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Are refs ignoring the sin bin?

Referees have utilised the sin bin on just 10 occasions in 2013, including sending Parramatta's Mitchell Allgood to the sidelines to cool his heels after he punched Manly's Steve Matai in Round 17. Credit: NRL Photos Copyright: NRL Photos

Where has the sin bin gone? At this end of the season, with the stakes so high, a player sidelined for 10 minutes due to ill-discipline can be the catalyst to teams recording victory and, in turn, assuming the best position on the table possible to have an advantage come September.

In my opinion Newcastle coach Wayne Bennett had every right to be filthy over the Cooper Cronk ‘non’ sin-binning last Sunday after the Melbourne halfback deliberately tackled Darius Boyd without the ball. With Boyd in the perfect position to capitalise on a Jarrod Mullen chip kick just 10 metres in front of the Storm’s line, Cronk made the illegal defensive play. Referee Jarrod Maxwell decided that a penalty was sufficient for the offence after consulting with the video box officials, much to the disapproval of the partisan crowd of 26,822.

While I doubt Boyd would have scored, he was denied any opportunity. Cronk should have spent 10 minutes on the sidelines in the 53rd minute with scores at 10 to 8 in favour of the Storm. While the Knights received a penalty and levelled the scores, Cronk’s deliberate act of foul play should have cost his side more.

To rub salt into the Knights’ wounds, in the 61st minute – when Cronk should have been cooling his heels in the dressing room – he instead went on to set up Billy Slater for the game’s decisive try, something that must still haunt the Knights’ faithful.

The result leaves the Knights clinging to seventh spot, just two points ahead of 10th-placed Brisbane Broncos who they meet in two weeks’ time; but the result of this game and perhaps their season could have been different had the referee used the sin bin.

The Bulldogs’ competitive five-eighth Josh Reynolds got away with a similar breach against the Storm back in Round 18 when he blatantly tackled Justin O’Neill without the ball and was amazingly not sin-binned.

Why referees have such reluctance to use the sin-bin has me more confused than a chameleon in a packet of Skittles. They know the tool is there to be used because they have done so on 10 occasions this season.

In the NRL rulebook it clearly states the four reasons for a player to be sin-binned. You will see I have broken down how many times each has been used in 2013:

I. Repeated infringements (1);
II. Deliberately breaking down the play, particularly in a try-scoring position (6);
III. Cooling-off period for a player (3); and
IV. Dissent.

Last Monday night Luke O’Donnell, who was one of the Roosters’ best players, in my opinion should have spent 10 minutes in the bin after giving away two penalties in three minutes. Outside of almost starting a fracas, it was clearly a repeated infringement, where the player involved could have used a cooling-off period.

And while the Roosters are sailing along nicely on top of the competition ladder with the minor premiership within their sight, their on-field discipline is one area that I am sure coach Trent Robinson would like to see improve. They are the most penalised team in the competition, having conceded 179 penalties so far this season. They easily lead Manly who are the second-most penalised team on 159.

There is a fine line between controlled aggression and illegal play. The Roosters and Manly are as intimidating as any team in the NRL and certainly push the envelope.

There has only been one player sent off so far this season – Jared Waerea-Hargreaves in that brutal battle against Manly earlier this season for his high shot on big George Rose.

This Monday night’s blockbuster between the Roosters and Sharks sees an intriguing match-up between the most disciplined team in the NRL, the Sharks (they have only conceded 119 penalties) against the NRL’s most undisciplined team, the Roosters.

It should be a bone-jarring battle up front and it’s hard to see the Sharks forward pack, led by one of the game’s most aggressive players Paul Gallen, not matching fire with fire. It will be very interesting to see what how the penalty count ends up and what influence it has in such an important duel.

Daniel Anderson and the referees have received a lot of criticism throughout the season but I think they have got quite a few things right. As they have been punished all year, I thought it would be appropriate to give them a rap.

I think this season they are getting most of the video try decisions correct (although I have to agree with Manly coach Geoff Toovey that Steve Matai scored on Friday night) – unlike in previous seasons. I also believe whilst not perfect, the obstruction rule has gotten a little clearer in 2013.

So refs: give yourselves a pat on the back and enjoy a little bit of praise. But once you are done, pick up your rule book and study hard. The sin bin is there – don’t be afraid to use it!

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