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Video referees are strangling the life out of the game, and it's time to get rid of them

Date

Chief Sports Writer, The Sydney Morning Herald

View more articles from Andrew Webster

Try as he might: Chris Sandow scored a vital try for Parramatta against Manly last Friday. Then it was taken away.

Try as he might: Chris Sandow scored a vital try for Parramatta against Manly last Friday. Then it was taken away. Photo: Getty Images

As Manly players gathered in the in-goal last Friday night, they started to talk about how they were going to snuff out the Parramatta comeback.

They led 12-0, but the tide was turning.

Eels halfback Chris Sandow had just run at the line then stepped inside Manly five-eighth Kieran Foran and scored a certain try.

Snake charmer: Peter "Snakebite" Wright struts his stuff in Sydney.

Snake charmer: Peter "Snakebite" Wright struts his stuff in Sydney. Photo: A Lawrence Lustig/PDC

But, no, in this day and age when the video referee checks everything but the players' pulse, it was sent upstairs to a higher power …

As the vision rolled, it showed that Eels forward David Gower had slipped in between Sandow and Foran.

That's when the Sea Eagles players stopped talking about their defence, and more about the video ref.

"We're a chance here," they thought, as Hitchcock-like suspense built around Parra Stadium, and for us slobs at home.

Gower's run had no bearing on whether Foran stopped Sandow, but whether a certain try would've been scored is a minor detail when it comes to the video ref and the obstruction rule and what actually matters in rugby league, the alleged Greatest Game of All.

With every replay shown, the Manly players kept telling each other "we're a chance"; that the try would be disallowed.

Then it was.

Rugby league, you have a problem. You need to abolish the video referee.

The use of technology to rule on tries was not the spawn of Satan but something close to his heart – Super League.

Back then, the video ref had the power to look at the grounding of the ball, nothing more.

The continuity of the play was not to be compromised because of a real fear of turning the game into the National Football League.

Now, the video ref is strangling rugby league to death.

NRL head of football Todd Greenberg has announced a sweeping review of match officials.

There's a clear mandate to quicken the tempo of the game, as the recent 40-20 quick-tap-or-scrum-or-whatever-the-ballboy-does saga revealed.

Greenberg has flagged the introduction of an NBA-style shot clock in the corner of the big screen for stoppages in play, to ensure there's no time wasting.

Here's a few ideas: stop the video referee from looking at endless replays to see if someone has knocked on, when we all knew from the first replay whether he did or did not; stop the video ref from ruling on obstruction; and stop him from taking an eternity to determine if we should restart with a scrum or a dropout or a penalty.

There is also talk of a third on-field referee and a "bunker" system, similar to that used in the National Hockey League, for all video ref decisions. (Can you imagine the pizza delivery bill for The Bunker come the end of the round?)

Abort. Abort. Abort.

A simple game is becoming as complex as the NFL, the NBA, the NHL. I liked it when it was rugby league, the alleged Greatest Game of All.

WERE CRONULLA'S SUPPORT STAFF TO BLAME OR NOT?

It was interesting to see NRL boss Dave Smith point the finger on Saturday at support staff at the Sharks in the wake of players accepting a three-match ban for using prohibited substances.

"The evidence supports the fact that players were misled about the nature of the substances administered to them by people at the club who they should have been able to trust," he said.

This column has seen Smith's lengthy letter to former Sharks strength and conditioning coach Trent Elkin.

It reads in part: "It is an established fact that the club was inadequately resourced during the relevant period, that there was an insufficient number of football support staff and that [coach Shane] Flanagan did not properly supervise you. 

"Further, I was conscious that [Stephen] Dank's association with your club was relatively short, that you were actively misled by Dank, that you did not engage in deliberate conduct to breach the NRL Rules and that you have co-operated in the NRL Investigation (as well as with ASADA)."

So were the support staff to blame or not?

GAY PLAYERS SHOULD AIM FOR THE TOP

Former Wallabies hooker Adam Freier has a message for those players taking part in this weekend's Bingham Cup, the gay world cup of rugby being held in Sydney: aim to play in the Shute Shield or the new National Rugby Championship.

Freier has played a handful of matches for the Melbourne Chargers this year.

"It's been like playing second grade at Randwick or for the Wallabies – it's no different," he said. "That's the most important point. Having this sort of tournament is a celebration of that. But the next challenge for some of those players is to get in and play second grade, and then first grade, and then Shute Shield and NRC and beyond. They should be aspiring beyond subbies-style football."

Teams from all over the world will compete for the cup at Woollahra 1, 2 and 3 and Lyne Park, in Rose Bay, from Friday through to Sunday.

TITANS NEVER IN THE HUNT FOR KARMICHAEL

The Gold Coast Titans were never seriously in with a chance to land the signature of code-hopping footballer Karmichael Hunt ahead of the Queensland Reds.

They spoke to the NRL about using some of that marquee player assistance Smith spruiked earlier this year, but head office didn't seem overly keen about dipping into their top pocket.

It is expected Hunt will be unveiled alongside reformed Wallabies bad boy James O'Connor as a new signing at the Reds' end-of-season gala ball on Friday night.

