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'Match Review Panel ensures transparency and consistency'

St Helens Posted 18th April 2012 view comments

"Off, off, off" is the cry of the irate fans when one of their heroes is felled by an illegal high tackle.

It tends to happen less often these days but the subject of dismissals and suspensions is one that fans love to debate. Rarely do the players, coaches and supporters agree with the findings of the disciplinary process, but we've got it pretty good in rugby league.

Sharp: part of the team that analyses the Super League's contentious decisions

Sharp: part of the team that analyses the Super League's contentious decisions

It's interesting that in football there is very little retrospective punishment. If the referee says that he saw an incident, even if he didn't have a great view, they can't charge a player.

Even when a player is sent off, he simply receives an automatic three-match ban (whether he breaks an opponent's leg in an aggressive two-footed lunge or throws the ball away for a second yellow-card offence).

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From what I've read Fifa don't want to allow Football Associations in different countries to retrospectively review games and punish players. They're worried about consistency across league and tournaments. I understand their point but don't agree with it.

Recently we made some changes to the disciplinary process in rugby league to help improve the system.

Collectively analysed

A Match Review Panel, made up of Jon Sharp, Steve Presley, Paul Dixon, Neil Turley and a Compliance Manager from the RFL (who has some legal knowledge) are asked to watch all seven of the Stobart Super League games before Monday morning on a high definition DVD and look for any incidents which they feel should be collectively analysed.

The five of them then decide if the incident warrants further action, and if so, what. They may just issue a warning letter to the player or, if they think that the player is guilty of an offence, refer him to the Operational Rules Tribunal. This is an independent group of the RFL, with a judge and two other panel members.

The panel members used to be volunteers, but more recently they've reduced the number and paid the people involved. They think that by having a smaller group of people they'll get more consistency in the decisions. I'm told that they have increased the training for this group and have provided them with an ability to review similar previous offences and the decision/punishments handed out, when they are now sitting at a hearing.

The other major change in recent times relates to the Early Guilty Plea. This is the ability for a player to plead guilty when charged by the Match Review Panel. By doing so, he is rewarded, as you are in other courts in this country, with a lesser sentence.

It means that the Operational Rules Tribunal (the Disciplinary Panel in plain English) have fewer cases to hear. They are able to give more time and attention to the more contentious cases. The Early Guilty Plea on simple charges also saves a great deal of time and money for the players and clubs. They seem to prefer the system by the number of times that players have pleaded guilty this year.


I would also say that the transparency of the whole process is very impressive. Anyone with internet access can look to see who the panel are, what they charges were, their findings and the punishment handed out.

Last year there were a total of 67 players in Super League referred by the Match Review Panel to the Operational Rules Tribunal (i.e. charged with an offence) 65 of these were found to be guilty of misconduct. On that basis you'd say that the Match Review Panel is quite accurate at charging players.

From the 65 guilty findings, 16 players appealed against the outcome and 11 of these were dismissed, meaning that the original findings of the independent panel were upheld by the Appeal Panel. In five of these 16 appeals the player had the sentence reduced. On that basis it's probably worth appealing if you can afford the costs. Very rarely does the Appeal Panel increase the original punishment.

This season we've seen a total of 21 players referred to the Match Review Panel. 14 of these had the option of taking the Early Guilty Plea and 11 did so. (Not every charge brought against a player can do so). The other 10 cases were heard by the Operational Rules Tribunal and all 10 were found guilty of misconduct.

So far this year there has only been one appeal which was dismissed. The original sentence stood. On this evidence you'd have to say that the system seems to be pretty good. There is transparency for everyone involved and a very quick turnaround as well. It's impressive that we usually get all cases or incidents dealt with in less than a week.

A smaller group of Panel members, who tend to be retired players like Ikram Butt, Graham Hallas, Wilf George, Nathan McAvoy, John Hamer and Jon Wells are guided by an experienced judge. They now have the facility to look at other similar incidents when they are attempting to come to their conclusion.

