As the one-referee debate rages, New South Wales Blues coach Brad Fittler has slammed the NRL referees’ union for their “ridiculous” response to the contentious rule changes.
On Wednesday, the ARLC confirmed NRL games will be controlled by one referee for the remainder of the 2020 season in an attempt to cut costs. The two-referee system was scrapped in 2009, and fans remain uncertain which method is the most reliable. The NRL is the only rugby league competition in the world to use two referees.
The much-debated “six-again rule” will also be introduced when the competition resumes on May 28th, allowing referees to call six-again instead of stopping play when there is a ruck infringement.
Despite some backlash, ARLC chairman Peter V’landys defended the decision to revert back to one referee.
On Channel 9’s Sunday Footy Show, The Australian reporter Brent Read argued a rule change of this magnitude should not be introduced mid-season.
“The change shouldn’t have been made because the comp had started,” Read said on Sunday.
“We change rules mid-season all the time … but this is such a significant change. This is changing the fabric of how the game’s played.
“This one’s one step too far … Even the administrators of the game will tell you it’s a dangerous step to take.
“(V’landys) has taken it too far this time.”
Sydney Morning Herald reporter Andrew Webster agreed, suggesting the financial gain from resorting to one referee does not outweigh the drastic “disruption” to the gameplay.
“It’s madness for them to bring it in after a week of talking about it for the mid-season … without any consultation with the referees and without any training of it whatsoever,” Webster said.
“If it was such a pressing issue for Peter V’landys and the commission, then why the hell was it not brought in for the start of the season?
“It was brought in to save money, and it’s only going to save half a million dollars. It’s a small amount of money to save for a massive disruption.
“(V’landys) has well and truly overstepped the mark by coming in and changing the rules of the game within a week. Tell me a chairman of the game that has done that.
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Daily Telegraph reporter David Riccio believed there would be some “serious teething problems” while the competition adapts to one referee, and questioned whether the points from rounds one and two should still be valid.
NRL great Peter Sterling admitted he was also concerned about the “detrimental” impact the rule change would have on the competition.
“When you bring a new rule into a game, it has an effect that sometimes you don’t see … When you make a change, there is a ripple effect,” Sterling said.
“Fingers crossed there aren’t going to be too many detrimental effects.”
However, former Cronulla Sharks star Paul Gallen has been an outspoken advocate for returning to one referee, and considered it a “positive” decision.
“I don’t mind the one referee, I’ve always said let’s go back to one referee,” Gallen said.
“We’ve always been whinging about the wrestling, even when there’s two referees.
“I think it’s a positive, I think it’s a step forward for the game. I don’t mind it at all.
“Every level bar the NRL and State of Origin is one referee, so they would’ve learnt without a doubt coming through. They should have the confidence they can do it.”
On Thursday, Professional Rugby League Match Officials (PRLMO) association chairman Silvio Del Vecchio lodged a dispute with the Fair Work Commission claiming the referees were not consulted about the drastic rule change. There were reportedly threats of a strike, which would postpone the competition even further.
Fittler – who was a fan of the change to one referee – condemned the officials’ union for their “ridiculous” strike threat and criticised the growing influence referees have over the game off the field.
“Referees have been put on this level of power and I could just never understand why … They’ve been given this power that should never have been handed to them,” Fittler said.
“Just the amount of money and investment that went into the referees. The referees love the game, they get out there and ref and they do a great job, but outside that is where it had to stop.
“For them to be protesting and going to hold the game up, well get in a whole heap of other referees.
“It’s just ridiculous to hold up the game.”
The NRL are in mediation with PRLMO over the decision, with conciliation adjourned until Tuesday. Both sides are confident the issue will be resolved before the competition restarts on May 28th.