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For & Against: Bunker should rule on forward passes

When Sharks centre Jesse Ramien raced away to score at Suncorp Stadium on Sunday from a pass that was clearly forward, the debate was sparked again as to whether the NRL Bunker should be able to rule on such incidents.

Touch judges and referees will make errors on occasions just as players make errors, but could technology be used in such instances to rule on a blatant forward pass and ensure the right decision is reached more often?

Or should the system be left the way it is because camera angles can vary and the touchie is often in line with the ball and in best position to make a call?

For & Against - Bunker should rule on forward passes

For - senior journalist Martin Lenehan

When the NRL Bunker was introduced in 2016, one of the key selling points was that it would eliminate the "howler" and rid us once and for all of the absolute shocker of a decision on a grounding for a try in the corner or a blatant obstruction.

There can be no doubt that in the ensuing six seasons, the Bunker has saved the blushes of match officials countless times and ensured that the correct decision was reached, even if it took several replays to get there.

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And speaking of saving the ref and his touchies a barrage of scrutiny, that's exactly what the Bunker did in Brisbane on Sunday when they intervened just as Shaun Johnson was about to pop over the conversion and make it 6-0 to the visitors.

Because the Bunker can't rule on forward passes they ruled that Sione Katoa had juggled the ball and knoked on before he got it to Jesse Ramien who raced away for what he thought was the first try of the game.

Had Katoa not juggled the ball before passing a metre forward to Ramien then Broncos fans would still be blowing up two days later and the touch judge in question may well have found himself running the line at Pizzey Park or Maitland Sports Ground this weekend.

In the final analysis, the Bunker did its job perfectly and the correct decision was reached - the ball had clearly travelled forward from Katoa to Ramien and a try should never have been awarded in the first place.

Given that the Katoa break came from a Broncos dropped ball and the Sharks flyer was off and gone in a flash, how could you expect the touch judge to be in line with that pass when it was thrown to Ramien?

One second he is moving up field with the Broncos on the attack and then an instant later the Sharks are running away in the opposite direction. 

Most of the Broncos players and the touch judge and referee Ben Cummins are left 10 metres behind the play as the Sharks turn defence into attack so there's no way any officlal could be in line with the pass.

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Unlike calls that are made metres out from the tryline when the touchie is right in line with the cut-out pass from halfback to winger and can see it float forward,  Sunday's action at Suncorp was a classic example where the Bunker should be able to step in and make a call and save the officials any embarrassment.

The truth is, no system is infallible, as VAR technology has proved with offside calls in soccer. There will always be blow-ups depending which team's colours you're wearing or your disdain for the Bunker getting involved in too many calls and taking too long to make those calls.

The human eye vs Hawk-eye. Technology vs the touchie. Endless replays for the right call vs endless debate over wrong calls.

Debate will rage forever and that's what we love about sport but having gone to so much effort and expense to deliver Bunker technology then why not use it?

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Against - Paul Zalunardo, senior journalist

As sure as players – and for that matter most of us who have jobs – will continue to make little mistakes from time to time, referees will occasionally miss things like forward passes during matches. 

Sometime in 1908, most likely the Thursday night game in round one at Birchgrove Oval, Australian rugby league heard its first protestation that a forward pass should have been called back.  

In the following 113 years, sometimes these forward passes have resulted in tries but overwhelmingly in someone just being tackled and a set of six, or for that matter seven, four or unlimited possession, continuing. 

These howls have continued and were only made stronger by the advent of television, and then the technological wizardry which now allows near-forensic levels of analysis. 

Now, with the NRL Bunker able to get multiple views of passes, talk comes and goes over whether forward passes should be reviewable. 

The idea of being able to review whether a pass was forward on a replay screen has always been fraught with danger.  

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That’s because even these replays can paint a distorted picture depending on the momentum of the passer, how strong the wind is blowing, the direction of the player’s arms and what angle a camera captures the vision from. 

As long as this scenario remains in place, let’s pump the brakes on adding further workload to those in the Bunker on game day. 

Let the odd mistakes that are sure to happen, happen.  

In the background of all this, we have the continuing chatter of one day being able to judge the arm angle of those passing the ball and the flight path of passes through the use of further technology. 

Even if this conversation reaches a level, from both a results standpoint and an economic viability aspect, where such advancements are viable, another more important question will emerge. 

Is this what the game needs, or perhaps more importantly, wants? 

Some video analysis is great but how far do we want to go. Once you lose the human element from officiating some of the charm of the game will go with it. 

Let these match officials keep doing what is a nightmarishly hard job to the best of their ability with what they’ve got. 

While that means they won’t always get it right, they will keep the game moving. 

Half the teams will win every weekend and half will be looking to share the blame over what went wrong.

That sounds much better than an even more sanitised, computer-driven product. There are actual computer games you can buy if that’s what you want. 

Should the Bunker rule on forward passes?

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The views in this article do not necessarily express the opinions of the NRL, ARLC, NRL clubs or state associations.


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