I’ve got to say I really feel for the referees and the bunker decision makers. They are the focal point of any criticism within our game currently and it is putting too much pressure and scrutiny on them.
We want them to feel that they are an integral part of our great game. It's a cliché but without referees we don’t have a game.
I wouldn’t want to be a referee; it takes tremendous love for the game to do it.
We need to embrace them; they are part of us. We need to stop analysing them. How about we start analysing ourselves first before others?
We are all human, open to errors, never perfect. They make on-field decisions, at speed, in real time, rapidly making judgements when the rest of us sit back and watch the slow-motion replays – mostly several times and from several angles - to get it right.
I agree with Head of Football, Graham Annesley, and his comments a few weeks back that the technology available to the bunker is aimed at making it easier, not harder, for officials to make the right decisions. But simultaneously we need to simplify the interpretations to make it easier for all adjudicators.
Annesley says dissent going too far
But can I just say that our game is not black and white – there is a lot of grey in the haze of a fast-moving sport. In trying to make those black-and-white calls, the pressure on referees is enormous, which does create frustration and negativity.
An example came in the Cowboys-Broncos game on Thursday night, where there was debate about whether the ball had bounced off Jake Clifford’s leg or not.
I remember when two people were going for the footy, where the ball might have bounced off my hands or body into his, then regathered by me or vice versa. But the ball didn’t go to ground – it was play on. No technology, no review, no problems and no criticism.
We didn’t have the arbitrary technology to trace the exact movement of the ball, how many times it bounced off players and who was first or second. This all seems nitpicking to me and taking the fluency out of the game. If the ball doesn’t touch the ground, then why are we worried about it unless it’s obvious?
Then we have players running lines and attacking inside shoulders of opposition defenders - players need to decide defensively what to do. Players generally know what to do. They practise this every week, they know their role and they are human, they get it wrong sometimes.
Why punish a try-scorer when someone gets it wrong one or two passes beyond their involvement, in attack or defence?
Graham Annesley also asked players to be a bit more respectful towards referees. There are two aspects to that. Firstly, I believe playing in the spirit of the game, not arguing every decision – just get on with it because in my experience it does even out over the course of a game. Concentrating on your next efforts are more important anyway.
Retro Round: Rabbitohs v Sea Eagles - Grand Final, 1970
Secondly, the flip side is that because decisions seem to be so arbitrary, and a lot of decisions now seem to be heading straight to the bunker, it becomes very frustrating for players also. The more black and white we want it, the more frustrating it becomes.
We’re getting really nit-picky around things like knock-ons, interference or obstruction. The players have really got a good sense of the flow of the game, and the referees have got that as well.
If we didn’t have any of this extra technology and observation points, the game would still be great.
In my opinion the balance is referees referring less to the bunker by trusting their innate feel for the game. The balance for the media, coaches and players is having a more positive attitude towards referees for the sake of the game. You can’t change the decision so get on with it.
Retro Round: Dragons v Roosters - Grand Final, 1975
Old school maybe but I prefer this than what we've got now. Let me ask this question to all those who influence our game: Are we pressuring our referees too much that we are making them go to the bunker?
I am a fan of technology and I’m a fan of getting decisions right, especially in try-scoring situations. The players have got a good feel for the game, the refs have a feel for the game – they know, let them go!
The frustrating part is that with the better technology, it’s used often. As I said before, that means they are trying to deal in black and white when a lot of our game is grey.
I agree with Graham that we are being too pedantic. It’s a collision sport and the ball bubbles around in contact, players don’t get it right all the time defensively.
If the ball hits the ground it doesn’t necessarily mean its forward or it’s a knock-on, let the on-field people decide the outcome. I think this is important going forward.
We’re pulling the game apart too much trying to rule on everything definitively, when we don’t really need to.