Former referee David Merrick is helping Featherstone Rovers’ squad stay onside
THE SIGHT of a former referee at training could easily infuriate some players but Dave Merrick has Featherstone Rovers’ squad onside after helping almost halve their penalty count.
A Grade One official until a serious injury in 2016, Merrick was utilised by boss Ryan Carr last season as Featherstone made their shock surge to the Championship Grand Final.
Although Carr has since returned to Australia, new head coach James Webster also clearly values the 43-year-old’s input after tapping into his knowledge for the 2020 campaign.
“I originally started doing this for Glenn Morrison and then Neil Kelly at Dewsbury Rams after a chance conversation with (former Dewsbury prop) Tony Tonks,” he explained.
“When Ned (Kelly) left Dewsbury I showed it to Jon Duffy at Fev but he ended up leaving.
“Ryan, though, was all over it and asked me to compile a report and it went from there.
“In the season just gone, we conceded 224 penalties.
“In 2018, under John Duffy, that number was 318 so we knocked 96 penalties off.
“Ned let me do more actual coaching sessions so I had players like Paul Sykes looking at me thinking ‘He’s a ref him!’
“Whereas Ryan wanted me to give him the information and he’d use it where he saw fit but I was still down at training.
“For Webbo I do a full match review of every game looking at trying to reduce penalties by giving him information on whether the penalty is right or wrong and look to see if there’s any trends with certain players/ referees.
“I attend training when I’m not at work and help the running of sessions by giving the players correct calls and tipping up on any issues we may find that occur through the year.”
Merrick has plenty of playing knowledge having featured with hometown Featherstone’s academy and reserve side as a stand-off and also briefly for Doncaster before switching to become a referee. He added: “We halved the penalties at Dewsbury but didn’t capitalise on the possession we had.
“If you cut the penalties down with the squad we have at Featherstone – giving people like Dane Chisholm and Callum McLelland space to do their stuff – it makes a difference.
“We’re not saying not to give penalties away as sometimes you do need to but it’s the type we were giving. Josh Hardcastle, for instance, was in double figures for ball steals the year before but he’s controlling them better now.”
For his analysis, Merrick can spend up to five hours on each game as he watches every ruck and then slows down the frame to see if it is player or referee error while gleaning tips.
“I worked out what the top seven offences were; interference at the play-the-ball, 10m offside, high tackle, ball steal, not square, foul play, dissent and others and then hand it all over,” he added.
“There’s little things you can do to improve things and, without giving too many secrets away, Carry did that and now Webbo is, too.”
Merrick grew up in Featherstone with Leeds Rhinos boss Richard Agar and has worked with him at Hull FC – where he helped referee contact work on the wrestle mats – and Wakefield Trinity where he also first linked up with Webster.
Agar invited him down to training at Headingley before Christmas and he has reviewed a couple of the Super League club’s pre-season friendlies.
He concluded: “I don’t really know anyone else who does this sort of thing but I do enjoy it and getting to work with players so hopefully it carries on.”