I felt sorry for Steve Clark and Andrew Dunemann on Monday afternoon. I really did. With more than 50,000 fans in attendance for what was proving to be a cracking match, the last thing we needed was a crucial obstruction call in the last ten minutes. As soon as the Hopoate decision went upstairs Clark and Dunemann were on a hiding to nothing. Regardless of their decision there was going to be backlash. The Eels claimed Brooks dived, if it went the other way then the Tigers would have blown up. Todd Greenberg has come out and said the video refs made the right call and I was happy with the decision as well, but I must admit I am pretty clueless on which way the men upstairs are going to go most of the time.
The reason that Clark and Dunemann were under so much pressure was due to the Kieran Foran try on Friday night. Even the most ardent Manly fan (like myself) will admit that wasn't a try and to the credit of the NRL they have admitted it too. Throw in the Bulldogs no-try on Friday afternoon and you have three games decided by less than six points all having controversial obstruction rulings. The reason that the obstruction fiasco has reared its ugly head this year is due to the closeness of the competition. The rule changes this year together with the salary cap has brought the teams closer together then ever and most games are going down to the wire. No one cares about an obstruction call in a 40-6 flogging. While the closeness of the competition is great, something has to be done about obstructions.
While I don't claim to be the saviour, through listening to various ideas as well as strapping on the thinking cap myself I have come up with three possible solutions. The first of which is the bunker that we are hearing so much about. A group of referees who spend their weekend at league headquarters officiating the video ref decisions on all eight matches. This method would surely ensure consistency, as the same group would be making the calls for the entire season. I'm not sure how many of them there would be but I would presume at least four in case two decisions were referred to the video at the same time from two different matches.
I think it is a great idea to look at what other codes do to help build the NRL. Another idea could be to adopt the method of the NFL and have on field referees also make the video decisions. The two on-field refs were out there when the contentious incident occurred and would have a feel for the situation. By having them review decisions by either looking at a small monitor on half way or on the big screen, they would be able to confirm or deny their original decision and explain the outcome to the crowd over the P.A system. Like the NFL this method would work best if team challenges were adopted as a way to refer the decisions. The teams could be given something like three incorrect referrals per match, similar to how it is done in cricket and tennis.
My final idea is to treat obstruction rulings in a similar manner to forward passes. That is the video ref can't adjudicate on them. There have been various incidents where a try is scored on a forward pass but everyone knows this can't be called back by the video ref (sometimes I wonder why the really obvious ones can't). No body harps on about these too much and the game goes on. The problem we are having with obstruction could be that we are over analysing it. A solution may be to let the referees make the call on the field with the help of the touchies. If the ref believes a defender was disadvantaged then pull it back, if not then blow the whistle for a try.
I have applauded some of the measures that have been introduced to video decisions over the last few years. These include referees having to give a decision on what they would have awarded as well as having an ex player up in the video box. Despite these initiatives there still seems to be a problem when it comes to obstruction and the solution to this may lie in one of the ideas mentioned above.