Leeds Rhinos boss Mac calls for consistency on penalties

Rhinos head coach Brian McDermot watches on at Hull FC. 
Picture: Jonathan GawthorpeLeeds 
Rhinos head coach Brian McDermot watches on at Hull FC. 
Picture: Jonathan Gawthorpe
Leeds Rhinos head coach Brian McDermot watches on at Hull FC. Picture: Jonathan Gawthorpe
AN EMOTIONAL plea has been made by Leeds Rhinos boss Brian McDermott for fewer penalties in the regular Betfred Super League season.

Rhinos were beaten 19-18 at Hull two days ago, less than a week after a 9-8 home defeat by Wigan. Both games were refereed by Ben Thaler, who awarded 24 penalties in the game against Wigan and 22 on Thursday. McDermott feels that is too many and he reckons Betfred Super League matches are being refereed differently now to how they will be controlled later in the season.

When Rhinos beat Castleford Tigers in last year’s Grand Final, referee James Child blew for only six penalties. Leeds trailed 8-0 at half-time of yesterday’s fixture, but hit back to lead 18-14 before Hull snatched a precious victory in the final 10 minutes.

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“I didn’t think we were doing too much wrong in the first half, other than conceding penalties when they were coming out of yardage,” McDermott said afterwards. “That was the big difference between the two teams.”

McDermott praised Hull’s performance and insisted he had “no gripe” with their victory, but feels match officials are sometimes influenced by crowds. He said: “I have got a little bit of a whinge going on. Too many possessions – whether a team’s good in possession or not – are decided by whether the opposition’s defence concedes a penalty.

“It is like a big pantomime. I know it goes on at Headingley, it’s not just Hull – all the big crowds bay for yardage penalties. We never get to find out whether we are good in D [defence] over three or four sets, we never get to find out whether Hull are good in D or offence for three or four sets. There’s never much of an arm wrestle, it’s always decided that you’re down their end of the field because of, sometimes, good offence, but a lot to do with penalties.”

McDermott believes this has been an issue for “a long time”. He added: “We play a different game for the first two thirds of a Super League [season] than we do for the final third. When my team play in play-offs and Challenge Cup finals we get good at kicking the ball long and defending for a set; having the ball kicked long to us and we attack for a set.

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“For the purist who loves rugby league, it’s a great spectacle. Only the unfit, mentally weak people break, but we never get to find that out because referees blow a whistle, probably for what is a penalty, but if you’re going to look at the game through a microscope. If the opposition’s strategy during their yardage is to throw themselves about or do something ridiculous when playing the ball, I don’t have an answer for it.”

Hull's Marc Sneyd kicks the winning drop goal.Hull's Marc Sneyd kicks the winning drop goal.
Hull's Marc Sneyd kicks the winning drop goal.

McDermott – who stressed he has no issue with Thaler – claimed referees don’t blow for penalties in similar circumstances later in the season.

“I’m presuming the memo comes down saying we want a more free-flowing game,” he said. “Challenge Cup finals and semi-finals and play-offs don’t have as many penalties in them. The comeback to that is players have cleaned their act up by that time. No, they haven’t – people are still throwing themselves about.”

Asked how to prevent players “wriggling on the floor” McDermott said: “Just don’t give penalties, unless somebody is blatantly holding somebody down, then penalise him.”

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McDermott also appealed for referees not to react to the crowd. He said: “When people are calling for a penalty and [the referee] is going ‘no, he’s diving’, that’s to the crowd. We must be the only sport that talks to the crowd like that and the crowd controls the game.”