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Whistle-shy referees could affect finals results

Pressured ... teams are cautious when playing against Ben Barba.

Pressured ... teams are cautious when playing against Ben Barba. Photo: Supplied

Referees will say this is because the players from the top teams are more disciplined, while the real reason is they like to be associated with high-voltage, end-to-end, low-stoppage games.

Another verity of the modern game is that penalties often lead to tries, sometimes as high as an average of one from every three penalties. In fact, some teams depend heavily on penalties to win matches.

The Rabbitohs, who play Canberra at ANZ Stadium, Homebush, Saturday night, have scored 31 of their 114 tries from penalties.

It doesn't mean they scored on the first tackle after receiving a penalty, merely that they scored 31 times from the set of six tackles which followed a penalty.

By contrast, their opponents, the Raiders, have scored only 11 of their 117 tries from penalties.

So, if the referees don't blow penalties, South Sydney is significantly disadvantaged compared to Canberra.

There has also been a crackdown by the video referee on tries with any hint of obstruction.

The Bulldogs, who are already the most heavily penalised team in the NRL, rely on these plays for tries more than the other semi-final teams.

Even if referees are loath to blow the whistle during the next three weekends, they will continue to punish obstruction plays.

It follows that teams which don't rely on penalties and obstruction plays are well positioned to win the 2012 premiership. Usually, this means teams that take pride in their defence.

Defence at line dropouts is a good guide to a team's capacity to keep the opposition from scoring. So, too, is the number of opposition tries from penalties, because this usually means confronting repeat sets.

The Bulldogs have been forced into the most line dropouts of the semi-final teams, probably because of a preference to grubber kick against mercurial fullback Ben Barba.

The Bulldogs have returned the ball to the opposition 42 times via line kicks, yet yielded only 11 tries. And of the 158 penalties they have conceded, the opposition has scored only 18 tries.

The minor premiers, therefore, can win games on defence.

But Melbourne has the best record defending both line dropouts and penalties.

Of the 30 times they have been forced to ground the ball behind their posts, only four tries have come from the resultant set. Of the 131 penalties they have conceded, only 13 tries have resulted.

Souths have conceded only 10 tries from 37 line dropouts, on par with the Bulldogs.

They have yielded 16 tries from the 123 penalties given opposition teams, a comparatively low penalty count, suggesting referees don't like awarding extra possession to teams playing the NRL's emotional favourites.

But if referees keep their whistle in their pockets against all teams, Souths won't score tries but are also less likely to concede them.

The Raiders have yielded 13 tries from the 41 times they have been forced to return possession from line dropouts, or about one in three, compared to the Storm's one in 7.5.

Canberra has also allowed 22 tries from the 128 penalties given their opponents, the highest number of tries of the six semi-final teams.

Manly and North Queensland, who meet at Allianz Stadium tonight, are better defensively, although comparisons based on statistics taken over a season ignore the fact some teams meet only once over 26 rounds.

Furthermore, the Storm had a purple patch up to the Origin period and later lost five consecutive games, while the Raiders have had a season of two halves, suggesting recent data is the most relevant.

Both the Sea Eagles and Cowboys have been forced into 34 line dropouts but Manly has conceded just over half the number of tries — five compared to North Queensland's nine.

The Sea Eagles hold a similar advantage defending penalties. They have conceded 15 tries from the 136 penalties the opposition has been awarded, while the Cowboys have yielded 18 from only 120 penalties.

Adding up the tries conceded via line dropouts and penalties on the Storm versus Cowboys/Sea Eagles side of the draw comes to 64, compared to 90 on the Bulldogs versus Rabbitohs/Raiders side.

If referees take the traditional path of blowing the whistle less and maintaining a big 10 metres, the 2012 premier should come from the defensively tougher side of the draw.

21 comments so far

  • Roy whilst I do like your articles I really think you should check your facts and statistics. Souths have not scored 114 tries in fact they have scored 95 tries (nrl stats) which make their reliance on penalties to score even higher than the percentage you suggest to approx 46% I suggest you rework the article to reflect the proper figures and you will the reliance in a more damning highlight

    Cheers

    Commenter
    Donatello
    Location
    Sydney
    Date and time
    September 13, 2012, 1:37PM
    • As long as the referees are consistent, it does not matter if there are less penalties in a final. It is the sometimes blatant inconsistencies that leaves fans gasping! Statistics like these, although interesting, are almost always disproved on the day. Canberra will win penalties or no penalties!

      Commenter
      agasageek
      Location
      Sydney
      Date and time
      September 13, 2012, 1:47PM
      • The problem is they are never consistent. Take for instance the late hit on Paul Gallen last week. That should have been put on report as a bare minimum. These referees are terrible. Sack the lot of them and start over...

        Commenter
        Harrigan must go!
        Date and time
        September 13, 2012, 3:39PM
    • Roy, as a RL fan I'm worried about the amount of negativity you direct towards the referees in your articles. It seems to be a trend that has entered the game at many levels, including coaches now using the tactic of 'bashing the ref' in the post match press conference when their has played particularly poorly. Bennet, Hasler, and Toovey have all been accused of it when their teams have lost to deflect attention from the performance. Then we read articles like the above, in the middle of the finals series mind you, which use the game's media exposure to put the officials down instead of promoting what is fantastic sport at the pinnacle of the season. I can't think of another sport where match officials are as much the centre of attention as RL journalism has made them today.

