Wednesday, 4 April 2018

The Dinosaurs Get Their Way (2018)

Rugby League's dinosaurs have seemingly got their way and put an end to the crackdown by referees on ruck, play-the-ball, marker and offside infringements, which had seen a myriad of penalties blown in the opening four rounds of football.

The reasoning, aside from enforcing the rules, was to try and do something to eliminate grappling and wrestling, holding down in the play the ball and a restriction of fast attacking football.

Phil Gould stated on Channel 9’s 100% Footy, that:

“Referees were given instructions Sunday morning to tone back on it, to just get back to refereeing the important penalties the ones that were obvious.”
(See the video here:

Gould, along with Andrew Johns, Paul Vautin and Brad Fittler have been strongly opposed to the penalty bonanza's, aggressively repeating their disdain on Channel 9 from Round 1.

And while many other former players, commentators and fans have welcomed the crackdown, it appears that the NRL has yielded to the whinging old clowns and decided to pull the pin on the crackdown.

This is very bad for a number of reasons:

1.       Essentially clubs and players have got their way. The game has given control of the game to clubs and players to dictate how the game should be officiated. As the saying goes “the inmates run the asylum.” This is the biggest issue of all and directly attacks the integrity of the game.
2.       A handful of whinging commentators, notably Gould, have far too much authority, somehow, over the game, to have something like this modified to suit his agenda. How and why does he have this much power. It’s clearly wrong.
3.       The argument that the crackdown still made mistakes, notably the one that cost the Wests Tigers the game against Brisbane in Round 3 during Golden Point. While a valid argument, the problem with this perspective is that the alternative (less penalties) means infringements have to be ignored. And no matter which way you cut it, ignoring infringements will not eliminate howlers or game-changing mistakes, but will serve to continue their existence. It will not make the game better in the long term.
4.       The whole purpose of the crackdown has been completely eliminated. Everyone has demanded an end to the wrestling, holding down in tackles and off side markers and edge defenders. But they also don’t want the short term pain of a few rounds worth of games with high penalty counts. So now we’ll go back to the massive eyesore of grappling and wrestling, because some people didn’t like hearing the refs whistle.
5.       It makes it pretty clear that the referees are impacted by the NRL and indirectly media scrutiny. So why bother having referees? If they cannot be trusted and respected for the job they are doing, what’s the point of their existence?
6.       Finally, this enforces a modern day issue in all sport, that bitching and moaning about referees is not only accepted, but it brings results, despite the refs doing the right thing on the vast majority of occasions. Referees are accountable for every decision they make. But players and clubs can complain to avoid accountability of their decisions.

The onus should have been on players and clubs to realise that the refs were cleaning this part of the game up and in turn, they should have changed their play to be rules compliant. That’s how the system works. That was the point of the exercise. Because penalties, everywhere in life, have two purposes:
1.       Enforce the rules/law
2.       Deter you from reoffending

Given that after 4 weeks, penalties were still being given in copious numbers, the only step after this was not backing down, but instead utilising the sin bin far more aggressively.

Also, despite the games being low scoring and high in penalties, it certainly had little impact on ratings. Perhaps seeing even contests, producing unexpected results has been great for the game? 

Not one of the top 5 sides from last year are in the top 5 right now. Furthermore, three of the bottom 5 sides last year are in the top 8, while the other two are placed at 11th and 12th. It may only be early days in the 2018 season, but there’s been a lot of transformation on the game which has drawn a lot of interest from fans. Crowd numbers are up, ratings are strong. 

Perhaps this crackdown was working.

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