Off the Wall

The season is barely two rounds old and one of the worries a number of us had when the two referee system was introduced is a problem already.

When the dual system was introduced there was rightly a fear that having two whistle blowers would mean more penalties, and especially more penalties for minor matters.

It was not a problem last year - I suspect because the NRL hierarchy were across the issue, and its potential to undermine the new system.

But in the first two rounds this year we have seen a very high number of penalties in three or four matches, and more than usual in the majority.

The comments by the Rabbitohs Roy Asotasi about penalties being given for so called infringements in tackles in particular are spot on.

If those who "manage" the referees have any doubt about the damage a high penalty count from pedantic referees does to a game, then I suggest they tune in to just about any Super 14 rugby match!

Is it any wonder that rugby is wallowing at the bottom of viewing audience numbers when you have thirty or forty stoppages instituted by pedantic, official referees?

We must not go down the same path. When Bill Harrigan was at his best he would award no more than half a dozen penalties in a game. And we all applauded! And Tony Archer went down the same path.

The challenge with two referees was always going to be penalties for petty infringements. It was under control last year, but unless the NRL intervenes it will rapidly get out of control this year.

With few exceptions, the referees dishing out the most penalties are the less experienced. Another problem with having a shortage of experienced referees in a dual referee system!

Let's hope Robert Finch and Bill Harrigan bring the matter under control, just as it largely was last year.

And speaking of officials, Sea Eagles supporters should not blame the referees for the howler of a forward pass resulting in a try to the Eels at a crucial time.

The wood ducks, otherwise known as "sideline officials" and once known as "touch judges" are supposed to be in position to guide the referee on forward passes. If they are up with the play they should generally be in a good position to do so...just as they were once supposed to be in a good position to assist the referees with tries.

The video referee is not allowed to adjudicate on forward passes, or apparently "tip" to the referee on them in play.

I have given up on touch judges or sideline officials.

But we cannot afford to given up on referees - for better or worse they have too much influence in the game. And they need to get it right - and get the balance right when it comes to penalties. As of now, I worry the balance is out of kilter. It needs to be restored without delay.