HEADS, YOU WIN

The SCG Media Hall of Fame luncheon in the Trust Suite of the Noble, Bradman and Messenger stands on Tuesday was superb.

Channel Nine sports icon Ken Sutcliffe is probably too young to be inducted just yet, but he knew of his pre-eminence as soon as he entered the room.

"Which table am I sitting at?" he asked an SCG staffer.

"The head table," he was told.

"The head table?" Kenny thought to himself. "How good am I going? The head table …"

Then he was informed he was sitting at the table of Ian Heads, the respected author who was one of the 15 inductees.

ERIN MAKES A STAND

Last week, Nine sports reporter Erin Molan put radio shock jock Kyle Sandilands firmly back in his box when he bizarrely bullied her on whatever radio station he's on these days.

He'd asked her a string of personal questions, prompting Molan to walk away from her regular segment on his show.

Molan's dignified response on The Footy Show, in which she told other women to stand up for themselves, sums up the person I know.

We can happily report that Molan has found love. She has been dating NSW Blues and Sydney Thunder cricketer Daniel Hughes for almost six months.

She hasn't talked about it publicly, but Hughes revealed the pair were an item in an Instagram post last Saturday.

"Happy birthday Erin Molan. You're absolutely amazing and I'm very lucky to have you in my life. Hope you have an awesome day, babe."

Q AND A: PETER "SNAKEBITE" WRIGHT

The colourful Scotsman is competing in the Sydney Darts Masters at the Hordern Pavilion this weekend.

Your nickname is Snakebite ...

It's the drink I used to drink when I was younger. People called me Snakebite then, and still do. I like snakes, too. I have some snake tattoos on my arm.

What do you like about snakes?

I dunno. Just the way they look.

Do you have any snakes at home?

No. I'm not allowed to have them in the house.

What makes a good snakebite? The drink version, that is.

It's half [a pint] of larger, a half of cider and a dash of blackcurrant. In the summer time, put some ice in it. Lovely. You get them here. We were in Perth last weekend. One of the fans got me one in the hotel bar.

You've got the Australian fans under your spell already!

Of course.

Tell us about the mohawk. Your wife does it. Does she decide the colour?

Yes. It depends on what trousers and stuff I am wearing. She blends the colour into the outfit. And then the snake is airbrushed on.

That process takes two hours, yes?

Yes. The hair. The snake. It all takes about two hours. That's for every round I am in.

That's commitment.

We do that most tournaments. I just jump in the shower at the end of the night, wash it all out, then do it the next day. It's part of my job and my preparation. I'm here to entertain. Hopefully, the Sydney crowds will be – and then buy me a Snakebite!

You weren't here last year. Why have you shot up the rankings so much?

I've moved to the countryside and concentrated on my game. I'm practising harder and being more aggressive and determined – instead of just turning up to tournaments.

I also read you've made half a million pounds in the last few years. Good coin ...

Most of that goes to the sponsors. I don't do it for the money.

THE QUOTE

"I've got my own problems." - And haven't we all? No, Canberra coach Ricky Stuart wasn't going anywhere near the ASADA issues of his former club, Cronulla, after his Raiders knocked them over last weekend.

THUMBS UP

Guangzhou Evergrande fans played knock-and-run on their hotel doors, called the phones in their rooms and then tried to tip over the team bus, but the Wanderers STILL did enough in the away leg of their AFC Champions League quarter-final to make it through to the semis.

THUMBS DOWN

Well done Western Bulldogs members who reported the 70-year-old who racially abused Swannies stars Lance Franklin and Adam Goodes from the stands of Etihad Stadium on Sunday. Bombers fans did something similar earlier this year. Step by step, change is coming. Get used to it.

It's a big weekend for ... those at Caulfield on Saturday afternoon for the Memsie Stakes, with no less than six group 1 winners about to launch into their spring preparations. Boban will win. You read it here first, unless he doesn't.

It's an even bigger weekend for ... the Storm and the Roosters as two title heavyweights lock horns in a ding-dong pre-finals battle at Allianz Stadium, in a match that will rock the premiership to the core of its foundations. Cliches aside, it should be a ripper.

22 comments so far

  • One of the greatest 'costs' of the video ref is that it has severely detracted from the experience of cheering at the moment your team scores. Of course you still cheer if and when the green sign appears, but it's just not the same as letting loose when the ball is planted.

    The way so many tries pan out now is that your team scores, but you can't celebrate, because it's going up stairs. In fact, rather than experiencing the joy you should be feeling, you’re annoyed. You see the replay, and it becomes clear that a try has in fact been scored, but you can't really let go, because it hasn't been awarded yet. Then the green light appears. Your cheer will, to a degree at least, be muted because you already knew the result.

    This has a significant impact on the pleasure involved in watching footy.

    Commenter
    Joe the expat
    Location
    The Hague
    Date and time
    August 29, 2014, 12:56AM
    • This is, I believe, the most important point as well, although many probably wouldn't see it that way. The huge cheer and rush of excitement for a winning try is muted, strangled and halted, because the ref in the centre doesn't have the courage to make a million dollar (literally) decision on his own and the video ref is an easy fallback. It's stolen the spontaneous surprise nature from the game, and that is critical to passion.

