The 2018 season has been dominated by a referee crack down on play-the-balls, markers breaking early and defenders rushing up too quick. These crackdowns happen every year but tend to only last two weeks. However this time around the referees to their credit, have stuck to their guns.
It has drawn the ire of commentators and fans, saying that the mass of penalties in games, many attracting 20, while the Sharks v Storm game tonight saw over 30 blown, is detrimental to the game. So who do they blame? The referees.
While a very very small percentage will be doubtful, the overwhelming majority are correct calls. This is a fault of the players and coaches entirely to refuse to yield to the rules in place that are being heavily policed at present.
The Sharks v Storm game though saw things escalate further. 33 penalties were blown for the game, with two players, the experienced Luke Lewis and Cameron Smith, both spending time in the sin bin. This was an occasion where the referees made mistakes.
It wasn’t on the policing of the game though. It was a reluctance to use the sin bin. This mad obsession of trying to keep the game as 13 on 13 has to end. Because players have shown after 4 weeks that they are prepared to keep giving the penalties away.
So the referees need to be prepared to make games 9 on 10 if need be if it helps to get their message across. Use the bin more frequently until the message sinks in.
And while I’m at it, calls to reinstate the 5 minute sin bin to help with this crack down are foolish. It needs to be ten minute stints. The next time a game looks to be headed in the same ill-disciplined direction as this Sharks v Storm game, but having the match reduced to 10 v 10, teams will soon learn that they need to change their style to be rules-compliant.
Otherwise, we’ll continue seeing 20 and 30 odd penalties being awarded every game, every week.