Johnathan Thurston ... training with the Kangaroos squad. Photo: Getty Images
KANGAROOS five-eighth Johnathan Thurston has labelled touch judges glorified fans, resulting in an invitation to referees headquarters so their roles can be explained.
Thurston's withering attack came from left field yesterday when he was asked about the transition from two referees in the NRL to the international system of one whistle-blower against New Zealand this Saturday.
After offering his support for dual refs at club level, the playmaker continued: ''What are our touch judges doing? Are they doing anything there apart from just putting their flags up?
''They've got to have some influence on the game too. They've got to be looking out if players are onside or if they're offside. It just seems all they're there to do is put their flag up whenever the ball goes over the line.
''They have nothing. What's their influence on the game? They certainly need to help the refs because they can't watch everything, you know? They've got mics and everything. Why can't they be telling the refs who's offside?
''It's just like they're there as a fan watching the game. That's all they're doing. You see players are offside, and refs can't see that. What's the role of the touch judges?''
Thurston has had his run-ins with match officials over the years, and the Cowboys' season ended in rancour with a controversial defeat to Manly in which video refereeing decisions were pivotal.
Referees co-coach Bill Harrigan said players and fans just did not understand what linesmen do.
''If Johnathan or any other player came in on a Monday and sat through one of our debriefs, I think he'd be pleasantly surprised about what they do do,'' Harrigan said.
''The referees do control the game but they are looking for help from their touchies. Fans and players don't hear most of the stuff they say so they aren't aware of it. If anyone had a listen to our audio communications system, they would understand that.''
Australian back-rower Greg Bird offered guarded support for a call from teammate and friend Paul Gallen for the two-referee system to be scrapped.
''I've really enjoyed the way the one-ref situation has worked in Tests over the last few years,'' the Gold Coast player said. ''It's a little bit more free-flowing … I think it helps the game out.
''It's not for me to decide [but] I guess one ref worked for 100 years. Some would say [two] hasn't been working over the last couple.''
After discussing next year's World Cup, Thurston was asked if he would return to North Queensland after the tournament or join another club. He has been linked with Brisbane and Penrith.
''We're not sure about that,'' he said. ''Look, that's still a long way away … I like to deal with it differently. I've got a holiday planned so I don't want to be worrying about that kind of stuff … It's been a pretty big year, and we've got a big year next year, so I want to enjoy my holiday …
''I won't have time to sort it out before I go away but … when we get back I'll start talking to my manager about what's available and what's best for my future.''
Meanwhile, Queensland Rugby League chief executive Rob Moore said a life ban for a junior player accused of stomping on a rival's head was justified as he backed a series of punishments following a wild grand final day in September.
A total of 56 players were banned for one year and a 17-year-old Waterford player was banned for life after allegedly kicking the head of a Redcliffe opponent during the Greater Brisbane Junior Rugby League's grand final day at Wacol, in Brisbane's west, last month.
The incident has called into question the concept of finals for juniors, and is another blow for a game trying to adopt a more professional and family-friendly approach right down to its grassroots level.