Players speak out on muted refs
Titans co-captain Greg Bird has spoken out about the communication breakdown between captains and match officials, citing the desire for a faster game as the cause for growing frustration amongst players on the field.
Fellow Gold Coast co-captain Nate Myles spent 10 minutes in the sin-bin last Sunday for dissent while Parramatta halfback Chris Sandow was also disciplined with a stint in the sin-bin for asking referee Ben Cummins, 'How much are they paying you?' in the Eels' game against the Storm.
'Ref cam' on Fox Sports gave the rugby league viewing public a close-up look at what officials are confronted with when Newcastle players Darius Boyd, Tyrone Roberts, Dane Gagai and captain Kurt Gidley questioned a call in Monday night's win over the Cowboys, leading to a backlash against players for showing a lack of respect.
A directive was handed down by the NRL in January stating that captains would only be permitted to question officials at particular times during a game in response to a perceived tactic from some captains to slow the game, particularly at the awarding of a penalty.
And while the desired result of a faster pace of play seems to have been achieved, Bird is of the opinion that it has come at the expense of greater understanding between players and officials.
"I think it's massively different [from last year]. I'd like to think it's a two-way street with regards to respect but there doesn't seem to be a lot of conversation on the field. They're unapproachable," Bird said.
"You can't speak to them, they make their call and you've got to live it. You can't voice your opinion on the call, you can't find out reasoning behind it, you can't have any input into the way the game is moving at that time. It is frustrating and I guess you've seen players losing their cool at times but the way the rules are set... People were complaining that the game was too slow so this is the move that the NRL has made."
Bird isn't the only player disappointed with the way players and officials communicate in 2014 with Canberra halfback Josh McCrone also of the belief that the edict handed down at the start of the year has only served to exacerbate already high tensions.
"This 'no-one's allowed to talk to the referees' outlook isn't working, and the referees aren't treating the captains with too much respect either," McCrone told NRL.com.
"It's always been a two-way street for me, so I think the way players are talking to referees is a bit of a product of that system they've created to be honest.
"I understand the reasoning behind [the ban on talking to the referee] is that they don't want captains deliberately slowing the game down, but it was pretty obvious on the weekend that players are still able to slow the game down to the speed they want to play at... People are getting frustrated and the frustration's coming to a head."
There is no question that fans grew tired of seeing captains approach the referees every time a penalty was blown in 2013 but Bird defended the right of captains to be able to ask questions of officials, denying that it was being used as a delaying tactic so that defensive lines could be reset.
"The captains weren't slowing the game down, captains were just getting clarification on what was happening," he said.
"There are so many rules in the game now. You go into a tackle now and there are 15,000 different rules that you can break in one single tackle; twisting the head, twisting the arm, hitting high, lifting a leg, beyond the horizontal... There are a million different things that can go wrong and he blows a penalty and you need to know what's happening otherwise you can't correct it.
"On the run it is quite hard, everyone's tired, he blows a penalty and you get frustrated. You want to know what you've done wrong but there's no real opportunity to find out. That's been one of the major reasons that captains and players on the field are getting frustrated."