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Benefit of doubt rule behind clangers and sackings

Date

Steve Mascord

Benefit of the doubt ... Kieran Foran knocks on during the finals match against North Queensland.

Benefit of the doubt ... Kieran Foran knocks on during the finals match against North Queensland. Photo: Channel Nine

One of the last things Bill Harrigan said as co-boss of the NRL referees was that the benefit of the doubt rule had to go. Since then, Bill, Stuart Raper, Tony De Las Heras, Steve Lyons and - I believe - two other yet-to-be-identified match officials have been punted.

Harrigan's comments have been largely forgotten. But you know what? He was right.

The benefit of the doubt rule was responsible for some of the biggest clangers of the year, even if it was wrongly applied. The Kieran Foran incident should have been the final nail in its coffin.

Basically, the rule says: "If there is 2 per cent chance that was a try, it's a try." No wonder video referees, in particular, were repeatedly perplexed by it.

The NRL, to the best of my knowledge, is the only rugby league competition in the world with benefit of the doubt. In fact, common sense indicates that the decision should be based on balance of probability.

Was it most likely a try? Then it is.

Take out the mistakes surrounding benefit of the doubt, and maybe the match officials have a decent year and seven blokes still have their jobs.

Ambassador role for Lockyer

No sooner had the last Discord appeared than I walked in on almost irrefutable evidence that the ARL Commission does, indeed, care about international football.

Before Darren Lockyer retired, he mused that he would like to be some kind of NRL ambassador to international football. Well, as it turns out, that is exactly when he has become.

The former Australia captain and an NRL staffer were in London and the north of England at the expense of the commission to help promote the World Cup.

Discord understands that among the ideas discussed was giving individual countries "clubhouses" at the tournament, where visiting fans and expats can gather and support can ferment. It's a concept that has worked well in rugby union.

Appointing NRL coaches to help developing nations in the lead-up to the 14-team tournament is also a consideration. The commission is keen to support the World Cup and help make it a success, evidently.

I guess rather than apathy - which is clearly not a problem - the challenge for the ARLC is to look at international football from a perspective that isn't too Australian.

Rugby league remains a regional sport in Britain and busting out of those boundaries as the next major sporting event after the Olympics is the big challenge for RLWC 13.

Lockyer may have been mobbed at functions in the north but only one journalist showed up in person for Tuesday's media opportunity in London - and he was there to interview Jamie Peacock, who he admitted was the first rugby league player he had ever dealt with.

The rest of the interviews were conducted over the phone with members of the league media who all live and work in the north.

Let's go to the comments ...

I didn't leave you long to provide feedback since the last column - sorry about that.

Diss Cord said it must have been a slow news week if all I had to talk about was the log. Great moniker, Diss - and yes, it was! My point was that we need the eligibility mess sorted - as an example - and can we trust an organisation that has green and gold plus the southern cross in its logo to make a decision that is not selfishly Australian?

It was indeed an honour to have the great Bob Abbott, a pioneer of modern day marketing in sport, not only read the column but comment. Bob, as far as I know, the national team will wear at least one ARL logo. It would be another terrible backwards step if they wear the NRL insignia as most of the teams they play against will also feature NRL players! I repeat, the NRL is a competition, not a country!

ew75, the NRL clubs do not own the competition or the commission. That model was championed by Russell Crowe but dismissed as being too dangerous, in that the clubs would then have the power to - effectively - sell rugby league. And the ARL apparently do care about the international game (see above) since they sent Darren Lockyer and one of their staff over here to promote the World Cup and are thinking of sinking considerable resource into the tournament. The AFL does do as much or more than some other "parochial" sports to spread the word. They run a World Cup (without Australia), play exhibition games overseas and also internationals against Ireland - although I accept at the moment it seems to be quiet on these fronts.

Ted, the Warriors will wear the black logo. But why do we have a new logo that requires another to be produced?

