Leeds Rhinos chief Hetherington slams decision to use two referees for Melbourne clash

Gary Hetherington.
Gary Hetherington.
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FURIOUS LEEDS Rhinos chief executive Gary Hetherington has accused the NRL of moving the goalposts to help ensure the World Club Challenge trophy returns to Australia.

Rhinos were shocked to be told today that Friday’s world title match against Aussie champions Melbourne Storm will be controlled by two referees.

Kallum Watkins and Cameron Smith with the World Club Challenge trophy.

Kallum Watkins and Cameron Smith with the World Club Challenge trophy.

That is the system used in the NRL, but not in Betfred Super League or for Test matches and Leeds have never played in a game involving two men in the middle.

Hetherington says Leeds were expecting the fixture to be played to international rules, with one referee and he slammed the ruling as a “ridiculous decision”.

The Leeds chief is also upset that Rhinos were told at such short notice, with only one training session left before the big game at AAMI Park.

He fumed: “The World Club Challenge has always been played to international rules.

“For the NRL to move the goalposts at 48 hours’ notice and after no consultation with ourselves is totally arrogant and simply not on.”

Hetherington said there is no opportunity for Rhinos to have the ruling overturned.

“We have protested to the NRL because there’s no reason to do it,” he said.

“It had been agreed between Melbourne and ourselves and with the involvement of the NRL, two months ago, confirming international rules.

“To do it at such late notice, with no consultation with ourselves and for no reason, it can only disadvantage ourselves – who are not used to playing with two referees – and help Melbourne Storm, who are.

“One can only suspect the NRL are desperate to see the World Club title return to Australia.

“Wigan beat Cronulla last year and we are extremely keen to bring it back to England.

“This decision is extremely disappointing.

“Our team only have one more training session before the game. Why would they want to do it at such short notice? One has to question the timing of the decision as well.”

Rhinos are already huge underdogs to beat Melbourne on Friday.

Hetherington stressed he has no quibble with Storm and he added: “This will not derail our determination to win the game and bring the trophy back to England.

“But the arrogance of the decision and the fact it has been taken after no consultation with ourselves leaves a very sour taste.”

Speaking to Rhinos’ website, coach Brian McDermott said: “It’s not good.

“I don’t think there’s anything sinister in it from the NRL, but their competition plays with two referees and ours plays with one.

“We are not happy this has been forced upon us. We agreed in England some parametres of how we are going to play the game.

“The term that was used was always international rules and international rules are you play with one referee.

“We have got nothing to hide and I don’t think the second referee is going to find any cynical or sneaky play out of us.

“I just hope they don’t showcase two referees and it becomes a penalty-ridden game.”