Video Killed The Referee Stars

I’m not sure if any of you caught the RL on RY live Facebook video last Monday night but if you did you would have seen the huge frame of the RFL’s Nigel Wood squeezed into a studio with the huge ego of Garry Schofield. I’ve never listened to the show before but it was interesting fayre as this countries’ top Rugby administrator spoke on various issues regarding the game. I’m not going to go into the minor details of the show (it’s still available on the RL on RY Facebook page if you want to watch it) but it made interesting viewing.

Mr. Wood was asked about referees. He stated he was happy with the process of video referees getting involved in the game (as part of a discussion which included mentioning the Liam Watts sending off against Wigan). He thought the referees were of a good standard and referenced Todd Greenberg’s defence of NRL referees in his answers. Now some of these points are a matter of opinion – and not necessarily shared by myself. Todd Greenberg made some good points but in my opinion the Video Ref is so inconsistent it’s almost amazing. Currently the VR can get involved with reviewing: tries, restarts, 40/20’s, who touched the ball last, in touch and can assist with identification and parts of foul play before the next play the ball. But unless you look at all these, in every game, how can it be fair? As Saints fans we’d ask why one week Robert Hicks looked at the Liam Watts/Michael McIlorum incident, but the week before seemingly didn’t ask the VR to look at the LMS/Willie Isa ‘cannonball’. The incidents may have resulted in the same outcomes but why the inconsistency?

While many fans will point the blame at refs for losing a game, or comment that a ref has had a bad game, we all know deep down that players make more mistakes than the officials. This isn’t a defence of referees either. In a previous post I’ve spoken about how refs should expect criticism if they make a massive error and that they need help. Technically an official has to make hundreds of decisions each game – for example, when a player is tackled the ref must in a second or two decide if it’s a legal tackle (high, chicken wing, cannonball etc.), if it’s a dominant tackle, when the tackle is completed, if the player is being held down, if the player is being dragged, if there is any interference and then if the player plays the ball correctly. I know most tackles/play the balls are routine but the odds are that a ref will make mistakes in a game when they have to make so many calls.

One of the issue we have is, how do we get the best refs for the game? I’m not sure going full time has improved the referees; you’re potentially asking someone to give up a full time career to be the subject of trial by television or fans for 10 to 15 years. This isn’t the Premier League where multiple channels both here and abroad use former referees to analyse play. We have one channel showing RL where the ex-Head of Referees regularly ‘clears up’ on field calls by getting them completely wrong. As long as the refs are fit enough and know the rules and how to apply them does it matter if they’re full time? In my opinion, it doesn’t matter one bit.

The person who should be doing the most work in defending referees is their current boss, Steve Ganson. But unlike when he took charge of Super League games, Ganson is conspicuous in his absence. If he started taking the heat off the likes of Robert Hicks and James Child and started defending them then supporters ire might be redirected away from the field and into the administration.

And so back to the administration. Recently Rugby Union started a ‘Northern Hemisphere trial’ to attempt to simplify their game. Rugby League desperately needs to do the same instead of working on rules in pre-season then binning them before the year starts. Whether we decide that anything, even ball steals, that come forward out of an attackers hand are classified as a knock on or that each referee gives players the same exact amount of time to clear a tackle/ruck the rules need to be cleared up – the simpler the game is, the easier it is for both casual and avid Rugby League fans to follow and hopefully for the refs to officiate. Is this how we help the referees and cut out the criticism?

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