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"Hi Phil, Another interesting & thought-provoking article here! One thing I'd like to know is, if you compare this situation currently with clubs in the NRL in Australia or New ... " View all comments

Phil Clarke asks if referees apply the rules or manage the match

Phil Clarke Posted 27th March 2013 view comments

'Play On' shouts the referee but the player does not hear him and the referee penalises him.

His crime is that he rolled the ball back to a team-mate behind him using his foot, just like they do when they play the ball after being tackled.

It happened in the game between Hull KR and Castleford last Sunday evening and it made me mad.

What is the role of the referee?

What is the role of the referee?

Let's begin by agreeing on what the rules in sport are for: they are principally designed to prevent cheating, to stop one team gaining an unfair advantage and provide a spectacle that allows the game to flow.

I appreciate that the rules in rugby league are not perfect and I know that we have a lot of grey areas but this is an issue that had me frustrated for some time; I'd have jumped out of the commentary box to complain if it hadn't been so cold!

I do not agree with either 'rule' and have started to worry that we might get laughed at by other sports.

Phil Clarke
Quotes of the week

The rules committee have decided that when a player does not hear the referees when he calls 'held' in an upright tackle and either offloads the ball or tries to carry on running, then penalising him is too harsh.

The important bit here is that if the referee is of the opinion that the player did not hear him then the player gets another chance and goes back to the point where the ref called 'held' and plays the ball.

However, when a player thinks he heard the referee call 'held' or feels that the tackle has been completed and he plays the ball on the spot, the rules committee have deemed that there is no other way of restarting play other than by giving a penalty to the other team!

I do not agree with either 'rule' and have started to worry that we might get laughed at by other sports.

Firstly, we are making our game look like an Under-7s match when you allow people a second chance when they get something wrong and, secondly, why do we need to penalise the team with the ball? Have they gained an unfair advantage?

Bigger issue

If you think about it logically, they've slowed down their own attack. If we are to be consistent here we need to allow the ref to shout 'play on' even if a pseudo play the ball has taken place.

I know that we managed to introduce a new rule a few weeks ago when we banned the shoulder charged mid-way through the season and cannot think of a reason why we cannot do something similar here.

We should not need to wait until the end of the season to sort this out. All of this, though, avoids the bigger issue. Should the referee simply apply the rules or is it best if he tries to manage the game to make it a better spectacle?

I've got a Genghis Khan attitude here and would simply have the ref adopt a black and white mentality: penalise the players if they break the rules and don't give them a second chance or advise them on how to do something.

If they don't get six players to form a scrum, it is not the ref's job to help them. Just penalise them. The will learn. Same goes for play the ball - touch it with your foot or conceded a penalty.

There was a game recently where the score was very close and the team in front had a penalty on the half-way line as the hooter sounded. The referee even suggested to the team in possession how to restart play and end the game by kicking it off the field. Surely that is not his job?

I would love to hear your views on this - I am not looking for comments criticising our referees; that is not what this is about. I cannot think of many jobs which are scrutinised every week as much as a professional referee.

However, what is it we want them to do? Apply the rules or manage the match?

The marines are coming!

The players in the Super League have to go through some pain this weekend with two games so close together and extra sacrifices will have to be made.

It is nothing, though, in comparison to the sacrifices and efforts made by the rugby league players whom serve in the armed forces.

Fatigue and pain takes on a new meaning for the guys who love to pull on a rugby league kit when they are not pulling on their military uniforms.

As well as the World Cup this year, there is also a Defence World Cup taking place in the UK and some of the players hoping for selection will be taking part in an event on Sat 13th of April when Wigan St Patricks - one of my junior clubs - take on the Royal Marines.

The game will be held in memory of Steven Darbyshire and Liam Elms, both played for St Patricks and went on to serve in the Royal Marines before sadly losing their lives overseas.

Good luck to the Marines in this and all the other teams in the Defence World Cup later this year.

For more information on Wigan St Patricks v Royal Marines click here

Comments (16)

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Peter Smurthwaite says...

dont have a problem either way as they are consistant.agree with the comment that too long is spent by the video ref trying to find a reason not to give the try.also could not understand why in the leeds/bradford game the leeds drop goal was dissallowed fpr the push which had no influence on play yet in the leeds/catalan match catalan were awarded a try after a defender was prevented from completing the tackle by a push which did influence play.