      Of course, the buffoons in charge wouldn't understand the problem, far less a solution. No wonder ratings are falling away.

      Commenter
      Trutat
      Date and time
      August 29, 2014, 8:31AM
    • This of cause is a consequence of the corporatisation of the game. Business types see constant change as normal and essential for a business what they don't see is that this is the opposite for a game. A game is something people love and want to stay the same so they have some benchmark to compare present with past. Rugby League has been so manipulated it may as well have another name today.It most definitely not the game I grew up with and grew to love I is now something more akin to an event.

      Commenter
      RTP
      Location
      Sawtell
      Date and time
      August 29, 2014, 10:17AM
    • It won't happen of cause because of the sponsorship that is associated with all parts of the video refereeing from the ads on the big screen to the breaks in the game for commercials.

      Commenter
      RTP
      Location
      Sawtell
      Date and time
      August 29, 2014, 10:20AM
    • Just do the rugby thing of asking if it is a try or not. Dont do the "I have a try or no try"

      Commenter
      franky
      Location
      Sydney
      Date and time
      August 29, 2014, 11:28PM
  • Decades ago I tried watching NFL bit I didn't enjoy it, why - because there were too many breaks. Last year I gave it another go and I thoroughly enjoyed it, why - because I'm used to a lot of breaks.now. The other day I watched the 84 Grand Final (Dogs v Eels) and boy what a game, one of the many highlights for me - continuity! The video is suffocating the game, we have a lightning fast "stop, start" game now but we do not have a continuous one.

    Soccer is the biggest game in the world because it is simple and it is continuous. League is also simple (compared to its far more intricate brother Union) but it has long since lost the other magic ingredient (continuity) needed to really, really appeal to the next generation of fans.

    Commenter
    A O
    Location
    Kia Ora
    Date and time
    August 29, 2014, 6:26AM
    • As is the case with all technology,there are always attempts to increase and improve it.Imagine what the game will be like in another 5 years unless someone calls a halt right now.The biggest problem is simply that it is great television and the TV producers just love it! So if you want long drawn out suspense,just watch Midsomer Murders ! The whole point of the TV referees was to get all the decisions right and week in,week out,they just don't

      Commenter
      john in beachmere
      Location
      beachmere qld
      Date and time
      August 29, 2014, 6:33AM
      • Most hate the video refs so either get rid of them(oh joy)or just have them for touchdowns(ie is the ball forced for try and is a wingers foot/body in or out when diving for corner no looking at knock ons or obstructions etc).Limit looks to two or three(even a 30 sec time limit) with no frame by frame crap then if they can't make a decision go with on field call and GET ON WITH THE GAME.If the refs make a bad call take it on the chin like men not whinging schoolboys of the Innes variety and GET ON WITH THE GAME.Hell refs making mistakes is part of sport and gives us fans(and some "super"coaches)some one to blame when we lose-great stuff!
        Lets get back to the fast flowing tough gladetorial game that league was built on and leave time outs to other codes.
        The alternative is the painfull slow loss of fans.

        Commenter
        Jacko
        Location
        Warriorville
        Date and time
        August 29, 2014, 7:33AM
        • Definitely need to place restrictions on how the video refs look at it. Limit it to one or two slow motion replays from each angle and make a decision. If it is not clear then it goes with the refs call.

          Commenter
          Neil
          Location
          Sydney
          Date and time
          August 30, 2014, 10:45AM
      • It seems like a logical idea to get rid of the video refs but, if it does happen, we can't have a situation where the on-field refs are later criticised by coaches, commentators and fans because they made a mistake. It's a human game, with human mistakes, and until everyone gets that message and lives with it, we will have problems.

        Commenter
        Grazzle
        Location
        Penrith
        Date and time
        August 29, 2014, 8:38AM

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        NRL Season 2014

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        Finals Week 2
        Fri, 19 SepTimes shown AEST
        SYD 31 vs NQL 30 Report Stats
        Sat, 20 SepTimes shown AEST
        MAN 17 vs BUL 18 Report Stats
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        Preliminary Finals
        Fri, 26 SepTimes shown AEST
        SOU 32 vs SYD 22 Report Stats
        Sat, 27 SepTimes shown AEST
        PEN 12 vs BUL 18 Report Stats
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        Grand Final
        Sun, 05 OctTimes shown AEDT
        SOU 30 vs BUL 6 Report Stats
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        NRL Premiership - 2014 Ladder
        Overall standings
        Team P W L D +/- Pts
        Sydney Roosters 24 16 8 0 230 36
        Manly 24 16 8 0 103 36
        South Sydney 24 15 9 0 224 34
        Penrith 24 15 9 0 80 34
        North Queensland 24 14 10 0 190 32
        Melbourne 24 14 10 0 76 32
        Canterbury-Bankstown 24 13 11 0 7 30
        Brisbane 24 12 12 0 93 28
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