Off the Wall

You can take your pick today on what you believe about the status of the two referee system in the NRL premiership.

A NRL source claims it just simply under review - and is under review all the time. But the "Daily Telegraph" today reports that it not just under review, a radical change is to be made starting from this weekend.

The Telegraph and other News outlets are reporting that in five NRL matches this weekend, one referee will effectively take complete control, if not clearly dominant control.

While the change will be seen as a result of last Sunday's refereeing debacle which has resulted in two referees being demoted, the reality almost certainly is that problems with the dual referee system extend well beyond a poor performance in one game.

The surprise is that it has taken a season and half a dozen rounds for issues arising from the dual referee system to really force the NRL to act.

The problems have been there from day one - it is just that this season they seem more evident, and have had a greater impact on matches, and match outcomes.

The biggest problem, which I have frequently written about, is that there are simply not enough experienced and competent referees available to meet the requirements of a dual referee system in every game.

The NRL now basically needs 16 referees for each round. To cover the lack of experience it has been trying to allocate one experienced whistle blower, and one less experienced one to each game.

But that has caused another problem - and it is a problem that coaches and players are increasingly finding frustrating!

It is simply impossible for the two referees to be exactly consistent in their implementation of the rules. Some take a tougher line with tackles, and some take a tougher rule when the ball is being played.

In a number of games, the different approach of the referees has clearly advantaged one team or disadvantaged the other. And less experienced referees have made some quite basic errors at critical times in a game.

The real problem is that we simply don't have enough experienced referees to meet the requirements for two referees per game, for eight games each weekend. The retirement of three or four experienced referees in recent years has really thinned the ranks when it comes to experience.

The one thing we really need from referees is consistency - and consistency is what we have not been getting this season.

The Telegraph has been campaigning for the referees boss, Robert Finch, to be shown the door.

That would not solve the immediate problem.

If the Telegraph is right, then the referees boss, and his offsider, Bill Harrigan, are about to do what a number of us want to do - if we cannot return to the single referee system (and that is probably now under consideration).

My own suspicion is that the two referee system is not just under "constant review" there is at least some chance it will be jettisoned at the end of the season.

But I am far from certain that what appears to be happening this weekend isn't going to cause even more problems.

Apparently one referee will have effective total control in five games, while the sharing of control will be retained in the other three games.

That really would be an even greater threat to consistency...we must have one system consistent in all matches.

This weekend's round is an interesting one - the change likely to be made today just makes it even more so.