The Pryce Was Right
The St. Helens squad of 2006-2007 is one that won’t be forgotten. It boasted a roster bursting with talent which could score tries from anywhere and swatted teams aside on a weekly basis. At the start of May, four of the 2007 World Club Championship winning team were still playing professional rugby league – with the retirement of legendary standoff Leon Pryce – that number is down to three.
When Pryce first pulled on a Saints jersey in 2006, he was the reigning Harry Sunderland award winner and it wasn’t the last honour to be added to his personal trophy cabinet. In his time in the red vee he collected a Super League winners ring, several League Leaders honours, 3 Challenge Cup winners medals and a (shared) Lance Todd Trophy along with his England caps.
His partnership with Sean Long lead to many great wins, his trademark drop of the shoulder allied to strong running made him a fans favourite. At times he ran like a prop giving everything to the cause – how many stand offs would make 2 runs in the same set, in the last minute, making 10 metres on each to set up a drop goal to ‘break Warringtons hearts again’?
I once met Leon on an away day in France. He was by then playing for the Catalans Dragons but he came over to a group of Saints fans and spent time with us chatting and enjoying the evening sun. He was a top guy; the fans who met him really appreciated his company & the fact he’d taken a few hours out of his day to speak to us.
So Leon, hope you enjoy your retirement and thank you for the memories.
Help: They Need Somebody
Super League officials have a tough job policing the game. In a match they make hundreds and hundreds of decisions and the majority of them are correct. As a sport have different rules in both hemispheres, new tweaks brought in every close season and a set of laws which are seemingly being interpreted differently from one person to the next. So is it any wonder mistakes creep into the game? You only have to look at Saints past 2 games to see matches refereed completely differently. At Magic Weekend, Robert Hicks wouldn’t allow a slow ruck and penalised both teams, against Wigan Phil Bentham was happy with a slower game and so awarded 5 penalties less. Yes players’ actions are ultimately at fault, and if you put yourself in a position to give a ref a decision to make it could cost you, but the differences in the games were obvious, and inconsistent. Fans want consistency – but referees are humans. And humans make mistakes.
If a referee makes a big mistake, an absolute howler, then its right they should be criticised – players and coaches aren’t immune so the man in the middle shouldn’t be either. However, amongst that criticism it must be identified that the referees genuinely need help. They are, in the main, full time now but has this actually improved the quality? It seems we’ve actually lost more referees in the past few seasons with rumours of bullying and inappropriate behaviour rife.
It is time the RFL looked at the Match Officials Department and ask if they have the right people in place. They need to ask why the likes of Joe Cobb, George Stokes and Sam Ansell weren’t helped to become our next generation of referees. They need to ask where the support from the head of the referees department is. They need to ask where the transparency of the once excellent @RFLReferees Twitter account has gone – it was one of the only links between fans and the officials. They need to speak with referees in Australia and New Zealand, from Rugby Union, from football and ask how they cope with pressure, how they manage a game, how they nurture and attract the next generation of officials, how they interpret their rules and see how this could be transferred to our game. If they don’t already then how about engaging more with coaches and players to advise teams.
There are other ways the refs could be helped too. I could be here all day going through the problems created by the use of the Video Ref. The fairness of some teams getting more games with the VR used, the arguments on whether a try would be given if it was a Sunday afternoon game rather than a Thursday night but most of all the way the system is used (or not) full stop.
As an example, the farcical way that officials are sometimes asked to guess at whether a try has been scored when it comes to a Video Ref decision is a nonsense. Rugby Union referees ask one of two questions when a referral is made: ‘Is there any reason that I cannot award a try?’ and ‘Try: yes or no?’ The wording of these questions is subtle enough to show the difference between the referees conviction without backing him into a corner with a decision. I like the idea of having an ex-ref available to the commentary team on Sky, but does Stuart Cummings getting the call on Mark Percival’s second try wrong prove that the game needs simplifying or has he been out of the middle too long to apply common sense to a law? Either way, to a national audience, his commentary confused matters – imagine a first time rugby league viewer being told that it wasn’t a try by an ex-referee, only for everyone else in the studio and the VR to go completely against what he was advising.
Without help, there’s no doubt that viewers will turn off their TV’s, and spectators will stay away from grounds. But, while it will take time to fix, it’s not a completely broken system. I just hope the RFL looks at the issues faced sooner rather than later.