Bill Harrigan ... has named Chris Ward as the main video referee for the preliminary final between Canterbury and South Sydney. Photo: Dallas Kilponen
VETERAN video referee Chris Ward, who made the biggest decision by an upstairs official in NRL history, has been brought back into the front line by the man who asked him to make that call in the 1999 grand final - Bill Harrigan.
Ward was named yesterday by referees bosses Harrigan and Stuart Raper as the main video referee for the preliminary final between Canterbury and South Sydney at ANZ Stadium on Saturday. Bernard Sutton will be the back-up video ref.
They replace Steve Clark and Paul Simpkins, who have been dropped after it was judged that a critical call Clark made and Simpkins supported in last weekend's game between Manly and North Queensland was wrong.
Harrigan was the referee in the 1999 decider between Melbourne and St George Illawarra, in which the Dragons held an 18-14 lead late in the game when, out wide, Storm winger Craig Smith jumped to try to catch a Brett Kimmorley bomb in the opposition in-goal. Smith lost the ball as he was tackled by Dragons winger Jamie Ainscough.
Asked to adjudicate by Harrigan, Ward correctly ruled that Smith had lost control of the ball as a result of being illegally hit high by Ainscough and awarded a penalty try. As a result, the conversion attempt was taken from in front of the posts rather than out wide, where the incident occurred, and Storm five-eighth Matt Geyer kicked it to clinch a 20-18 win.
Ward was the No.1 video ref then but has been down the pecking order more recently. In the first week of the finals, he and Sutton were among the four back-up video refs. Russell Smith, Sean Hampstead, Clark and Simpkins were the lead video refs. Smith and Hampstead were paired for last weekend's South Sydney-Canberra game but Harrigan and Raper chose not to split them and make them both lead video refs this weekend.
Instead, Smith will be the lead video ref and Hampstead his support in Friday's other preliminary final between Melbourne and Manly at AAMI Park.
Also yesterday, Manly five-eighth Kieran Foran commented further on the incident that involved him and was incorrectly judged by Clark and Simpkins. Replays indicated Foran, jumping with North Queensland's Johnathan Thurston, had touched the ball in the lead-up to a try but Clark ruled a benefit of the doubt try to the Sea Eagles.
''In the heat of the moment, I didn't think I touched it and that is what I said after the game,'' Foran said. ''But they've obviously reviewed it and it's turned out differently.''
Canterbury coach Des Hasler is advocating that the on-field referees should make all of the video refereeing decisions from next season.
''If they keep the video referee, then the only ones judging as video referees should be the referees,'' Hasler said yesterday. ''So somehow we have got to set up the vision on the sideline for the two referees to go and look at the vision themselves. Let them make the call.''
Hasler said the referees were best qualified to judge because ''they're exposed to it the most'', adding: ''They are there at the moment [something happens], they do all the work during the week. I think, also, that removes benefit of the doubt and it's up to them … You see it happening in the NFL and it happens to work really well.''
In the NFL, on-field referees no longer make video-assisted calls on scoring plays. Those are now done by a replay official upstairs. But they do still make video-assisted calls on other incidents.