Manly coach Geoff Toovey believes there are not enough top quality referees for the NRL season. Photo: Getty Images
The best result of the semi-finals starting on Friday night is that the number of referees will halve and then halve again the following weekend.
Manly coach Geoff Toovey is right - there are simply not enough high-quality match officials to rule over the eight games each round of the NRL season.
Five are used per match, two referees, two touch judges and a video referee, meaning 40 are employed over a weekend.
Now, with 20 officials appointed for this weekend's four semi-final matches, presumably the best ones will be named, casting the bottom 20 to their version of Mad Monday.
(Referees sitting around wearing sandals and socks and silly hats, drinking lemonade through a straw, reading scrap books of their match reports deserves a photo in Rugby League Central's museum.)
The next two weekends, with only two games each, will require only 10 officials.
The difference in quality between the top two referees and the 15th and 16th-rated ones is massive, and given some of the recent decisions from the video referee, there is a gap in ability between the best man in the box and the worst.
A design fault in the way the game is officiated exacerbates the problem. When the two-referee system was introduced, coaches understood that one would be used as a pocket referee to eradicate the grapple tackle at the ruck and the other whistleblower would adjudicate the 10 metres.
But almost from the beginning, referees swapped roles during the game, taking turns to rule over the ruck and the 10-metre line.
However, with the high skill level of today's players, this means each team is stuck with one referee for extended periods.
When the game kicks off, one referee stands with the defensive team and the other positions himself with the attacking team behind the ruck. Then, when the ball is kicked downfield and the defensive team begins its first set of six with the ball, the referee who was standing at the 10-metre line, moves behind the ruck. Similarly, the referee who was at the ruck with the attacking team, moves to adjudicate 10 metres.
Assuming there is no dropped ball, or penalty, each team can be stuck with the same referee for 20 or more minutes. This becomes a massive problem if one referee is superior to the other.
There have been games this season where Eagle Cam revealed one referee had his team back 13 metres and the other the required 10.
In last year's preliminary final between Melbourne and the Warriors, referee Matt Cecchin adjudicated the Storm's 10 metres for 11 of 16 sets, while referee Tony Archer stood with the Warriors.
Cecchin pulled the Storm back 12 to 15 metres, a massive disadvantage considering the weight and size advantage of the Warriors big pack, while Archer ruled the regulatory 10 when he had the Warriors for 10 of their 14 sets.
In the second half, the referees swapped teams, with the Storm having Cecchin for only seven of their 19 defensive sets.
Someone must have tipped Cecchin about his ''big 10'' at the interval and he ruled a fair distance in the second half … when the damage had been done and his time with the Storm was just over one-third of their defensive sets. If the second referee's incompetence extends to allowing markers to stand offside, it compounds the frustration of players.
Storm captain and hooker Cameron Smith, is one of the code's greatest players, yet he is often unable to work his magic from dummy half against markers standing side-by-side.
Consistency requires one referee to rule the ruck the entire game and the other to adjudicate the 10 metres. The 10-metre referee would become the main one, occupying the position he did in the days of the single whistleblower. Data from that period showed his heart rate reaching 170 beats per minute in intense periods but this can be overcome by letting the minor referee to rule the 10 metres until he recovers.
Jack Danzey, a great referee of the 1970s, had a heart attack that ended his career. I saw him at Leichhardt on Saturday and he looked ruddy faced but healthily sanguine.
Two referees would have been great in his day because they would have helped undermine the conspiracy theories of cheating centremen.
But now, with the ruck almost rid of wrestling, maybe we should revert to one referee. Rugby league has doubled their number and halved the performance.