Referee Interchange looks likely

Rugby league's refereeing saga took another twist on Wednesday when it emerged the NRL could start next year's competition using the interchange system.

The interchange system, in which two referees swap control of the game during breaks of play, has been trialled in one-off premiership matches in recent seasons.

And the NRL is expected to trial it again before this year's finals series with a view towards introducing it for the start of the 2005 competition.

"We can't experiment with this thing forever," NRL chief operating officer Graham Annesley said.

"It's getting to crunch time and we have to make a decision on whether we go forward with this.

"We're as keen as anyone to address the issues around refereeing.

"We want to talk to the clubs about it (interchange referees) with regard to its introduction for the start of the 2005 season."

The NRL is expected to take the proposal to its clubs at the annual conference, to be held in November-December.

If the clubs are in favour of it, the change would need to be rubber-stamped by the NRL board.

Due to the limited number of referees the system will be used in a handful of games each weekend and rotated so no teams will be disadvantaged.

NRL referees boss Robert Finch said the system was almost certain to be trialled again before the finals as long as a suitable game could be found.

"We're going to look to do it but it depends on the draw and the games coming up," Finch said.

"There's a lot of sides jockeying for the eight and there's a lot of sides trying to get away from the wooden spoon.

"It has to be the right game.

"We always need to be looking forward."

The interchange system was used twice last season with a minimum of fuss.

Tony Archer and Gavin Badger controlled an encounter between Souths and Cronulla at Aussie Stadium while Paul Simpkins and Jason Robinson officiated a Wests Tigers-North Queensland clash at Campbelltown Stadium.

Both games passed without controversy.

But Cronulla chief executive Steve Rogers questioned the need to change the current system.

"I don't think it's fatigue that causes them to make errors," Rogers said.

"Referees get in the groove of a game and have a big impact on it just like a player playing well.

"To change in the middle of it and get a new referee who has different interpretations would be difficult.

"I'd rather see us keep developing what we have got and hopefully the standard will continue to increase."

Annesley said the system could initially be used on a trial basis with the clubs deciding whether it stayed on permanently.

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