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First 5 Rounds will trial ref
Ten clubs will experience the NRL's experiment of a referee interchange system during the first five rounds of the 2005 season, that is assuming the trial goes the distance.
Penrith and Cronulla will be first on March 12, followed by St George Illawarra and Melbourne, South Sydney and Canberra in round three, North Queensland and Newcastle in round four, and Brisbane and Parramatta to finish the trial.
The first trial of the system will be closely monitored and evaluated before any further thought is given to using two referees in the longer term, however it could be called to a halt at any stage.
"We've experimented with two refs on the field in the past. This proposal will be closely monitored and is worth a try," NRL operations manager Graham Annesley told the League Correspondent.
"It may only last two weeks, three or, who knows, we could scrap it after the first game. On the other hand, if the scheme is a hit, it could be brought in for the rest of the season. But we won't know until we first give it a go."
"There was no science to selecting the 10 clubs," Annesley explained. "The idea behind it was to expose as many clubs as possible to the referee interchange rule."
Referees' boss Robert Finch says the idea is an important move toward getting more officials up to speed at the top level.
"They [the referees] see it as a great opportunity to build on blooding new faces in the senior ranks," Finch said.
"Right now I've only got eight who have the experience who could officiate a first-grade game in the NRL. If just two of those went down with injuries or illness I would be seriously struggling for numbers."
"It's not as if I'm starting from a deep pool of qualified blokes to handle the pace of a first-grade game," Finch added.
"I believe the game has never been played at a quicker pace and the demands on the referees both physically and mentally have never been greater."