LEEDS RHINOS chief executive Gary Hetherington has backed the standard of refereeing in the current Four Nations tournament.
Super League referee Phil Bentham will take charge of England’s must-win final round-robin game against New Zealand on Saturday, with Kiwi Henry Perenara appointed as the video official.
Aussie Gerard Sutton will be in the middle for Australia’s showdown with Samoa the following day, a week after handling the Kangaroos’ narrow win over England which kept them in the tournament.
‘Neutral’ referees were appointed for last year’s World Cup. That policy was controversially dropped after the opening round of Four Nations matches, but Hetherington insisted: “That is not really an issue, as long as you get the best official on the day.
“I think the refereeing has been pretty good all the way through the tournament.”
But Hetherington admitted: “What was interesting was it has been refereed under NRL rules, where the referee signals ‘try’ or ‘no try’ before he hands a decision to the video ref.
“I wasn’t aware that was part of the international set-up and that could have had a bearing.”
Despite his confidence in the officials, Hetherington felt Leeds winger Ryan Hall should have been awarded a try – which would have levelled the scores with a kick to come – at the end of England’s 16-12 loss to Australia.
It initially appeared Aussie Greg Inglis had flicked the ball dead, but referee Sutton handed the decision to his video assistant – Brian Sutton – who awarded a 20-metre tap, ending England’s hopes.
Video replays seemed to show Hall had a fingertip on the ball and Hetherington said: “The video ref could have and should have given the try.
“There was clear evidence the try had been scored.
“You only need to have a fingertip on the ball when it’s grounded and there was all the evidence to award a try, but that is water under the bridge now.”
England need to beat the Kiwis by 10 points to leapfrog them into top spot on the ladder and guarantee a place in the November 15 final in the New Zealand capital, Wellington.
If England lose or win by fewer than nine points they could be overhauled by Australia, if they defeat Samoa.
Hetherington said: “I think England will go into the game with a 50-50 chance of winning, but doing it by 10 points is unlikely because all four teams have been pretty well-matched.
“It’s the first time I can remember us having four international teams so well-matched. Certainly during my involvement in the game that has never been the case and I think there has been a sea-change in international rugby league.”
Despite England’s 16-12 defeat by Australia, Hetherington believes they have proved they are on a par with the best in the world.
“It was most encouraging,” he said of the performance four days ago.
“There are real signs we can more than match them. In the past when we’ve had wins against them they’ve come at a time when they have been rusty and they’ve been followed up with a heavy defeat.
“They have lost a couple of key players, but last week we were the better team and looked most likely to win.
“Of course the flip side of that is, it’s very disappointing we didn’t win the game.”