Off the Wall

Over the next few weeks I am going to canvas some of the issues I believe the Independent Commission needs to address once it (finally) takes control of the game.

To my mind the most urgent issue of all is not the television rights question - it is important, but its urgency has surely been overtaken by the standard of referees, and other officials, today.

This season we are really seeing the full and devastating impact of two issues - firstly, the loss of four or five senior and generally regarded referees in the last five or six years, and, secondly, the impact of the two referees system.

And isn't the impact devastating!

The overall standard of refereeing is clearly, in my view, just not good enough for a major professional sport.

And the standard of "sideline officials" is worse than ever...and is frankly an embarrassment.

The real problem is that the standards of both are impacting on the outcome of games at a critical stage of the competition.

The best referees get it wrong, so do the best cricket umpires and officials in all team sports.

That is not the issue - the frequency of errors, and errors that simply should not be made, is!

Seven or eight years ago the top referees in the NRL were Tony Archer, Tim Mander, Shane Hayne, Sean Hampstead, Paul Simpkins and Steve Clark.

Today only Archer and Hayne remain. When we needed eight referees we could probably count on four or five to deliver reliably and regularly.

Today we need sixteen referees, and we can probably count on no more than four or five to regularly measure up.

There is another problem looming - our best referees remain Tony Archer, who is 42, and Shayne Hayne, who is 43. Both are still at or close to the top of their game...but retirement cannot be more than a couple of years away for either.

We saw during the Origin series just how wide the gap between Archer and Hayne and the rest really is. Dumping Archer from game one was a mistake - and was soon proven to be so.

A couple of other first grade referees generally perform reasonably...but the rest simply as not consistent enough often enough. Far too many games are being influenced by bad decisions by referees, and sideline officials.

The Independent Commission needs to have a long and hard look at the standard of referees, sideline officials, and video referees.

If more investment in the recruitment and skilling of referees is required then lets make the investment.

The NRL is generally in reasonable shape. Television viewing numbers are good, crowds are mixed, but there has been a notable lift in Melbourne. And not before time!

But the standard of refereeing, and consistency in refereeing, is the elephant in the room!

It must be one of the top priorities for the Independent Commission.