Errant Refs could soon be binned

The National Rugby League (NRL) is planning to revolutionise the game with a bold and controversial proposal to interchange referees next season.

NRL referees coach Robert Finch is contacting clubs to gauge support before the plan is discussed at the game's annual conference in Sydney on December 8.

The rule change would see a referee interchanged if showing any sign of fatigue or losing control.

Former first-grade players would be appointed to watch games from the grandstand and determine whether or when the referee should be interchanged. This could bring about league's greatest irony ? a player actually sending off a referee.

If passed by the clubs at the conference, interchange referees will be trialled in one game each weekend for the first five rounds of 2005.

If deemed a success by the NRL and its clubs, the rule could be permanently implemented.

The replacement referee would start the match as a touch judge, even though he is a first-grade referee.

The original referee would be able to return to the game and there would be no set time when a referee is interchanged.

"I want to stress the interchange would only happen if necessary," Finch told The Daily Telegraph newspaper.

"If the game is rolling along we wouldn't necessarily make the interchange. That's the last thing we would do."

Finch said some coaches were keen for two referees to be on the field at one time. Others are pushing for four touch judges.

"There might not be 100 percent agreement," Finch said.

North Queensland coach Graham Murray, who guided the Cowboys to fourth position this year, applauded the concept of two referees.

Murray is keen on a more structured time when referees should be interchanged but said: "Two referees is something we need to look at because of the pace of the game.

"I'm not suggesting the referees can't handle it, but any new rule which is an advantage to the game certainly has to be looked at."