Steve Clark calls for fans to be patient with refs

Steve Clark is one of Rugby League’s most decorated referees, having officiated 314 first grade matches, State of Origin and Test matches.

He now works as the coaching and development manager with the NRL referees and is part of the referees leadership team and will this Thursday chat to fans on NRL.com from 12:30pm (2:30pm NZ).


CLICK HERE for more information on Clark's LIVE chat.

Veteran official Steve Clark has called for more patience with the NRL’s crop of young referees following the sin-bin controversy that marred last Sunday’s clash between Parramatta and South Sydney.

Referees Ben Cummins and Gerard Sutton have been dumped this weekend after mistakenly sending Eels captain Nathan Cayless to the sin-bin for stripping in a tense match that at times threatened so spiral out of control.

The magnitude of the error – and what looked to be a square-up when Rabbitohs centre Beau Champion was sent to the sheds moments later for a high tackle – has sparked outrage by fans and commentators alike following a series of bungles by referees in 2010.

But Clark, who refereed 314 games between 1992 and 2007, says Cummins and Sutton need more, rather than less, time in the middle.

“People have got to be a little tolerant of the younger guys that tend to attract a lot of the criticism,” Clark said.

“They’ve been dropped and probably rightfully so after sin-binning the wrong bloke, but what I think people don’t understand is that we now need to replace those guys this weekend – and that will be with people of similar experience – or possibly even less experience.

“We don’t have a bucket load of experienced referees on hand – if we did they would have been there in the first place.

“People complain that these referees don’t have enough first grade experience – well the only way they will get first grade experience is to keep refereeing first grade.

“We can’t put them out and hope they gather that experience elsewhere.”

Asked if he thought the standard of refereeing this season was acceptable, Clark said: “I think it is.

“I think they’ve been doing a pretty good job, the young blokes.

“I think the skill level and the quality that we’ve got is good.

“But we knew when we introduced the two-referees model that it was going to take some time – we weren’t going to create 16 Shayne Haynes overnight.

“And we’re getting there. We’ve got some good young guys in the ranks that are learning very quickly.

“One of the good things about two referees coming in from a development point of view was that it allowed us to bring in a number of new referees into first grade and develop a larger pool of skilled referees.

“I think we will reap the benefits of that towards the back end of this season and next season, as they start to pass 40 and 50 first grade games.”

Clark said the controversy that followed Sunday’s game has hit the refereeing group hard, with Cummins and Sutton shattered by their sacking.

It follows a howler at Parramatta Stadium in Round 2 when the Eels stormed home on the back of a blatant forward pass that was picked up by everyone except match officials including on-field refs Shayne Hayne and Brett Suttor.

“I think that both Ben and Gerard are pretty level-headed young guys, but having seen both of them this week when all the heat was on after Sunday, I’d be lying if I said it didn’t affect them.

“Of course it affected them. The guys obviously have to have thick skins given the job that they’re in, but nobody likes it when these situations arise.

“What we try to do as much as is humanly possible is block all of that out knowing that we’ve got another eight games to officiate this weekend.

“We’ve just got to get on with the job and try and put all of that behind us.

“We’ve had two guys that have been dropped this weekend and nobody in our organisation likes that but we accept that it’s a fact of life.”

However, Clark bristled at comments from Newcastle great Andrew Johns earlier this week suggesting referees needed to start their pre-season training in November like the players.

“We already do that,” he fired.

Clark said the public would be surprised to learn the amount of work referees do each week both on and off the training paddock.

It includes a recovery session, complete reviews of every game by both the referees and the five-man review panel, heart rate sessions to test the referees’ decision-making under duress, as well as standard on-field training sessions.

“We see ourselves as the NRL’s 17th team,” Clark said.

“We spend a lot of time together and we need to so that everyone – be it touch judges, the referee, the ‘pocket’ referee or the video referee – understands exactly what their role is on game day.”