Referees: The phrase “love ’em or hate ’em” doesn’t really apply with the NRL’s officials because you’d be hard pressed to find someone who does actually love them.<br> <br>The whistleblowers have been under intense scrutiny this week – which is the norm anyway during an NRL season – but regrettably for the officiating group they have been forced to own up to some major blunders.<br><br>Fans, coaches and players have been venting their frustrations at the standard of the game’s referees but, with the disclaimer of being a former referee, this stats insider is not one of the bashers.<br><br>Yes, referees can have an influence on the outcome of matches but the level of blame attributed to them is way out of proportion to reality. It is far too easy to criticise an official, rather than own up to one’s own mistakes and shortcomings. <br><br>South Sydney players and officials can whinge this week but 14 errors and 53 missed tackles in their match had a much bigger bearing on their loss than a few penalties – penalties that were largely warranted anyway. <br><br>And what about the interchange strategy employed by John Lang?<br><br>Manly fans are seething, and sure the forward pass in the lead-up to Parramatta’s match-turning try last weekend was a shocker and should have been called back but think carefully about everything a refereeing team must be aware of for each and every tackle. In the Manly-Parra game there were 264 play-the-balls. And it was 32 degrees-plus.<br><br>Rugby league refereeing is one of the toughest jobs in the sports officiating world, with myriad decisions needing to be made every second, all instantly, and without the benefit of hindsight. Plus, the game has minimal stoppages.<br><br>Was it high? Any stray elbows, forearms, knees? Dominant? Surrender? What number tackle is it? How long are they holding down? Is there a hand on or near the ball? Are they trying to wrestle or grapple or turtle (turn them on their back)? Are both attack and defence standing up square? Did he play the ball correctly with his foot? Are the defending players back 10 metres? Are the markers square or leaving early? Did the dummy-half pick it up cleanly and pass backwards?<br><br>Amongst all of this, invariably, if you go by the letter of the law, the rules are being breached.<br><br>But, for the benefit of the game and its spectators, ‘leeway’ or ‘advantage’ is constantly played, with referees doing everything in their power to limit their own involvement on proceedings. <br><br>Contrary to some common opinion, referees don’t want to be seen. Of course, the Greg Hartleys and Bill Harrigans of the past had their own personas and stole plenty of spotlight, but the majority of refs just want to facilitate a good game of football.<br><br>The trade-off is coaches and players push the boundaries, looking for any minute edge over their opponents, often putting the referees in a position where they are forced to intervene.<br><br>In the 2009, 26-round regular season, 2291 penalties were blown against the 16 NRL teams – which works out at just under 12 penalties a game. There was cause to blow at least 10 times as many but, as South Sydney captain Roy Asotasi said, if they picked up every little incident, we’d be watching rugby union.<br><br>In the opening two rounds of the NRL in 2010 there has been 225 penalties given – an average of just over 14 a game. Yes there is an increase, but as most fans will understand, the opening few weeks of any season always has more penalties as players readjust to the pace of play and referees set the standards for the season.<br><br>In the 16 games played, the team winning the penalty count has only won the match five times, so the portion of ‘blame’ heaped on officials is surely unfair. <br><br>And the players have a duty to abide by the rules, right?<br><br>In 2009, North Queensland were the worst offending side in terms of penalties conceded with 166 (6.92 a game), while South Sydney were the ‘cleanskins’ at 119 penalties (4.96 a game). Neither side made the finals. Four of the six best disciplined sides didn’t make finals football – showing you need more than a few penalty counts to go your way to be successful.<br><br>So far in 2010, Melbourne, with 19 penalties conceded, are the worst offenders, while Brisbane, with just seven, are the best.<br><br>When it comes to individuals, the 2010 early leaders for ill-discipline are Manly’s Anthony Watmough and Wests Tiger Chris Heighington with four penalties conceded. And 14 other NRL stars are already at three from just the opening two rounds! (Last season, Johnathan Thurston conceded the most penalties with 23.) <br><br>One of the beauties of rugby league, and many sports for that matter, is the human element. Both players and officials are human and therefore fallible, allowing for the agony and ecstasy in every contest. <br><br>Of course, no-one, including the referees themselves, wants to see a game interrupted as often as the 21 penalties from the Souths-Titans clash.<br><br>But before you join the chorus of dissent, just think about how many errors you might make in the same position. Or more importantly, why a player can make three or four or even more errors a match and be forgiven but you and others give a referee zero tolerance. Let’s see the blame game apportioned in the right areas.<br><b><br>2009 Team Penalties Conceded </b>(regular season)<br>1. Rabbitohs: 119; 2. Raiders: 123; 3. Eels: 126; 4. Warriors: 128; 5. Storm: 134; 6. Sharks: 137; =7. Knights: 144; =7. Bulldogs: 144; 9. Broncos: 145; =10. Sea Eagles: 148; =10. Wests Tigers: 148; 12. Panthers: 150; 13. Dragons: 154; 14. Titans: 160; 15. Roosters: 165; 16. Cowboys: 166.<br><br><b>2009 Serial Offenders</b> (penalties conceded regular season)<br>23: Johnathan Thurston (Cowboys)<br>21: Mitchell Pearce (Roosters)<br>19: Michael Ennis (Bulldogs), Brett Kimmorley (Bulldogs)<br>18: Anthony Watmough (Sea Eagles), Travis Burns (Cowboys)<br>17: Anthony Laffranchi (Titans), Trent Waterhouse (Panthers)<br>16: Terry Campese (Raiders), Ben Rogers (Knights), Bryce Gibbs (Wests Tigers)<br>15: Bronson Harrison (Raiders), Richard Fa’aoso (Knights), Justin Poore (Dragons), Beau Scott (Dragons)<br>14: Peter Wallace (Broncos), Josh Perry (Sea Eagles), Cameron Smith (Storm), David Faalogo (Rabbitohs), Frank Paul Nuuausala (Roosters), John Morris (Wests Tigers)<br>13: Mark Minichiello (Titans), Brent Kite (Sea Eagles), Luke O’Donnell (Cowboys), Matt Prior (Dragons), Todd Payten (Wests Tigers)<br>12: Trent Barrett (Sharks), Luke Bailey (Titans), Brett Delaney (Titans), Brad Meyers (Titans), Mat Rogers (Titans), Chris Bailey (Sea Eagles), Chris Houston (Knights), Nathan Hindmarsh (Eels), Ben Creagh (Dragons), Willie Mason (Roosters)<br><br><b>2010 Team Penalties</b> Conceded (to date)<br>1. Broncos: 7; 2. Dragons: 8; =3. Raiders: 12; =3. Cowboys: 12; =3. Roosters: 12; =6. Bulldogs: 13; =6. Eels: 13; 8. Wests Tigers: 14; =9. Knights: 15; =9. Panthers: 15; =9. Rabbitohs: 15; 12. Sharks: 16; =13. Titans: 18; =13. Sea Eagles: 18; =13. Warriors: 18; 16. Storm: 19<br><br><b>2010 Serial Offenders</b><br>4: Anthony Watmough (Sea Eagles), Chris Heighington (Wests Tigers)<br>3: Brett Kimmorley (Bulldogs), Gary Warburton (Bulldogs), Trent Barrett (Sharks), Luke Bailey (Titans), Bodene Thompson (Titans), Kieran Foran (Sea Eagles), Brett Finch (Storm), Ryan Hinchcliffe (Storm), Cory Paterson (Knights), Antonio Kaufusi (Cowboys), Travis Burns (Panthers), Scott Geddes (Rabbitohs), Michael Weyman (Dragons), Shaun Kenny-Dowall (Roosters)
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