Chat with Bill Harrigan

In the past few weeks NRLnews.com has been fairly critical of the video referee decisions being handed down in the NRL Finals Series. While video referee decisions have caused debate during the entire 2007 season, their impact during the NRL Finals Series obviously holds more weight – with some teams such as South Sydney being severely affected by video calls (Rogers / Orford Clash) and other decisions such as Warriors penalty try against the Eels raising plenty of eye brows.

We spoke with Bill Harrigan today in regards to some of these decisions; and as the chosen video referee for this weeks Grand Final we thank Bill for giving up his time during this busy and important week.

Looking at the two Grand Final teams, both Manly and Melbourne like to employ short and long wrap around plays featuring dummy runners. The Eagles more specifically use decoy plays regularly, with the fast Brett Stewart wrapping around a ball playing Orford or Monaghan to challenge the line out wide. We asked Bill Harrigan his thoughts on this particular play and which constitutes an obstruction.

Bill said the tries in the Manly/Cowboys game were a good guide to what can be expected from the obstruction rule. Regardless of a short or long pass, lingering/interfering players or dummy runners that collide with defenders will be penalised. (The disallowed Manly try on Saturday night, where Anthony Watmough as dummy runner, collided with Justin Smith is a perfect example of the border line play; while effective and exciting – it’s simply illegal under the current NRL rules)

An interesting point Bill makes; is that himself and the other referee’s feel a little hamstrung by the current obstruction rules set by the NRL. There are certain instances where they feel a try should be awarded, however the tight obstruction rules prevent these being awarded. (One example is the Jarryd Hayne try in the Eels v Manly regular season game, Hayne skipping inside a close quarters dummy rummer that pushes through – Harrigan awarding the try; but later finding out that this should not have been awarded under the current regulations)

It seems that’s where the problem lies for the video referees, too many ‘personal judgement’ calls are needed. Under the current rules, too much ‘grey area’ remains for the likes of Bill Harrigan and Phil Cooley up in the video box, forcing them to make calls according to their own opinion. Bill didn’t disagree, he felt there was room for the NRL to improve the laws of the game surrounding tries – making his job much simpler and removing the element of ‘debate’ from video decisions.

The conversation with Bill wouldn’t be complete without talking about ‘that’ penalty try awarded to the Warriors in Finals Week 1. The TV commentary screams of Phil Gould echoing over the airwaves over and over shouting “No, No……, No, No, No…..” it certainly made good theatre – but was it the right decision?

The penalty try rule states: “The referee may award a penalty try; if in his opinion, a try would have been scored but for the unfair play of the defending team.” In Bill’s eyes, he felt a try was certain to be scored; as Eel Chad Robinson was the only defender in sight. According to Harrigan, Witt was a yard from the line when he had finished juggling the ball and was certain to have scored if not for Chad Robinson. A fair assessment from Bill Harrigan, but a lot of the email feedback we recevied here at NRLnews.com pointed to the fact that we hadn’t seen a penalty try in a long, long time – pointing to consistency problems?

Bill then eluded to the fact that again the NRL rule left too much to the ‘referee’s discretion’ and he makes a very good point; yet again another rule leaves too much to the personal opinion of the official making the call. Another area the NRL needs to tweak and lock down – allowing each and every decision to be based on concrete rules and laws.

Finally we left Bill with a question that he answered in true Harrigan style; “Why don’t we see more benefit of the doubt calls when video evidence is inconclusive Bill?” to which Bill Harrigan replied “When I’m doing the video referee job, you will rarely see a ‘benefit of the doubt’ call – I tend to make a call one way or the other once all the evidence has been weighed up” said Bill “But when Tim Mander’s in control you may tend to see more ‘benefit of the doubt’ calls when the evidence is in the balance” claimed Harrigan.

We should have known the answer! Bill Harrigan has always been comfortable living and dying by the sword and in the game of refereeing – confidence is usually the biggest asset. Bill continues to make calls with absolute confidence and is prepared to explain them afterwards – which is something we cannot fault.

Thanks again for your time Bill, we look forward to talking further in the future.

2 thoughts on “Chat with Bill Harrigan”

  1. Well I must congratulate the author and Mr. Bill Harrigan who obviously had a long and comprehensive discussion on various rulings and technical aspects of the game that we all love to watch.

    This article and the opportunity for a very respected representative of the referee’s association have brought creditability to this web site.

    We don’t get this sought of feedback in the papers regularly and some of the questions asked were on the tip of my tongue also.

    Well done – NRLNews.Com and Bill Harrigan for your honest and open communication which gave us all some interesting feedback.

    PS: Perhaps your might approach the CEO of the NRL to speak to you also.

    I am interested in the problems with scrums, the ball being caught whilst a player has his foot on or over the sideline / dead ball line, Perhaps the changing of the goal posts so the uprights don’t interfere with the players running towards the try line etc.

    From a keen Rugby League supporter

  2. I have been watching league in australia for over 35 years and have seen some woeful decisions made by referees including yourself.But this recent breed of video refs is a disgrace to the code,especially Chris Ward.I dont know what rule book he has with him,or for that matter which game he is watching,but this man is getting paid under false pretenses.He is not a referee,certainly not a fair minded judge and takes to much time to make a wrong call.I am a warriors fan and have been gobsmacked at most of the unfair decisions posted against the warriors every time they take the field.I know the warriors are much maligned by fans,nrl and referees.If you dont want us in YOUR comp have the guts to say so and toss them out like you do with other under achieving teams(ie Souths,Norths etc)But remember one thing,the nucleous of the NRL these days is made up of kiwis or ex pats and that you cant deny as Australia continue to plunder our best players for their own good….and thats a fact!Dont get me wrong I do approve of video refs but not under the current format.You must not leave season ending decisions to one blind man,it is better you leave it to several blind men!The solution:Maybe three or five video refs in seperate boxes,look at the replay a couple of times at the max,then press the try or no try button immediately.You will then have a fair decision by various judges.DO NOT let Phil Gould EVER take one of these positions,as he is aFOOL who should not even be in a commentary box as people are sick and tired of his opinions.Please give this system at least a trial and see what the public think.Man up and do it!

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