Goan, I am quite aware that the change of name from ARL to NRL was to acknowledge News Limited, not New Zealand! But it made the competition name less parochial anyway - so why change it back to something which excludes New Zealand? Because News aren't around? Nah, we could have done better.

Jimbob said referees are a much bigger problem and questioned why the likes of Tony De Las Heras and Steve Lyons were punted. I agree wholeheartedly. I thought one of the biggest problems the refs had was lack of experience. But what do we know, JimBob?

7 comments so far

  • I think the 'benefit of the doubt' "rule" has become muddied in recent years as refereeing administration has become infected with the rampany parasites of managementism. Over-emphasis on things like KPIs at the expense of common sense has, I suspect, resulted in an over-literal interpretation of 'benefit of the doubt'. The 'doubt' used to be caused by lack of available evidence; that is, if no one was sure a try had been scored but it seemed like it had, then a try would be awarded. To me, it seemed that the rule was interpreted as: if the decision could go either way and there was no available evidence to the contrary, then the benefit of the doubt would go to the attacking team. But now we have, in televised games, mountains of evidence. Surely decisions should still be made on the same basis: if it's a 50-50 call, the benefit of the doubt should go to the attacking team.

    The problem with the way the rule was interpreted this year was that it seemed that ANY doubt would go the way of the attacking team. My fear with changing the rule is that we'd flip too far the other way, and set the benchmark for tries too high, meaning longer video scrutiny and a slower game. Change the interpretation, not the rule.

    Commenter
    theboov
    Location
    Christchurch
    Date and time
    November 08, 2012, 12:38PM
    • My thoughts are it should be the other way around. If there is any doubt at all it should not be a try.

      Commenter
      Ian
      Location
      Brisbane
      Date and time
      November 08, 2012, 2:23PM
    • If you reverse the benefit of the doubt you then start requiring different rules at different levels of the game, or you end up with truly stupid decisions. If a player in a junior or amateur game makes a break and scores before an official has caught up to see if the ball was clearly grounded, then without the benefit of the doubt it could not be given. The rule is fine and has been for over a century, the problem is the current interpretation and video referees who can seemingly doubt what everyone else can see clearly.

      Commenter
      Michael
      Location
      London
      Date and time
      November 08, 2012, 9:15PM
    • i really like the rugby system with the videa referee.
      "give me a reason not to award the try"
      I cant remember ever seeing a video ref screw up badly in rugby, even shute shield

      Commenter
      fish
      Location
      yamba
      Date and time
      November 09, 2012, 9:03AM
    • Benefit of the doubt does have to go - if the video ref cannot definitively make a call, i.e. be 100% of the call, then it should revert to the on-field ref, and be Ref's Call. The video ref was introduced to overcome clanger calls by on-field refs - if its not clear, it should revert to the on field officials...
      Only prob with that is we have to start getting touch judges to start making calls again, and not just wave a flag when the ball crosses their line. When I played, they called you offside, they warned you about impeding others, and raced in to the on-field ref if you ignored them and you were penalised. When was the last time we saw that in the NRL??

      Commenter
      iambunney
      Date and time
      November 13, 2012, 10:05AM
  • I was not aware that they scored tries in rugby union

    Commenter
    zyconoclast
    Date and time
    November 10, 2012, 1:42AM
    • The Hand of Foran try would have been a try even if the referee did not go to the video ref. The referee, who was in a very good position to see, ruled 6 to go when Thurston knocked the ball back so he thought Foran didn't touch it. The video referees could not see any proof of a touch so they ruled a try. The many people viewing a hand between the camera and the ball as proof that it was touched are incompetent or biased. Foran hand touches Thurston after he propelled the ball back. If Foran touched it why didn't it move? Why would he say he didn't touch it? The problem here is people thinking there is a touch when there is evidence of no touch.

      Commenter
      DragonsRGr8
      Location
      Canberra
      Date and time
      November 12, 2012, 1:48PM

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