THE JURY is out on the RFL’s experiment with two referees, after a trial involving Leeds Rhinos’ under-19s.
Matches in Australia’s elite NRL have been controlled by two referees for the past four years and the RFL are now considering following a similar approach.
Two referees have been used in the latest round of under-19s matches, with Super League officials Ben Thaler and Robert Hicks taking charge of Rhinos’ game against Hull KR.
Rhinos won the the match – watched by RFL referees’ boss Jon Sharp and coach Steve Ganson – 40-18 and Leeds academy team boss Chris Plume felt the dual officials made little difference.
“From our point of view, we didn’t do anything different,” said Plume, whose team are second in the academy table.
“We weren’t told there’d be anything different in the way they were going to referee the game, the speed of the play-the-ball or anything like that.
“They spoke to the two captains before the game and explained how it was going to work and the main difference was they had one referee with his eyes on the ruck, seeing any hands on the ball or any interference there.
“Everything else was officiated by the main official, who was marching back 10 metres. In terms of how the game flows, there was not much difference, though it probably did speed the ruck up a little bit.
“Players who may have been tempted to keep their hand on the ball were taking it out of the way and not leaving hands in the ruck as long.
“They were peeling off a bit quicker. It did speed the game up that way, so it went all right – but it didn’t massively affect the game for the good or the bad.”
The number of available qualified officials could put paid to the dual-refs system in this country.
It would have to be introduced in both Super League and the Championship, as the two competitions will combine mid-way through next year, meaning a minimum of 24 referees on duty each week, plus those in Championship One.
Plume admitted that is a possible stumbling block and he added: “The two that trialed it with us were full-time referees.
“If the numbers are there they could bring it in, but whether it’s needed or not, I am not sure.
“I didn’t see a massive difference in the game. I wouldn’t say it improved it as a spectacle – it’s the two teams that are playing that are the spectacle, not the referees.
“We sometimes make it about the referees too much. They still got some decisions wrong, even though there were two referees. I think the more officials you have, the more opinions you have.
“There were a couple of occasions when their opinions differed, so you had one referee saying one thing and the one referee saying another thing.
“That makes for even more controversy, but that’s why it was trialed. I am sure they would tighten up on things like that.”
RFL spokesman John Ledger added: “Wigan played New Zealand Warriors with two referees at the start of the season in a warm-up for the World Club Challenge. They reported back that they felt it worked really well. We have watched its use in Australia with interest, but this is just an experiment – it is not a trial with a view to it being introduced in 2015. There is no timescale, we just want to have a look at it and see how it goes.”