I love Rugby League, as anyone reading this blog will too, it’s in a RL Fanzine for Mint’s sake, but I’ve come to realise that our love for the greatest game of all is close to the love that a battered wife has for her abusive husband.
We love RL despite what it does to us, despite it constantly letting us down, despite it making us, as fans, feel like we’re worthless and not deserving of happiness. Just like a downtrodden, punch-drunk spouse we keep coming back for more thinking “he’ll change, I really love him, when he’s good to me, he’s REALLY good to me”, and then we react with shock when we get another black eye. On reflection this sounds like “victim blaming”, but you can see my point. At some point the downtrodden rise up and take back the power, with what’s happening right now in the world of RL that time has to be soon.
The NRL is currently under siege after deciding to crack down on a number of on-field infringements early in the season. One has been a bug-bear of mine for years, and that’s players that just roll the ball backwards at the play-the-ball making no effort to use a foot to heel it back. Seeing players penalised for that has been interesting, and the coaches have been 100% behind the rule change – it slightly slows down the play the ball and puts the onus on the ball handler to retain possession properly. However, this does make things worse as I’ll discuss in a minute.
There was also a directive to the officials reminding them that the sin-bin can be used for general foul play, as for too long they’ve generally only yellow carded players for professional fouls. This brought forth the wondrous sight this week of Cameron Smith first getting penalised for laying on in the tackle, then marched 10 metres for back chatting the ref and then sinbinned for carrying on the chat after that. Sweet, sweet viewing for all NRL fans as Smith acts as a third referee most of the time and the look of bewilderment on his face was a joy to behold.
The crackdown on offside, especially on the defending teams try line is what’s got the Aussie players, fans and press up in arms. With the demand that players play the ball properly, the refs have been instructed that the defending line can only move after the ball has cleared the ruck completely. These players since starting in under 5’s have come off the line as soon as the ball is placed on the floor at the play the ball. So we’re dealing with entrenched behaviour here, and that’s not going to change in four rounds of NRL. In the first four rounds we’ve seen players binned for repeated infringements in this area, teams conceding penalty after penalty and more two points kicked then in the first half of last years entire season. In my (and many others) opinion its killing the game. We’re turning into Rugby Union, a technical bore-fest, where only the man in the middle knows what the hell he’s blowing up for. At every game I’ve watched this year the referee is besieged by confused captains (especially when walking off at half time) asking for clarity on why their team is getting constantly pinged.
The worst I’ve seen is the Souths v Bulldogs game, when the ref insisted that the Bulldogs captain Josh Jackson walk over to him to discuss his teams “discipline”. After the usual “tell them to stay on the line or someone will be going for 10 minutes” lecture, the ref got back on with the game. The issue being that Jackson was defending at right centre, and the ref pulled him over to the other side of the sticks to deliver the worthless chat and blew time back on before Jackson took his proper place in the line. Of course the Bunnies strolled in right where he should’ve been and ended up winning a tight game by four points.
On Sydney radio the NRL head of football, Brian Canavan, was discussing referee Matt Cecchin’s performance in the recent Sharks v Storm game where a record 33 penalties were blown. He defended “chicken legs” Cecchin and said that from a performance point of view he did exactly what the NRL wanted and that was to blow for every infringement he saw.
But our game has nuances and subtlety that means that a pedantic ref could blow up at any time and a good ref (and Cecchin is one of those – look at Origin One last year which he officiated was the freest flowing amazing game I’d seen) should let the game develop and then stamp authority when needed. The refs are merely doing as they’re told at the moment, and we can only hope that the NRL see sense and allow a little more leeway before the game is irreparably damaged. The guy interviewing Canavan said that he hoped it wasn’t Cecchin’s birthday today as he’d have no breath left to blow out the candles.
Then we come to Super League and the Derby. Bureta’s challenge was definitely late, and in slow motion didn’t look good. The issue that is the problem here is that the on field ref didn’t even blow up for it, but was instructed to send the player from the field by the video referee. Unless I’m mistaken that’s not in the rule book. The Video Ref can advise on the severity of an issue after the on field ref has blown for a penalty, but this ridiculous intervention left us with 12 players on the field for 90% of the game. Then later in the game Kendall awarded us a scrum after Rovers knocked on. Bentham then spots that Washy stood his ground and shouldered a Rovers player off the ball after the knock on when the ball was dead and instructed Kendall to give them a penalty. Add to that the Rovers try that should never have been rubbed out thanks to our old and misinterpreted friend the obstruction rule, and then going to the screen to check on a 40/20 late in the second half, there’s no wonder that Radders complained about a two hour game of Rugby League. At least in the NRL it’s a level playing field with every game televised, if the Derby hadn’t of been on Sky, then we’d have had 13 men on the pitch, Mint wouldn’t have scored the first try, Rovers’ try would’ve been allowed and we’d still have mullered the scumbags by 50.
Is it time for Super League to adopt the two referee model that the NRL do? I’d argue that’s impossible as the lack of strength in depth in the officiating ranks would mean we wouldn’t have enough to go around. Something needs to change though. The worst game of League is still miles better than the best game of Union (and soccer too), we’ve got such a great product, its just our abusive partner (the RFL or the NRL) makes us feel unworthy to believe this.
Finally, lets not forget the wise words of former Blues coach Laurie Daley…”Rugby League is a simple game, played by simple men. Rugby Union is a complex game, played by wankers.”
Until next time, Up the Cream, Gerremonsard and Come on you ‘Ull.
Rich – Twitter @pommyrich
This article first appeared in Issue 52 of the Up the Cream fanzine. To get your copy, click here