This is hopefully another small step in helping to achieve a more consistent policy of punishing players for breaking the rules.

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Hi Phil, although I agree that Sam Tomkins is a fantastic player I have to disagree with him having as good defence as Kris Radlinski. Rads was a tackling machine who would tackle anyone in a one-on-one situation, something Sam has failed to do on a number of occasions. Also, as good as Stevie Hampson under the high ball? I have not seen anyone, including Billy Slater, who could take a high ball as good as Hampson, that bloke could out jump anyone and had the safest hands I have ever seen. Tomkins is an amazing talent but don't get carried away, he is far from the finished product but he will be in a few years.
David Lea

PHIL REPLIES: Like you, I've seen some people get past Sam Tomkins this season, but I also saw one or two go around Kris Radlinski. Our memories can be quite selective at times. It's one of the reasons why our nostalgic memories are all through rose-tinted glasses. I also saw Stevie Hampson drop a high ball once, although he didn't do it very often. He was 30 years ahead of his time in his willingness and ability to leap high in the air and take the ball first. But I stick by what I wrote last week. I've thought about it a lot since I finished my comments on Sam and have not wavered in my belief that he incorporates all of the skills that those legends displayed.

After saying all, that I did seek a second opinion from another Wigan legend of the '60s and '70s. Bill Francis played as a winger, centre, stand off and full back for the Cherry and Whites and knows a thing or two about the game. He agreed more with you than me and didn't think that Tomkins was as good under the high ball as Hampson, as quick as Lydon or as good a passer as Gregory. What do I know is that he is in modern terms 'box office'. People will pay to watch him and he always entertains.

The game has changed quite a bit in the last 30 years and the role of a full back is different to when Stevie Hampson ran out in the number one jersey. The full back today gets far more touches of the ball and the six tries scored by Sam last weekend is proof of that. I am struggling to see where you can see him improving? How can he get much better?


What about a new rule taken from tennis/cricket? Give both skippers two reviews when they feel hard done by. There have been that many forward passes in the first third of the season that the refs have missed but we see on the replay. It's so frustrating. All the skipper needs to do is ask the ref if can he review that last play. The ref then passes the player's concerns upstairs and this time the video ref can rule forward and one review is used. Is it me or is that complicated? We have the technology so let's use it to the fullest. It's the only area I can call a grey area. Regards to your dad,
Eddie Cunningham

PHIL REPLIES: Thanks for the question Eddie. I've said before that the sport of rugby league hasn't been great at harnessing the wisdom and opinions of former players (for those of you relatively new to the sport, Eddie was a great player for Wigan, St Helens, Leeds and Widnes and played for Wales in the 1975 Rugby League World Cup).

I believe that it is important that a sport evolves and the use of technology has benefitted the rugby league in my opinion. The debatable goal in the FA Cup semi-final between Chelsea and Tottenham is further reason to feel that the Super League competition was ahead of its time when it became the first team sport in the UK to use a video referee at live matches.

However I don't think that you can use a video referee to necessarily help with forward passes. You would know Eddie, from your days as a speedy centre, that you can pass the ball backwards when you are sprinting downfield, but by the time that the winger catches it he is in front of where you released it. It's because of the momentum that you have when you are travelling forward.

I think that we all have to accept that there is an even finer line than ever when it comes to forward passes. The attacking team want to limit the time available to the defenders and by passing so close to the gain line, it reduces the chance for the defenders to react.

But I don't necessarily disagree with your point and would like to hear a debate on the subject. There are some occasions when the referee gets something wrong and I would be interested to see if your suggestion could benefit the game.

In some games it already happens unofficially when a suggestion is made to the referee and he double checks with his touch judge or video referee.

One of the problems that could arise for the sport though is the effect that it would have at amateur and schoolboy/girl matches. Would it encourage more people to question the referee? Could we lose some of the respect that we have for officials? I'd hate this to happen.

