Refs provide first buzz term for 2011

We welcome to NRL News passionate Manly supporter Phil Whitehead who will be discussing ruck infringements, and the changes that have been made by referees bosses to improve these areas.

The winner is… Ruck Infringements.

It seems that every recent NRL season in memory has begun with a public announcement from the Referees’ Boss that a certain area of the game will be targeted in a “crackdown on ill-discipline”. Starting over a decade ago, with the farcical policing of the play-the-ball action, through to season 2010’s mission to “protect” kickers by making almost any contact on a kicker worthy of a penalty. It has often seemed that the referee’s get together at the start of the season with the aim of making long-time fans of rugby league scratch their heads in bemusement in the first few rounds. These same fans now take some relief out of knowing that area singled out for special attention in the early rounds will not be refereed with the same stubborn intolerance in the second half of the year.

In 2011, Bill Harrigan and Stuart Raper have decided that the ruck is going to be the source of high early-season penalty counts.

Hear that, you two? That was every fan of every NRL club collectively groaning.

Fans don’t turn up to watch the referee dominate a game, and if trails are to provide a sign of what is to come, then that is exactly what is going to happen. Last season saw the average penalty count reach a record low of 11.33 per game. This is something that should have been embraced by all concerned. Instead, this move threatens to take the game back into the 1980’s, when 25 penalties a game was nothing out of the ordinary.

No. Thank. You.

NRL footballers are getting faster, stronger, more skilful and more athletic every season. The game of rugby league should be naturally allowed to follow suit. However, it seems that the NRL is reluctant to let it happen. Week after week over the last few seasons, fans have been driven to ever-increasing levels of frustration at the way the Video Referee has managed to bring the momentum of a game to a grinding halt. Perhaps this could be excused if the correct decision was always made… but last season proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that 27 slow-motion replays from 3 different angles, which all show a clear knock on… can still result in a “Benefit of the Doubt” try.

The NRL needs to be more mindful of the fact that their success, above all other factors, is reliant on constant production of an entertaining spectacle. State of Origin is perhaps the greatest example of this fact. Everyone knows and accepts that State of Origin matches are not refereed as strictly as regular club games. The players are allowed to play and their skill is all that determines the flow and result of the game. In contrast, any referee who would dare to blow 25 penalties in an Origin match is likely to be ducking projectiles from the crowd at full-time.

Fans of the game will agree that all we really want from the referees is consistency… and perhaps, if it’s not too much to ask, a more common sense interpretation of the laws. The game does not need these pointless 6-week crusades against minor infringements. Ultimately, rule crackdowns do nothing for the good of the NRL or rugby league. If they really need to change something before the start of the season, then how about restricting the time it takes to review a possible scoring play? That might actually be a move that fans, coaches, players AND commentators universally applaud.

Then again… perhaps that makes too much sense?

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