On Friday night we witnessed some very poor officiating. But the poorest decision was one that wasn’t made by Jared Maxwell.
Early in the second half of the game between Brisbane and South Sydney, he issued a warning to the Rabbitohs’ star forward Sam Burgess for a fairly innocuous late-tackle incident. Putting aside the issue as to whether a warning was necessary or not, the fact is, a warning was made.
Within the next two minutes, Burgess fell on Joe Ofahengaue with a mild hint of a leading shoulder.
He didn’t hit him late or high, but while Ofahengaue had made what once used to be called (and penalised for) a voluntary tackle.
He lay motionless after gathering a loose ball, so Burgess hit him. Maxwell blew his whistle after an ensuing scuffle broke out over the incident.
Maxwell right there had decided this was an incident that was going to result in a penalty to Brisbane against the man he had just warned.
Again, putting aside the issue of whether a penalty was necessary, this was a situation where a player directly ignored a referee’s warning in the view of the referee.
So it seemed likely that Burgess was going to be sent to the sin bin, that being what should be the natural punishment if you ignore a warning.
Maxwell let him off. And in doing so, he told not just Burgess, but every single player in the NRL, “My warnings are hollow and I don’t have the fortitude to follow through with them. If you could be so kind to take your boots off before you wipe your feet on me, I would greatly appreciate that. But even if you do leave your boots on, I still won’t do anything.”
He lost control of the game and now he has lost the respect of the players. And once a referee loses respect, he has made his job umpteen times harder.
Many will argue that Burgess didn’t deserve to be penalised, let alone sin binned – and I agree.
However, I’d rather a ref who makes an error but whose warnings carry weight and are respected by players over a referee who the players are freely allowed to walk over. Because those players will be more inclined to breach the rules, knowing they will not be punished for it, and that’s a dangerous place for our game to get into.
There are times in games when there is no 100 percent right call. Maxwell was right to not send Burgess to the sin bin; neither incident that Maxwell spoke to him about deserved the attention they received. But if you are going to issue a warning, you sure as hell as better follow it up.
Players in the 1980s and ’90s knew that if they were fortunate enough to get a warning from referees like Greg McCallum and Eddie Ward, that you gave it full respect and pulled your head in – because they would march you if you stuffed up again, even if it was half an hour later.
There’s this great reluctance by match officials to send players off the field for any length of time, because they don’t want their decisions to be seen as contributing to the outcome of a game.
But by not sending players off or putting them in the bin, they are having the same impact on the result of the match as that if they had have marched the player.
The refs need to back themselves and stand by their decisions, right or wrong. They won’t earn the players’ respect otherwise.
**This article appeared on the Commentary Box Sports website**