NRL could use 2 referees on field in 2009

The shock change, set to be introduced next season, will also lead to better decision-making and more consistent rulings.

The move to two referees will be one of the most significant changes in the game’s 100-year history.

The two referee system will be the major topic at Thursday’s NRL football conference, where the coaches and players will be given the opportunity to air their opinions.

Provided support is reached the change will be discussed again at the chief executives conference in a fortnight before going to the NRL board for approval.

Only a strong backlash from clubs and coaches can prevent the rule from being adopted but the chances of that happening are extremely unlikely.

Driving the change is referees boss Robert Finch.

Finch has been working on a steering committee with the game’s former No.1 whistleblower Bill Harrigan and first-grade coaches Ricky Stuart and Matt Elliott.

After years of being trialled in lower grades the NRL believes it is time to implement it in the premiership.

It begins Thursday when its coaches and players assemble at Mascot for the NRL football conference, where the new system will get its first airing.

Finch is aware it is a watershed moment in the game.

“I think so, yes,” he said, before adding the time had come.

“All the stats we have got about it are extremely positive,” he said.

“We are one of the only sports in the world running around with one referee.”

Finch said the impact of a second referee lessened the physical stress refs were under, with figures showing their heart rates above 175 beats per minute for almost two-thirds of the game.

They average about 7.6km a game, most of which is done at high intensity running. Less stress equals better decision making.

A referee who is better equipped to focus on the ruck will also allow grapple tackles and illegal wrestling holds to be better monitored.

One of the agendas will be about finding ways to eliminate the grapple and wrestling holds, with the two referees considered a sure winner.

NRL chief operating officer Graham Annesley agrees the time is right to implement the change.

“We have talked about it for 10 years so the time has come,” he said.

One referee will control play while the other will sit in the pocket behind the attacking team’s ruck. They can swap at breakdowns.

While the change needs to be ratified by the NRL board before being made official, Finch is pushing for tacit approval so that referees can begin preparing when they start pre-season training next week.

“We need to know whether it’s yea or nay because we need to start doing some work on it,” he said.

“We need to work on the positioning side of things, the verballing and the team work, who is in charge.

“All those issues we need to really break down and drill between now and the start of the competition.”

While the change will have major, widespread implications on rugby league, only the NRL board needs to approve the change for it to be introduced to the NRL.

The change comes under the jurisdiction of a change to convention, not a change to the rules.

Whether other leagues such as the English Super League and junior football eventually adopt the change is uncertain, but it is eventually likely.

The steering committee was responsible for the two-referee trial in the later rounds of this year’s under-20s competition, which reinforced support for the innovation.

Data revealed last year showed referees ran enormous distances in each game, and often at a heart rate comparable to triathletes.

They were then required to make critical decisions on top of that, stunning NRL coaches with their workload. The two referees lightens the stress considerably.

“They travel as many yards, probably a bit more, but their heart rates are massively lower,” Finch said.

This was crucial to accurate decision making, he said.

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