I'll give your suggestions to Rod Studd and Stevo to discuss on their Back Chat programme. You can watch it online where they debate all sorts of ideas like this. If you've not seen it yet, then give it a go.


Hi Phil, obviously Featherstone's Challenge Cup victory over Castleford came as something of a surprise! I was just wondering what you felt as a player when you were in such situations? Could it actually be the case that Featherstone simply wanted it more? You could argue that as a Championship side, the game meant more to Featherstone. Castleford, on the other hand, would have been vulnerable to complacency and perhaps the knowledge that their opponents would feel more inspired. I was just curious as to if that, in such a physical sport, played a part in the result. Or was it just the best team won? Thanks,
(Tiger) Tony

PHIL REPLIES: In some ways it is sad that there are fewer surprises in rugby league. Since the top division went 'full time' (I hate the saying but you know what I mean) and the sport shifted to a summer season, the gap between the best and the rest seems to have widened significantly. At times the speed and simplicity of the sport makes it hard for the underdog to compete. But that wasn't the case for Featherstone.

I don't think that it meant more to either side. Both teams would have been desperate to win, but the best team did. It is somehow easier to play rugby league when you are the 'underdog' providing that you have enough talented players to compete and that they all play well on the day. Home advantage may have been significant. I know that there are only a few miles between the two grounds but the confidence gained from familiar surroundings could well have helped in the narrow victory.

The fact that Featherstone had much more possession than the Tigers will have been another contributing factor, although much of this was in their own half of the field.

It is impossible for me to say if the Tigers underestimated their local rivals. I know that having missed out on the final in agonising circumstances last year they will have been keen to get to Wembley.

When you look at the squad of players at Featherstone you soon begin to realise that they have some talented players who either have already, or could very easily, play in the Stobart Super League. Good luck to them and all of the other teams in the next round.

Comments (4)

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Neil Evans says...

Hi Phil, Which NRL imports are impressing you so far in the Stobart SL? Do you think the era of the big name OZ/NZ signings are over; possibly due to the improved salary cap in the NRL? Although it may be seen as a backward step with regards to bringing our own youngsters through, I personally think our game has benefitted from some great imports. As Sam Tomkins showed us last week in his programme with Paul Cullen, the affect Andrew Johns had on Warrington Wolves was evident during his brief spell. Is there anyone in the NRL who you would like to see play in the SL next year to provide our game with an X Factor? Cheers!

Posted 14:58 19th April 2012

Mark Mcdonagh says...

I would like to see an Australian team tour again. Playing the top four, the end of season dream team and England - will we ever see a national side tour the club teams again?

Posted 14:28 19th April 2012

David Lea says...

Hi Phil, thanks for your reply to my last email. I still believe Sam has room for massive improvement. Yea he scored 6 tries and dont get me wrong although it is a great achievement for him i will be more impressed if he scored that many against Saints or Warrington. His attack is amazing there is no doubt about that but i mean his positional play and game awareness needs to improve. Ok Hampson dropped a ball once but it still went backwards. There have been times when Sam has been nowhere near the high ball and been caught out several times. Yes people went round Rads but you still cannot compare the 2 for defense Rads wins all the time. I hope you dont think im knocking Tomkins? He is a fabulous player i just dont want him to stop developing because everyone thinks he is the best thing going. I believe thats why we are so far behind the Aussies, because we thought we are as good as we will get and they are always looking for improvement.

Posted 13:37 19th April 2012

Martin Lee says...

Phil, despite what you say about the RFL diciplinary panel, the fact that Rangi Chase only got three matches for a reckless elbow to the head is plainly wrong and he should have a longer ban. Ropati now faces approx 10 weeks out for a fractured cheekbone, where is the justice in that. Also whats stopping the video ref reviewing this during the game and him being sent from the field, for him to be allowed to stay on the pitch and fev being a player down put them at a disadvantage.

Posted 12:06 19th April 2012

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