NRL says ruck infringement crackdown here to stay
It will be a case of 'short-term pain for long-term gain' according to NRL's Head of Football Brian Canavan as the League is not budging from the edicts issued to all coaches and clubs about the referees' stance on ruck infringements in the 2018 Telstra Premiership season.
Canavan said he was pleased to see both coaches, Shane Flanagan and Craig Bellamy, from Friday night's Cronulla Sharks-Melbourne Storm game say it was up to the clubs to pull themselves into line with what NRL head of referees Bernie Sutton had mandated.
Senior players Luke Lewis and Wade Graham also spoke on Saturday about wanting to work with referees to get the amount of penalties blown back under control.
"I stress this is not a recent thing. The NRL's competition committee with some of the most respected names in the game decided on this course back in November last year," Canavan told NRL.com.
"Since then we've had referees visit every club in the pre-season to officiate scrimmage sessions.
"That invitation is open to all 16 NRL clubs throughout the regular season as well. Referees will come to training and work with players and coaches."
NRL referees' boss Bernard Sutton also visited each club individually before round one and has been emailing clubs regularly about stopping attempts to slow play down.
The debate on holding down players, correct play-the-balls, being off-side, reached crescendo this Easter Weekend with 57 penalties blown in just two games – 24 in the South Sydney Rabbitohs' 20-16 win over the Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs, and 33 in the Sharks' 14-4 defeat of Storm.
"Wayne Bennett has also come out this morning in support of referees trying to clean up these areas," Canavan said on Saturday.
"We will have a much better product at the end of this rugby league season I can assure you. So it's pain now and gain later.
"I know there have been some individuals jumping up and down about it, but they are making something simple look complicated.
"These are not new rules. They are current rules being enforced harder."
The success of the crackdown will be discussed at the next Competition Committee meeting in mid-May and then at an NRL coaches conference in June. Canavan will chair those meetings.
Former ARL Commission head John Grant has stepped down from the committee, but there is an open invitation for new chair Peter Beattie to attend.
Other members include Australian Test coach Mal Meninga; former Test, Queensland and Brisbane Broncos captain Darren Lockyer; current player Greg Inglis; current NRL coaches Ivan Cleary and Paul Green; former premiership-winning coach John Lang; ARL Commissioner Wayne Pearce; NRL General Manager of Elite Competitions Jason King; referee senior managers Tony Archer and Sutton; and NRL CEO Todd Greenberg.
There is also an open invitation for current Test captain Cameron Smith to attend. He was one of two players sin-binned in the Sharks-Storm game.
A total of 43 sin-bins were given during the 2017 Telstra Premiership season, which was more than double the figure of 17 in 2016.
So far in 2018, with three round-four matches still to be played, there have been 13.
Last November the Competition Committee agreed that referees should continue the trend and look at using the sin bin more for breaches such as repeated goal line infringements aimed at slowing down the play and deliberate or dangerous foul play, and professional foul incidents.