Scrap video refs altogether - or let deaf fans do the job | The Courier-MailEFEREES are like the weather. Everyone talks about them but no one does anything about them.
Since virtually the first game of rugby league more than 100 years ago, there have been complaints about refereeing decisions and accusations of bias and cheating.
Legendary coach and former Western Suburbs player Jack Gibson swore until the day he died that the Magpies lost the 1963 grand final to St George because referee Darcy Lawler, a well-known punter, was on the take.
Of course no one is suggesting that the video referees officiating in last Friday's Manly-North Queensland debacle were cheats, or even biased. As Cowboys coach Neil Henry said, just incompetent.
Nothing new about that either. In 1978, Parramatta tried to have the result of their semi-final loss to Manly set aside, citing incompetence on the part of referee Greg "Hollywood" Hartley.
The appeal was lost, with an affronted Hartley declaring: "I might make mistakes, but I don't cheat."
At least the flamboyant Hartley owned up to human fallibility. The man who inherited his nickname, Bill Harrigan, would admit to no such thing after missing a blatant knock-on by Terry Hill in the lead-up to a Ryan Girdler "try" in the first Origin match of 2000, and sending off an apoplectic Gorden Tallis for calling him a cheat.
There is a certain symmetry, then, that Harrigan now finds himself presiding over a refereeing set-up that is falling apart at the seams like a cardboard box in the rain - and seems to have run out of excuses.
The fact that Henry and his equally outspoken captain Johnathan Thurston received no censure from the league for the comments about the state of the refereeing after last week's game points to the fact that they were 100 per cent right. The refereeing was incompetent and no one, not even Harrigan or the ARL Commission, could argue otherwise.
So what is the solution? Do we keep talking about the poor state of refereeing or, unlike with the weather, does someone do something about it?
Des Hasler, a man who talks about rugby league refereeing more than just about anyone else on the planet, has suggested an NFL-type sideline system with the on-field referees checking decisions on a sideline monitor.
Personally, I can't see it working. If the current batch of rugby league referees can't get it right when they are sitting in a soundproof booth in the grandstand, what makes Des think they'll be any more successful standing fatigued on the sideline within earshot of the crowd?
There have also been calls for a cricket-style appeals system, with the on-field referees making all decisions and the captains having the right to dispute a certain number of calls, which are then referred to the video refs. Again, the problem lies with the quality of the final adjudicator.
Why should giving more responsibility to the captains - and sending contentious decisions up to the same people who can't seem to get it right now - make any difference to the outcome?
What I would like to see is the video referee scrapped altogether. It seems to me since the game introduced video refs (and two on-field officials too for that matter) not one referee who could be described as great, outstanding or even very good has emerged.
Hartley, for all his faults, was a very good referee who added something to the game before he lost confidence. Harrigan was in a class of his own. Supremely fit and super arrogant, he was right far more often than he was wrong. The best pressure decision I ever saw was Mick Stone awarding a try to Mark McGaw in the last minute of Origin I, 1987. The Grasshopper, Barry Gomersall, could ignore any outside distractions better than anyone.
And what did these men have in common? One, they were running around in the days before the video ref, and two, they backed themselves, made a decision and got on with the game. That's what refs should be doing now. Why don't they? Because they are too scared of being proved wrong by video.
So take it away. Go back to the days when the on-field ref made the decision and allow television to replay the try - or non-try - just once at normal speed. What the public doesn't know won't hurt them, and by the time some smarty slows the vision down to snail's pace and posts it on YouTube it's all over.
Failing that, look outside the square for the perfect person to man the video refereeing booth. Someone who has a feel for the game, enhanced eyesight and is not affected by verbal abuse. Recruit deaf rugby league fans.
Don't laugh. I'm serious.