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Sport Why NRL's ridiculous ref problem is out of control

05:17  22 september  2020
05:17  22 september  2020 Source:   wwos.nine.com.au

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Rugby league has long been regarded as the 'greatest game of all' but the question needs to be asked of the people running the NRL.

Why do we keep stuffing around with the interpretation of the rules that have stood the test of time?

The laws of the game were established in 1908 and over the years, the rules have been updated to keep pace with the professional coaches who are constantly coming up with different ways to flout them to gain an advantage for their team.

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I studied the rulebook as a teenager to become a junior rugby league referee but the more and more I watch the NRL these days, I'm constantly left scratching my head at some of the ridiculous and puzzling decisions we're seeing on a weekly basis.

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It's reached a point where I'm convinced a team will be dudded by one of these howlers in the finals series because the NRL has turned the officials into robots who are forced to speak from a script in the bunker and use a specific set of words on the field.

They've lost a feel for the game, their confidence in making decisions is shot and they are no longer officiating with a black-and-white set of rules. I think it's time to revert back to common sense and apply the pub test - do you agree?

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The prime example is the obstruction rule. Good luck working out what constitutes an obstruction in the NRL, it seems to change on a weekly basis. In fact, we've given up guessing on 2GB's Continuous Call Team - we instead play the 'Benny Hill' theme until the Bunker rules on whether it's a try or no-try.

Is it any wonder coaches like Ricky Stuart are throwing water bottles out the window?  NRL coaches are judged on results and surely they're entitled to let off some steam.

Josh Papalii, Elliott Whitehead are posing for a picture: Referee Chris Sutton addresses Raiders players Josh Papalii and Elliott Whitehead. © Getty Referee Chris Sutton addresses Raiders players Josh Papalii and Elliott Whitehead.

I receive emails each weekend from fans of the game who are accusing the officials of nitpicking and it's hard to disagree when you look at the penalty counts.

Compare today's referees with someone like Bill Harrigan, who was firm but fair and blew four or five penalties a game. I'm convinced the current crop of whistleblowers have been given a benchmark and if they don't blow the pea out of the whistle, they haven't done their job.

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I was always taught in the lower-grades, if you walk off the field and no one knows you were the referee, you've done a good job. Not anymore - they want their names up in lights.

Before you accuse me of 'bashing up the officials', I want to make it clear we've got the best referees in the world; but they've become hamstrung by the processes and policies put in place by the people who have been appointed to the role of referees boss.

It's not just happening in first grade, either.  In my discussions with some of the local referees associations, they're also running around using the same language as you hear in the NRL.

It's time to blow it up and start again.

a group of baseball players playing a football game: Referee Henry Perenara addresses Eels player Blake Ferguson. © Getty Referee Henry Perenara addresses Eels player Blake Ferguson.

The other blight on the game is the match review committee, or as we like to call it on radio, 'the dartboard brigade', who are charging players over what most commentators are describing as 'accidents in a collision sport'.

I still cannot understand why Parramatta's Junior Paulo was charged with a 'hip-drop' tackle on David Fifita over the weekend. It's further proof, the NRL is looking for things to penalise and punish because they have a 'duty of care'.

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NRL head of football Graham Annesley insists the hip-drop tackle is nothing new and the league has reviewed about 130 tackles already this season. Well, it's the first I've heard of it.

South Sydney captain Adam Reynolds summed it up best on Thursday night when he approached the referee asking: "Are we playing OzTag, mate?"

The NRL should be applauded for making the game safer and I think we've come a long way in addressing things like concussion and eliminating wrestling tactics, but we cannot get rid of the gladiatorial nature of the sport that people know and love.

I agree player safety is paramount - but they're highly paid athletes who signed on for a contact sport, not touch football.

**Let me know what you think by emailing the Wide World of Sports radio show here


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