Posted 12:14 10th April 2013

Bill Duggan says...

The game will never take off nationally until we have a higher standard of reffing. The rules are simple. How referees interpret them is baffling everybody. I think we are witnessing a prima donna culture amongst the officials who are enjoying being controversial and taking centre stage

Posted 21:46 9th April 2013

Dennis Mchugh says...

I spent 40 years involved with schoolboy rugby league as a coach and as a referee. Referees in my time applied the rules strictly according to the book with no leniency for incorrect plays. Thus kids grew up getting to know the rules. I agree with your comments. We should get back to strict application and, if that ruins a few games for a short time, so be it. Coaches will quickly ensure that their players play to the rules. It is not part of a referee's job to make the game flow and one might say if he is telling players when they are offside for instance he is penalising the team which knows and plays to the rule.

Posted 13:39 7th April 2013

Neil Colquitt says...

Is refs. applied the rules with NO interpretation there would be a better and more professional sport.

Posted 23:44 2nd April 2013

Peter Mosby says...

Part of the problems we face is lack of consistency. In tonights match..Leeds v Catalans the Sky report emphasises this in no uncertain terms. We had Bailey sent off for a shoulder charge and the report then says Leeds went ahead with a penalty when Burrows was shoulder charged off the ball!. Why were the punishments so sent off and the other only penalised. No consistency at all fro below par refs.

Posted 23:13 1st April 2013

Jack Denby says...

I have been a fan of fugby league all my life, but lately the game has been spoilt by extremely controversial decisions made by referees. I watch all forms of rugby league and the primary reason that the Australian leagues are by far superior to the English ones is the referee system. It is hard enough to support rugby league with all the stick from union fans without struggling to support the game yourself. atleast 3 decisions per game are being made that are shown to be incorrect, and the Easter weekend games all testify to this. what is the point of playing a sport if the referee. these aren't just small decisions either, they completely change the game. as a spectator, the decisions that disgrace me the most are the ones that the referee misses: the high shots, the offsides, the dirty play. The ones that are particularly enraging are the decisions that punish good defending by conning the referee - trapping arms and moving off the mark. Why doesn't the video ref get involved when they can see every square inch in the stadium? Speaking of the video ref, why are they always out to disallow tries - whole minutes wasted looking and relooking at efforts that were proven to be legitimate at first glance? the game of rugby league needs serious work if it is to fulfill the hopes of spreading it to more countries. on a final point, the SkySports team needs to seriously consider what it is saying. if we spectators manage to keep the right channel on after being bored to death by the Phil Clarke Stats show that nobody cares about at all fullstop, the amount of hypocrisy it quite unbelievable. "oh well, the referee is so blind and incorrect, but lets carry on." WHAT?! if the referees are consistently making awful decisons, why dont we all do something about it instead of 'living with it' and allowing incorrect scores to stand?!

Posted 19:00 1st April 2013

Garry Godfree says...

whats happened to the team warning, introduced at the start of the season to many fans derision but i havent seen it applied for weeks, im by no means a fan of it but rules should be rules. several times early in the season we saw several teams pay heavily for the rule being applied, case in point cas v bradford when late in the game and with bradford in front cas lost 2 players for unconnected penalties but under the team warning rule the tigers went down to 11 and the bulls ran away with the game, yet of late the rule appears to be discarded giving an uneven playing field, a cunic may suggest oit only applies to the bottom sides and event in the last couple of games are begining to bear this out

Posted 18:02 1st April 2013

Peter Nugent says...

what a joke the ref is in the catalan v leeds game. No wonder the french think we are cheats. The commentators are lauding the great defence of leeds but it is one by cheating. Penalty after penalty but no sin bin. Also there was a blatant red card which should have been shown to a leeds player and not even a yellow card given. A complete and utter farce. Leeds are just cheating!!!

Posted 17:47 1st April 2013

Ian Wright says...

it suprises me that shoulder charges are taken out of our game for the sake of the safety and yet dangerous tackles are allowed to continue with only penaltys awarded as punishment yet if you talk out of turn or get caught offside preventing a certain try 10 minutes in the sin bin is the punishment. clearly health and safety do not rule rugby league like the rest of the country.