      We are competing against the AFL, another topic you like to discuss, and when I read AFL articles you would even wonder if they had umpires they are so infrequently mentioned. They simply talk about the game.

      This article, your recent article about whether one ref or two is better, and the many others you write take the attention away from opportunities to promote the game to potential juniors by writing about say Ben Barba's game, dissecting the Cowboys attack which has made them a competitor for the tile or any other athletic feat.

      Please, between journo's and the coaches, this trend of picking on the ref's has to be calmed. Even if they do have a shocker, do we need a dozen articles to focus on that? Hopefully the Commission can control this behaviour so NRL articles are like the AFL's where we read about the game and not the ref.

      Commenter
      Concerned
      Location
      Sydney
      Date and time
      September 13, 2012, 2:12PM
      • Rugby League penalties are infrequent, often providing a repeat set allowing for very favourable field position and hence tries. Scoring tries is also relatively infrequent, consequently isolated penalties can be crucial in the upshot.

        AFL's free kicks are much more frequent, and do not gift massive end to end field position. Nor is one isolated free kick likey to have a major bearing on the score.

        Commenter
        Office Man
        Location
        Work
        Date and time
        September 13, 2012, 4:19PM
      • It's not Roy's job to be a cheer squad for the game - unfortunately, too many afl journo's toe the party line in fear of losing access (remember Sheedy taking names of the Sydney journos not supporting the GWS enough, for example - compare to the early days of the swans with their coaches begging for coverage)

        On access to League coaches, the new ARL commission should write into every club's license that the coach must give a certain number of interviews a week (or at a set time) etc, also players on set days as well - look at the access you get in the US with their teams compared to ours

        Too much leeway is given to media bans (even in State of Origin where the Qld ban the media almost every year & play the victim) - in clubs the oldies like Bennett barely speak - a few years ago during their finals run, the Penrith coach gave interviews during the matches

        More access must be a given

        Commenter
        paully
        Date and time
        September 13, 2012, 4:39PM
      • The referee wouldn't be written about if they didn't have such a huge influence on the outcome of games which is not the case in AFL where you have made comparisons which are totally invalid. There are now 2 referees, a video referee and two linesmen, and they still get it wrong, and you say coaches and journalists are not justified in their criticism. Sides can miss out on the 8 due to poor decisions. A case in point is Cronulla, they would have had another 4 points this season and would have finished in the top 4 if not for poor decisions. The refereeing and decision making needs to be better, and they should have a challenge system as is done in the NFL. An extra 5 minutes tacked onto the game for the sake of accuracy is far more important in reaching the correct result, because then there should be less controversy when the correct decision and result is the outcome. Roy Masters is totally justified in writing these articles because the refereeing needs to be better. You will hear more about the game when that happens and there are less controversial decisions that affect the outcome of games.

        Commenter
        Pierre
        Date and time
        September 13, 2012, 4:49PM
      • fair is fair, some refs are useless and make terrible decisions, and other decisions just leave people watching bewildered and gobsmacked.

        Commenter
        Trent
        Date and time
        September 14, 2012, 10:21AM
      • a comparison to AFL would be more relevant if there was as much scoring going on in a game - when you have a typical AFL game involving 20 scoring moments from each team versus 4 or 5 from a NRL then it becomes less important about an individual decision by an AFL umpire. But when a decision be it penalty or otherwise by an NRL umpire can have such a direct effect on a teams chance to score or not socre in the ensuing minute, let alone give them the chance to have the next minutes possession you get to the stage it gets scrutinised a bit more closely.

        Commenter
        Tired Camel
        Date and time
        September 14, 2012, 1:53PM
      • Concerned, the reason is the referees are ruining the game. More bodies on the field, a body off the field, better technology and a new system still sees referees effecting the course of a game, getting calls blatantly wrong and becoming more worried about being a part of the game than adjudicating it.

        As a fan falling out of love with the game, the impact of some of the rules and the regulators (referees) is turning the game sour.

        It is an issue that has to be addressed, there is far too much competition from other codes to sit on past glory so why not put forth the best product possible.

        If we do not have commentators discussing areas of weakness and the governing bodies continue to carry on believing the game exists without error then it will die. What I do agree with is the amount of scrutiny directed at the referees is not matched with suggestions for improvement.

        Picking apart for the sake of picking apart is a waste of time and only does as you say, takes away from the game. But enlightened discussion which will be listened to an outcomes achieved needs to take place. We have introduced video, pocket referees and rule changes yet we still cannot get it right.

        There are errors on try decisions, players are allowed to stay on the field when injured, obstructions are a joke, the wrestle is a blight and having referees not only discuss the "flow" of the game but expect changes is unforgivable. It is a great game, let the players do what they do best.

        Commenter
        With Good Reason
        Date and time
        September 14, 2012, 2:35PM

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