Saturday 17 March 2018 / 05:00 PM


NRL referees these days are like the bus driver without a bus: confused, lost and brow-beaten.

This is not a piece about refereeing bashing. That is a sport as old as the game itself and no matter how good referees are there will always be complaints about forward passes and knock-ons and all that. That is par for the course.

This is about providing the referees with the right structure to succeed, giving these professionals the leadership, development, authority and flexibility to prosper in a cut-throat environment.

These are changes that must be made if the referees are to have any chance.

Change in Leadership

It is apparent that the refereeing fraternity as a whole is not happy with the leadership of Tony Archer. He has seemingly taken away their authority and has shown an overall lack of consistency. He has proven reactionary and too concerned with PR. The referees need an actual leader.

Policing Not Lawmaking

One of the big shifts in the nature of the refereeing leadership in recent years has been the move away from policing the rulebook to attempting to create the laws of the game through what they call “interpretations”. Rules are ignored. Interpretations that aren’t actually rules are enforced. Referees, through their leadership, have been forced to move from a policing role to a legislative one.

Officiating Not Managing

Referees have lost much of their authority because they try to manage a game rather than just call it. Players aren’t penalised for moving off the mark, they are told to go back. Players are called back onside. Referees tell forwards how to pack scrums. And that is what we see. There is no doubt a want to have the final penalty count close and a hope to keep the game relatively even through acts like not sending players off.

Bunker Replaced by Challenge System

The Bunker is the biggest myth in rugby league. And it has usurped the head on-field referee as the top dog in the pecking order. They have final say over most tries. They can overrule a subjective decision by an on-field referee. They seem to be the final arbiter over whether a player should be sent off. The NRL should move to a challenge system similar to the NFL where the on-field referee then uses video technology to keep or overturn his decision.

Refereeing Accountability and Transparency

There is almost no accountability or transparency in the refereeing ranks. Poor performances are rarely punished by any more than a week in reserve grade – and that is reserved for incidents of total public outrage. Bunker officials are almost never dumped. There are secret signals and codewords used by refs to check things like penalty counts. There are no media requirements. Tony Archer rarely takes responsibility for mistakes. There needs to be a greater pool of referees and, as Ricky Stuart noted last weekend, the dissemination of all communications between officials.

Full Law Review

No sport changes its rules more often and with less forethought than Rugby League. Example: kickers should be penalised for kicking the ball dead deliberately through a seven-tackle set so now everything from a missed field goal to a dropped bomb by an attacking player get the same penalty. The lawbook is actually a mess when a player can be binned for a professional foul but not for an act of violence. A complete review of the rugby league rulebook is required to simplify and clarify rules.

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About the author

Nick Tedeschi

You will not find a more passionate rugby league man than Nick, whose Making The Nut column has garnered a huge cult following over the last decade. The Sydney-based raconteur co-authored The Book of NRL Lists with CBS stablemate WILL EVANS in 2014 and has penned several other books; he joined the CBS team with his weekly Six Up The Middle feature in 2016.

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