Stern warning … Wayne Bennett. Photo: Ryan Osland
NEWCASTLE coach Wayne Bennett has called on the NRL's referees to eradicate ruck wrestling before it becomes an epidemic.
Speaking after the Knights' 18-6 trial win against South Sydney at Coffs Harbour on Saturday, Bennett said spoiling tactics had now reached the point where they were damaging the game as a spectacle.
''If the ruck's going to be like that all season, we're going to have a pretty boring football season,'' Bennett said.
''We got penalised pretty heavily for it, but it was both sides. It's a blight on the game right now.''
Bennett said sitting in close proximity to the playing field on Saturday night gave him a bird's-eye view of the techniques and tactics employed to stifle the ball carrier.
''The attacking player in the game at the moment gets no reward for using his feet, no reward for winning the contest to going to ground so he can get a better play-the-ball,'' he said.
''It's all defence-orientated. It's not the product I want to see and I'm sure the fans will recognise it after a little while as well. It's been around a while now and there's more teams buying into it. There's more teams doing it than ever.''
He said that rather than being an advertisement for the code, last year's play-offs - and the annual All Stars match - reaffirmed his belief that remedial action was overdue.
''I thought our finals series last year was poor, in terms of the quality of football that was played,'' he said.
''I just know from being in the All Stars camp how much time the guys are spending in their training environment on the wrestling and slowing it all up.''
Bennett said referees needed to ''identify when the player is tackled'' and crack down on defenders whose only aim was to delay the play-the-ball. ''They'll have to penalise it,'' he said. ''They'll have to clean it up. When they start penalising it, I can guarantee you one thing, the coaches will sort it out. The coaches created it, now the coaches will clean it up if it's costing teams games of football.''
When it was pointed out that Souths conceded fewer penalties than Newcastle, Bennett said he accepted that was the case, although he argued the Knights were not only penalised for ruck infringements.
''They [Souths] got away with it better,'' he said.
''It looked like it was genuine. We're just not as good at it, so we looked clumsy.''
Asked if he would be contacting new referees boss Daniel Anderson to raise his concerns, Bennett replied: ''Not yet. I thought you might rattle his cage through your paper.''