news.
“It was heart-warming to see their desire that nothing stands in the way of the 28th May commencement of our great game,” he said.