The video referee is not the biggest problem in rugby league

The Single Biggest Problem in Rugby League

For all the talk about refereeing issues in 2012, the single biggest problem in rugby league (the NRL, anyway) remains ever present. I am not talking about the obstruction rule, the benefit of the doubt or any other rule interpretation. I am talking about the fact that referees continue to constantly coach players throughout games. Here are some examples to consider:

NRL referees need to change their approach

NRL referees need to change their approach

“Stay square.”
“Stay onside.”
“Two feet behind.”
“Play it with your foot.”
“Here with me.”
“Make it back.”
“Stand up.”
“Stay out.”
“You’re offside.”
“Keep working.”
“Come on.”
“Up now.”
“Up and straight.”
“Don’t hold him.”
“Let him up.”
“Get up now.”
“Wait for the whistle.”
“Up and away.”
“Wait for it.”
“Get off the ball.”
“Hold here.”
“Markers square.”
“With me.”
“Make the 10.”
“Keep coming.”
“Don’t pull the leg.”
“Stay behind him.”

If that list seems excessive, guess what, the first 30 items above were quotes from a single match! Listen closely next time you watch an NRL game; then listen to another game; then a third. It is incessant. By this stage, you should come to the realisation that this type of ‘refereeing’ is annoying, unfair and, above all, completely unnecessary.

Every time one of the above comments is made, my immediate thought is “penalise him!” Why are you telling him what to do?” One common argument is that the referee’s feedback allows the game to ‘flow’. This concept sounds reasonable at first – until you realise that it is, in fact, completely backwards. Sure, if the refs stopped making these comments, penalties might increase in the first few weeks. Players are adaptable, however, and they would soon realise that a new line in the sand had been drawn. Ultimately, if you give players an inch, they will take a mile and that is what is continuing to happen. Furthermore, let’s not forget the fact that the ‘coaching’ referee is a modern concept – rugby league was just fine for 90 years prior.

For the sake of argument, let’s assume that this style of refereeing does allow the game to flow better. What’s the problem? Well, nothing really, except for the fact that it introduces an immeasurable amount of bias that would not be tolerated in any other sport. If the referee asks one player to come back onside, but penalises another, where is the fairness in that? If a ref tells one side’s markers to “get square”, but then penalises the other team’s markers without warning, how does that facilitate an even contest? When you really think about it, it’s ludicrous, yet it happens in every single NRL match.

So what is the solution? Simply, referees need to enforce the rules and penalise infringements in a way similar to EVERY OTHER SPORT ON THE PLANET. Rugby league referees need to call “held”. They need to call out the tackle count. They need to blow the whistle when a team infringes upon the rules.  Everything else is unnecessary and, worse, creates extreme bias.

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  1. David

    I am a very experienced hockey referee and I can tell you the best referees in our sport do not talk unless giving a card to a player.

  2. Nath Peterson

    I actually started listening closely to the refs after reading this post. Now it drives me insane! Why has no one else picked up on this?

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