Posted 16:36 30th March 2013

Nick Botsaris says...

I think it is time that Sky looked and analysed the refs decisions as they do in football. It is time that errors are not whitewashed as one way to highlight mistakes and hopefully improve both linesman and refs to make correct decisions. I have written to you without any answer two or three years ago outlining my concern about the poor state of refereeing. If Super League really wants to be more widely acknowledge and increase the spectators watching then they need to look to ensure there is fair and equitable refereeing standards across all teams. Sky always seems to avoid any mention of incorrect decisions. Particularly when they have the SL forums. I think the only time there anything said was about the disgraceful tackle (which was quietly dropped in the summary) and when near our line Bentham gave a knock on from Sinfield when he had not touched the ball. Video replays showed this to be a wrong decision again. Replays show Sinfield saying to the ref that he had not touched it! What was the linesman doing? Are they watching the play? Do they communicate with the ref? Are they professional linesmen , if so then they are of low standard. I think it is time that Sky looked and analysed the refs decisions as they do in football

Posted 20:40 29th March 2013

Phil Thornton says...

Phil is spot on with this, It's a ridiculous situation when a player can gain an advantage by carrying on after being "held" and be given the benefit of the doubt, but such as with the incident in question at Hull KR, Huby had nothing whatsoever to gain by playing the ball after thinking he was tackled, on the contrary, as Phil points out, he lost any advantage. I still have to question whether putting the ball on the ground and playing it is an offence? This is one law that needs seriously looking at if we want to improve our game. Another law that definitely needs looking at is the ball steal, refs get this wrong so many times and as a result, the side who don't offend are penalised by either giving away a free kick or giving head and feed at a scrum away when in fact the opposition have illegally stolen the ball. I believe the only way forward is to make the ball steal legal no matter how many players are in the tackle, as it previously was.

Posted 13:07 29th March 2013

Colin Bailey says...

Phil, Instead of the daft rules which have been introduced ,the end product resulting in further confusion and ,in my view spoiling the greatest game of all,why not introduce the same rule as used in the NRL whereby defence is penalised for hands in at the play of the ball by the attacking side .it really infuriates me when time and time again there's far too much messing about at the play the ball area ,thus slowing it down ,and,causing further inconsistencies amongst refs regarding infringements. I was sceptic at first with the two refs system ,but,I have to say in agreement with those comments made by Liz ,the level of officiating down under is becoming far superior,although they are taking the obstruction rules a bit too far at present ,and the awarding of a try/no try before referring to the video ref . So keep the rules black and white,clean up the play the ball area ,and consider the two ref system .

Posted 23:08 28th March 2013

Simon Vincent says...

Hi Phil, I agree refs to ref and players ( and coaches and speccies) accept the penalty for infringing on rules set by the game- sounds so simple. Great to hear about Defence World Cup - amazing that when I served we were still "legally" bared from playing the greatest game.

Posted 06:57 28th March 2013

Neil Howe says...

I just wish the refs would be consistent with their decisions. They don't seem to make the same one twice. I also think the touch judges ( or assistant referees!!) need to have more input in the game like watching the offside, making it easier for the referee to to actually referee the game.

Posted 22:18 27th March 2013

Mike Ludbrook says...

Thinking about it logically, I can't understand why a 'false' play the ball is anything other than play on. The player doesn't knock on, there's no offside, it's not a forward pass - what gives?

Posted 19:53 27th March 2013

Liz Beach says...

At last someone who recognises the problem. I read this article with interest. We could ask 3 questions to answer the prroblems regarding inconsistent refereeing in rugby league. 1. Do the refs know the rules - of course they do they apply them often enough. 2. Do they not know how to apply the rules - I suggest they do know and its the application which is the biggest problem. 3. is it the descretion the referees have as to who and when to apply the rules problematic - well of course it is. It is very frustrating as fans when a ref penalises 1 team for an offence which the other team commits but at that time he wants to keep the game flowing. In my opinion it stinks and screetches of something far more sinister. Its time for the RFL to sort it out . it would be interesting to know who these refs are answerable to as there doesnt seem to be any system in place for a poor display by a ref - a coach can drop a player if the performance is poor. I think its time to bring in some refs from oz and go with 2 refs Our refs may learn somehing from them.

Posted 18:59 27th March 2013

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