Inside RL: Dual video ref’ system not working consistently – Smith

Referee Tim Roby.
Referee Tim Roby.
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SOME INNOVATIONS seem like a good idea in the planning stage, then prove the opposite when put into practice.

Before the season started the RFL announced they were introducing the video referee system used in Australia’s NRL and last year’s Four Nations.

So we now have two video refs and they are not there to make decisions as such, but to confirm – or not – the man in the middle’s initial impression.

The referee signals whether he thinks a try has been scored and the video duo check for an obvious mistake. If there’s no clear evidence the referee was wrong, his decisions stands.

That appeared to be a step forward. The original idea behind the use of technology was to eliminate clear mistakes, but over the years it simply became a way of match officials avoiding having to make decisions. The onus is now back on the men in the middle, but the present system is not working. It does not seem to have reduced the number of times the square goes in the air, nor the length of time it takes to come to a decision – and most disappointingly, mistakes haven’t been eliminated.

Castleford Tigers were denied a try away to Catalans Dragons last month, after referee James Child signalled Denny Solomona had been offside from Luke Gale’s kick.

From the replays it very much looked like the winger had been behind the kicker and therefore onside, but because the camera angle didn’t actually show that, the ref’s decision stood and Tigers lost by a point.

Last Friday Phil Bentham, the man in the middle, indicated Stefan Ratchford had grounded Warrington team-mate Gareth O’Brien’s kick. From the replays it appeared he hadn’t, but the video referees backed up their colleague and the try was awarded. Leeds Rhinos lost by 12 points and it was a fair result, Warrington were the better side and deserved their win. But even so...

Video referees have been used since 1996 and mistakes are still being made. That isn’t acceptable.

Another off-season change was a relaxation of the rules regarding obstruction, which was a huge bone of contention last year. In previous seasons Kevin Penny’s opening try for Warrington last week would have been disallowed, as he ran behind at least one team-mate. But nobody was actually prevented from making a tackle, Bentham said ‘try’ and the touchdown was confirmed by the video assistants. Which was the correct call.

As long as it is applied consistently, it is better for the attacking team to have the benefit of the doubt in situations like that. It will encourage defenders to play to the whistle and not to make contact with attacking players in an attempt to win a penalty.

Penny produced a moment of outstanding individual play which deserved a try. Leeds had enough defenders between him and the line to prevent it, so there could be no complaints.

What everyone wants to see is consistency in decisions, as long as they are right. In his last two matches Bentham has penalised a player for either moving off the mark or passing from the ground after a tackle has been completed. A penalty against Morgan Escare denied Catalans Dragons a win and secured a point for visitors Salford Red Devils two weeks ago. That was a hotly disputed decision, criticised by former referees’ boss Stuart Cummings, but defended by current chief Tim Sharp.

Most referees now tell the attacking player to go back and play the ball if he carries on after a call of ‘held’. Last Friday Warrington received a penalty for Brad Singleton supposedly passing after his ball-carrying arm had hit the deck. Replays showed it hadn’t. It appeared Bentham was attempting to back up his call of the previous week and it led to a clear error. Had the penalty been correct and Leeds conceded a crucial score, Rhinos coach Brian McDermott could have dropped Singleton for what would have been a key mistake.When refs make errors that rarely happens, and Tim Roby’s move to the NRL, which has further reduced the pool of officials, makes that even more unlikely. If any more referees head to Australia the game here will be in serious trouble, because not enough young officials are coming through.