Referees under scrutiny like never before, but bosses must be held accountable

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Reports of death threats being levelled at NRL referees is reprehensible, unacceptable and it’s time to call out the real problems facing the match officials in rugby league.

I’ve been meaning to ask this question for a while now. The people in charge of the elite officiating squad need to explain why we’ve allowed the referees to become robots with their own language and no feel for the game.

This column isn’t aimed at the whistleblowers on the field each weekend, it’s directed at the likes of Tony Archer, Bernard Sutton and Jared Maxwell who have implemented a ridiculous set of guidelines that are now being used by the NRL referees, right down to the boys and girls running around with a whistle in the junior leagues.

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Can you believe the refs are now being assessed on “key indicators” and if they don’t blow the penalties which tick all of the boxes, they can be dropped the following week?

They’ve also been told what they can and can’t say — it’s a fair dinkum dictatorship.

I’ve been leaked a copy of a document which was implemented by Archer and Shane Hayne called ‘Officiating Best Practice – National Methodology’ and it gives you an idea why the officials in all grades have become manufactured and robotic in the way they referee.

The pressure they’re under during a game of footy is intense and I was flabbergasted to read in the ‘National Methodology’ which came into effect in 2016-17 and is still being used today, that referees have to identify tackle types and then communicate a phrase that matches the tackle.

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It’s called “ruck vocab” and after reading the document, I’m even more confused.

Here’s an example:

There are times in a match when the Referee will apply a “two step” approach with their communication to the ruck. These situations include:

» Identification of a “Surrender Tackle”

» Upright tackles

Surrender Tackle Vocab Sequence (Tackle 0-4)

When the Referee identifies a “Surrender Tackle”, the vocab sequence for the Referee shall be:

1. Call “Surrender” (mandatory)

2. Once sufficient time has been allowed for the defender, call “Stand” (mandatory)

3. Instruction to the defensive line/markers and/or ball carrier

4. “Hold & go” call to the defensive line. “Go” is to be called once the ball clears the ruck.

5. Tackle count (mandatory)

Could you imagine someone like Bill Harrigan being ordered to follow these guidelines when he famously declared in a State of Origin game, “Don’t talk, just go” after he was labelled a cheat by Gorden Tallis?

Bill Harrigan and Gorden Tallis had a number of run-ins during their careers. (Getty)

I can also remember an entertaining exchange where another referee shut down a captain’s question of, “Why would he tackle him in the head?” with a simple but effective retort, “I don’t know, go and ask him.”

Back then, the referees commanded respect and enjoyed the banter with the players; now, they’re too scared to be themselves because they might find themselves in a lower grade.

Roosters premiership winner and former NRL referee Luke Phillips highlighted the problems with the current regime in a recent interview on 2GB’s Continuous Call Team when he spoke about his time in the elite officiating program.

“As a former player you’ve got a feel for the game, but as you go up the grades you’ve got to be a bit more robotic and you can’t have a feel for the game, it’s all on indicators, black and white and that’s where I fell down,” he said.

“I wanted to have a nil-all penalty count and when it would end up 2-1, they would point out the penalties I should have blown during the game and when I challenged them on it, by explaining why I allowed it to continue from a footy point of view, they said it put more pressure on the referee the following week.

“I’d be in trouble for not giving penalties when I didn’t want to give them.”

Former NRL referee Luke Phillips. (Getty)

What happened to adjudicating what’s in front of you, referees having the courage of their convictions to make a decision and developing a rapport with the players?

It’s worked since 1908, but for some reason we’ve got past and present referees bosses who have implemented a system which has destroyed the fabric on which some of the most successful whistle-blowers have built their careers.

I think it’s time for the NRL to review these guidelines which have been allowed to fester and pollute the current crop of referees and those aspiring officials who are chasing their dream of controlling a first grade game.

Luke Phillips was also asked about the nit-picking in the game and the former whistle-blower said, “I can tell you, referees love catching out things, it’s in their blood …they love when it’s a knock on or they can say I’ve got you there, that’s just part of refereeing.”

The question needs to be asked of the NRL; are the die-hard supporters paying their money to watch football or a referee who’s forced to blow the pea out of the whistle?

Lopsided penalty counts, no consistency and a lack of common sense in rugby league have become the major frustrations for coaches, players, commentators and more importantly, the fans who watch the NRL.

Yes, the game thrives on controversy and it’ll never be perfect, but the sooner we allow the whistle-blowers to be themselves, the better.

Manly Sea Eagles coach Des Hasler says teams are frustrated with the refereeing. (NRL)

Manly coach Des Hasler has expressed his ongoing concerns in the past and he doubled down after their controversial loss to Parramatta by declaring, “No one seems to listen, no one seems to want to do anything about it.”

“No wonder it makes teams frustrated. I don’t know if it’s the white, that the colour of our jersey makes us stand out. Maybe we should change to green.”

Grant Atkins and Adam Gee are the top two officials in our game at the moment. If they are usurped by Ashley Klein or Gerard Sutton for the State of Origin Series; to quote Geoff Toovey, “There needs to be an investigation.”

I appreciate the ARLC chairman Peter V’landys and NRL boss Andrew Abdo have bigger fish to fry at the moment, but given they both run the game, it’s time for the hierarchy to step in and clean up this mess, because it’s deteriorating into a dog’s breakfast.

If you look up the definition of methodology in the dictionary it says, “The branch of logic that studies reasoning or is the way something is done. An example of methodology is the way an experiment is carried out.”

ARLC boss Peter V’landys. (Getty)

Given the current crop of referees and officials involved in the Junior Rugby League Referees’ Associations who are contacting me; they think there’s absolutely no logic in the guidelines they’ve been forced to conform to and the experiment needs to be scrapped.

The elephant in the room at NRL Headquarters is the standard of refereeing and it’s through no fault of the whistle-blowers themselves, it’s the adherence to the guidelines by their so-called mentors.

Let me know your thoughts by sending through an email to the WWOS Radio show by clicking on this link; https://form.jotform.co/70601482897867

Wide World of Sports Radio is heard from 6pm AEDT on 2GB 873am with Mark Levy and co-hosts Billy Slater (Monday), Paul Gallen (Tuesday) and Brad Fittler (Wednesday).

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