Refs don't know R's from their elbows

Refs don't know R's from their elbows

Referees in the NRL have a problem with reading and arithmetic. Not only can't they count, they don't know the rules.

Cronulla were gifted a try on the seventh tackle in a semi-final against North Queensland on Saturday night, while South Sydney benefited from a no-try decision against Melbourne that was a clear breach of the rules.

"No try": An unsighted Shayne Hayne ruled against the Storm's Sisa Waqa who grounded the ball against the Rabbitohs on Friday.

"No try": An unsighted Shayne Hayne ruled against the Storm's Sisa Waqa who grounded the ball against the Rabbitohs on Friday.

Photo: Getty Images

This year's edition of the NRL's Rugby League Laws of the Game, International Level with Notes on the Laws of the NRL Telstra Premiership makes this clear.

A footnote on page 12 under the subheading ''Referee unsighted'', reads: ''The referee should not disallow a try because he was not in a position to see the grounding of the ball.''

Referee Shayne Hayne was unsighted when he made a ruling against the Storm's Sisa Waqa who grounded the ball in the Rabbitohs' in-goal in Friday's semi-final.


Hayne's no-try signal to the video referees gave the men in the box no room to move because the video evidence was inconclusive.

The rules clearly obligate Hayne to signal a try immediately, or indicate to the video referees ''we have a try'' and allow them to make further judgment, which, in the Waqa case, would have resulted in a try.

It was a cruel ruling at a time the Storm needed to get back into the game, but made more inexcusable because it happened only a month earlier.

Manly's Steve Matai was denied a try in almost identical circumstances in a round 23 match. This was the game after which Sea Eagles coach Geoff Toovey went ballistic and was fined by the NRL.

A month has passed and the mistake has been duplicated.

Who was the beneficiary of the ruling in the Sea Eagles match? Souths. And who was one of the referees on the field ignorant of the rule? Shayne Hayne.

To be fair, it was his co-referee, Henry Perenara, who made the ruling but - in the double negative language in which the rules are written - we can't be sure Hayne didn't play a role.

Souths won the penalties 10-5, prompting Sea Eagles fans to send the hat around to cover Toovey's fines in the next four matches.

Melbourne fans point out they may have to do the same, although coach Craig Bellamy's dignified manner at the post-match press conference on Friday night suggests this won't be necessary.

Souths have played the Storm five times over the past two seasons, with Hayne refereeing four of these games.

Round two last year, penalties Souths 7-3; finals last year, Souths 9-8; round six this year, Souths 10-5; finals this year, Souths 8-7.

A penalty count can be deceiving, as we saw on Friday night when a run of them for one team builds an insurmountable lead.

Hayne has refereed Souths 12 times over the past two years. Souths won the penalty count nine times for a total of 78-59.

Accusations of referee bias in rugby league are not new, nor are seven-tackle tries, although we have to go back to 1978 to find the last occasion. (Significantly, it was the year of rugby league's most controversial officiating).

What is new is social media and the speed with which fans react, one pointing out that Souths have won the penalty count the past four times Hayne refereed them … a total of 36 penalties for and 23 against. The last eight times Hayne has refereed Souths, the Rabbitohs won the penalty count seven times (59-38).

Putting aside the Waqa/Matai no tries, why does such a ''referee unsighted'' note exist in the NRL rules at all, given we have video referees? If it is not to be used in the Matai or Waqa decisions, when is it to be used? Is it a vestigial benefit of the doubt rule, subsequently forgotten or ignored?

The old rule makers, who developed laws on the basis of probability, had the same game sense as today's players who recognise evidence is now the key and block the view of TV cameras if they think the opposition has scored a try.


But we will continue to see a player hold the ball close to his chest, dive to ground in the in-goal for a try, with the ball now completely hidden under his body, while a NRL referee rules ''no try'' because he can't actually see the ball hit the ground.

More tries will be lost, games probably won, coaches fined and referees allowed to flout a rule while no one at NRL headquarters does anything.

Roy Masters

Roy Masters is a Sports Columnist for The Sydney Morning Herald.

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