Coach's Box: Obstruction rule unclear

Refereeing decisions will always be a talking point around the water cooler on a Monday morning. That's one of the great things about our game; having people talk about it.

As a coach, you tend to get worked up about the decisions more than your players or anyone else - especially about a perceived lopsided penalty count.

But a fair-minded coach should be able to differentiate between the two types of penalties: the obvious ones, like high shots, offside, dissent; and arbitrary ones that are generally from playing the ball too fast in attack and holding the player down too long in defence.

Every team, every weekend, no matter what level, is trying to slow the ball down and the other team is trying to play the ball as quickly as they can.

A lot happens in the ruck. You would like to think everyone is doing the same thing, so therefore the arbritary penalty count should be even at the end of the game.

But with the other penalties, for hitting someone, off-side, wrestling, swearing ... if that is 7-2 then I can't help you. The coach has to look at his team's discipline.

A lot of changes have been made in recent years with new technology, advanced training and additional refs and other staff.

Having two refs has made the biggest improvement. Everyone wants to win the ruck and the biggest plus about having two refs is that it has cleared that area up. It was too fast and it was hard to stop it, until a team invented wrestling tactics or started holding them down.

A little while ago when I was coaching, the video referee used to rule on a player scoring after being in front of the kicker, particularly on the grubber kick or chip kick. If the player was in front of the kicker it didn't come into it.

The video ref could use their discretion; but every video ref could have a different interpretation of the rule.

On any given weekend with 16 teams, you could have eight games with eight different video refs and eight different interpretations.

Now if anyone is inside the 10 it is an automatic penalty, which has simplified things. You will find players will start running to chase the ball and then back off. It doesn't matter if they interfere or not, they just cannot be in that spot.

The obstruction rule needs clarification. If the the defender gets touched by the decoy runner it's a no-try, which was evident on Monday night in the Bulldogs and Storm game.

In that game, video referee Chris Ward rejected what seemed a fair try to Tim Lafai 30 minutes into the Storm's 30-16 win at AAMI Park. He was denied due to an obstruction call against team-mate Jake Foster, who barrelled over Storm halfback Cooper Cronk despite the latter seemingly having little chance of getting to Lafai.

The rule needs to be more clearcut - any time the decoy runner touches the defender it is a no try - so there is no confusion. 

Coaches need to direct players not to run onto the defenders because the video ref won't give the try.

It's a grey area.

More often than not the losing coach can be a bit negative in his comments about such refereeing decisions.

They can be half-genuine when trying to sort out an issue or area of concern, but it generally looks like they are a sore loser.

The more experienced coach might save up his concerns and raise them after a win, rather than a loss.