Refs too soft - Greg Hartley

A former leading Australian referee claims National Rugby League officials have been too soft on a spate of high tackles blighting recent rounds of the competition.

New Zealanders were at the forefront of the debate sparked by former grand final referee Greg Hartley who claimed Manly's Kylie Leuluai and Parramatta Eel FuiFui MoiMoi should both have been sent off for high tackles last weekend.

"Straight away. Immediately," he said.

"The referees have some sort of fear. They are fearful of being dropped. They have to start believing in themselves and in their own ability.

"Someone has to stand up and get some backbone. They have to take things into their own hands and make a decision, if they have any grunt.

"(Former referee) Bill Harrigan wouldn't have hesitated."

The NRL judiciary did charge Leuluai with a grade five careless high tackle - the most severe grading - and the prop lodged an early guilty plea to miss four weeks for his hit on Penrith wing Luke Lewis.

MoiMoi also avoided the judiciary tonight by pleading guilty to a grade five high tackle on compatriot Hutch Maiava of the Cronulla Sharks. He will be sidelined for six weeks.

NRL clubs have also expressed concerns that referees are now reluctant to send off players after Sydney Roosters forward Adrian Morley was dismissed in round six, and then not charged, for a high tackle on Bulldogs wing Matt Utai.

The Kiwis wing was then criticised for allegedly taking a dive, an accusation he denied.

NRL match review co-ordinator Greg McCallum, a former international referee, said he hoped the code's 97-year-old send-off rule would never lapse.

Statistics show that just six players have been sent off in the past 272 games during 2004 and 2005 - one every 45 matches.

Two other players avoided dismissal this season despite committing serious high tackles - Newcastle's Josh Perry on St George Illawarra Dragon Michael Henderson in round 11 while New Zealand Warriors hooker Tevita Latu was considered lucky to stay on Jade Stadium for his tackle on Wests Tigers forward Anthony Laffranchi in round five.

Sharks coach Stuart Raper said MoMoi should have been marched while Wests Tigers chief executive Steve Noyce said he thought Latu should also have been sent off.

McCallum said referees were under pressure and also stressed the send-off rule must be retained.

"I hope it never does die but the trend over the past few years shows it is starting to move toward that," he said.

"The feeling is that a send-off causes too much disruption to a game but that shouldn't be the feeling if a player moves outside the rules.

"The referees are aware of the criticism that comes by sending off a player who is then not charged, as what happened earlier this year with Morley."

However, NRL referees' coach Robert Finch defended his officials.

"We do send players off ? we've sent two off already this year (Morley and Manly's John Hopoate).

"I don't direct them not to send a player off. They have to use their discretion. Whether it's sinbin, on report or send-off, it's their decision."