Off the Wall

The choice of Tony Archer and Shane Hayne to control Sunday's grand final comes as no surprise. Indeed, any other appointments would have been totally out of left field.

For Archer it caps an excellent season. He is clearly the best referee in the game today. Hayne has improved significantly, and together they are the standout combination for what will be the first dual referee grand final.

In recent years, the influence of the referee over the grand final has diminished. That is a good thing - and we have men like Bill Harrigan and Tim Mander, the best referees of the last decade or more, to thank for that.

We can be reasonably confident that the selection of Archer and Hayne won't significantly impact on either sides preparation for the grand final. That has not always been the case.

Indeed, the history of grand final referees is an interesting one - and in the distant past a controversial one.

The most controversial of all referees was Darcy Lawler. Between 1953 and 1963 he controlled seven grand finals, including the first when an actual grand final was played. He also controlled the final in the last year before the compulsory grand final was instituted. He controlled every grand final, except in 1962, between 1956 and 1963.

Ironically, St George played in, and won, every grand final he controlled.

The most controversial was his last grand final, 1963 when there was a huge betting plunge on St George - yes, there was betting on grand finals even then. The Dragons were aided by a lopsided 18-7 penalty count in their favour in a tight fought contest against Wests, and some decisions which Malcolm Andrews described in "The ABC of Rugby League" as "highly contentious and also favoured the Dragons".

The Wests halfback, Arthur Summons, has pulled no punches in various public speeches in recent years. He unhesitatingly labelled Lawler as, shall we say, "less than honest" and claimed that it was well known that he had a substantial wager on the Dragons to win the premiership!

He is on safe ground, and so are we, as Lawler died in 1994 after a long and successful career as the CEO of South Sydney Juniors Leagues Club.

Controversy surrounding the 1963 grand final, and Lawler's role, has become a part of the legend of the game. It is not the only game in which the referee