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De-bunking the critics of the NRL bunker

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28th July, 2020
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The NRL contract for the Bunker is soon to be up for review. Reportedly worth $2 million a year, since being introduced, hardly a week goes by that it isn’t criticized.

Apparently the Bunker slows the game down, is too heavily relied upon, and it makes mistakes – or, more pointedly, the people in it make mistakes.

I have a solution.

The NRL should make it a job of the broadcast commentators.

For one, the commentary team are watching the same replays and angles as the fans. We often hear that the Bunker has many more angles and aren’t seeing what we are. One of the ways to build consensus among a group of witnesses is to have them watch the same thing and decide.

But the commentators are also shaping consensus and interpreting what fans are seeing at the time they see it. They also often decide and agree on the outcome ahead of the officials.

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We also know that commentators, unlike the officials, are perfect – if you doubt it, just ask them. “A fool could see”, “anybody could tell” – well I say, make them the ‘fool’ who can see.

Phil Gould is reportedly about to review a range of NRL issues. Gould is one of the harshest and longest-standing critics of the Bunker and any people making decisions about football who aren’t him.

One of the key tools in change management is to take those who complain the most and empower them to make decisions and drive change. After that, if they are still complaining, you know you don’t have the problem, they do. The NRL could do it in this case.

Phil Gould

Phil Gould (Photo by Mark Metcalfe/Getty Images)

How else will this benefit the game?

Firstly, it saves the game $2 million at a time when money is scarce.

It will also make the commentators able to call the game in front of them without so much of their commentary being negative about the officials. They do it not only at the time of the play, but at halftime, full-time and after the game, asking the players and coaches about the terrible decisions made.

It is also of note that most of the commentators are ex-players and coaches – one of the main criticisms of the current system is that the officials, especially those in the bunker, don’t ‘understand’ the game.

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I genuinely enjoy having access to the football minds of Peter Sterling, Phil Gould, Andrew Johns and Darren Lockyer on Channel Nine, and Cooper Cronk, Mal Meninga, Kevin Walters, Steve Roach, Braith Anasta and Michael Ennis on Foxtel. What I don’t like is having them dwelling on how much better the game was before technology, while criticizing the match officials and their decisions.

I prefer it when these former players educate me on what is happening – be it building attacking opportunities or demonstrating defensive cohesion and effort.

Currently so much of the drama the Bunker creates is a self-fulfilling prophecy. If the commentators watch the replay and, by consensus, make the decision, then they won’t spend so much time during and around games talking about those making the decisions. We get on with the game and so much of oxygen given to the drama disappears.

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We could have sports sections dedicated to the actual game, while depriving shows on Nine and Fox the opportunity to slam officials and decision-makers.

These voices might even be able to shift focus to something positive that players, teams and coaches are doing, as opposed to being perpetually negative about the game that has given them all so much, and continues to pay their bills.

Removing the Bunker completely would just allow them to blame the referee and the touch judges for the same thing. With so much at stake from a playing and gambling perspective, it isn’t an option.

I love going to the football, but rugby league is the perfect game for television. They should make the most of the cameras and vision available to the experts, allowing them to earn and maintain their own credibility, instead of having the hottest take that week about what Graham Annesley isn’t doing.