NRL referee Gerard Sutton.

NRL Head of Football Todd Greenberg says a strong desire to support match officials is behind changes to the Code of Conduct regarding the ability of coaches, players and officials to comment publicly on match officials.

The policy has been revised so that no club, club official (including a coach) or player may comment on or with respect to the performance of a match official.

The change was discussed in December last year with all 16 NRL Head Coaches, and at the recent CEOs meeting in Auckland, and brings the NRL into line with other sporting governing bodies in Australia and overseas.

Mr Greenberg said the change was designed to support referees, to encourage more people to become referees, while also ensuring that the integrity of the match officials and the game was protected.

“We’re not looking to protect our match officials – we are looking to provide leadership for them,” Mr Greenberg said.

“Being critiqued by coaches publicly is not the way the game should be played and it attacks the integrity of the game.

“Coaches and clubs have used referees to their advantage to deflect attention or steer the debate a certain way.

“The policy as it was previously talked about excessive criticism or attacking the integrity of the referees. In simple terms, we have taken out that grey area. The rules are now plain and clear.”

Mr Greenberg said referees would still be held accountable for decisions.

“This rule is simply bringing us into line with other codes, both here and abroad, which also have strong legislation in place to prevent criticism of the officials,” Mr Greenberg said.

“Our referees will still be held accountable for their performance. Our internal review processes are extremely thorough, and clubs and coaches will have regular communication with our referees elite performance manager Tony Archer.”

Clubs and/or individuals will face the prospect of a breach notice should they fail to adhere to the new Code of Conduct regarding public comment.