From The Couch – Rd 19

From The Couch, Round 19 by Nick Tedeschi @

The Bunker Is Almost Certainly Refereeing: The disaster that beset the game on Friday night highlighted many things: the lack of confidence among on-field refereeing; the failure of officials to bother to learn the rules of the game they are paid to officiate; the lack of competence in the refereeing leadership; the clear lack of understanding of the sport by the game’s top administrators; the total failing of the system.

It showed a touch judge who incorrectly put his flag up and then more incorrectly put it down. It showed a referee who was so confused that he went to stop play but then allowed play to continue so the Bunker could become involved. It showed a video referee who could not see an obvious flag raised and then one who completely disregarded the game’s own process in overturning an on-field decision with any obvious evidence. It showed a reactive refereeing leadership who again isolated a failing rather than recognise a systemic fault. It showed a populist leadership waiting for the Twitterati to take their stance before getting on the side that one the poll.

Of all this though – and it is a blight on the game that has come to define the 2018 season – it is the total lack of transparency with regard The Bunker that will do more damage when all is eventually revealed.

It is more than apparent that The Bunker is doing more than chiming in when a decision on a try is referred to it. Video referees were found out to be “tipping” officials a few years ago. It is clear now that they are actually refereeing matches from afar. Gerard Sutton went to stop the game but it was clear he was told in his ear to play on. The same happened earlier in the season when Matt Cecchin was delayed in giving a penalty to the Storm that cost them a try. Sources connected to the game suggest The Bunker is in almost constant communication with on-field referees, making judgment calls on knock-ons and forward passes and alerting to foul play or offside, keeping track of penalty counts and the referee’s 10 metres.

When this all comes to the fore – if it ever does – the NRL’s refusal to address the issue now and provide any transparency around it will be as damning as allowing The Bunker powers far greater than they officially have.

How To Save NRL Officiating: The NRL must adopt the following system if the game is to get out of its current mess:

  • Kill The Bunker – The Bunker and all those associated with it must go. It has been a catastrophic waste of money that has worsened the sport.
  • Replace Bernie Sutton with Luke Phillips – The NRL needs to stop appointing sycophants from the same lineage. Phillips is a former player and respected referee who fell out with this current lot. He will bring in some fresh ideas and hold those who cannot do the job accountable.
  • Re-Name The Pocket Referee – He should not be an equal or near-equal of the referee, confusing matter. He is to be an extra set of eyes. He should stay but like a touch judge should only offer an opinion when asked. Something like ‘Pocket Judge’. The problem isn’t too many refs. The problem is too many people asserting power.
  • Video Can Be Used But Only By The Referee – Like the NFL was, if a matter goes to video, it is the on-field referee who goes to a video replay at a booth behind each in-goal and makes a decision. The onus is always with him. He cannot pass the buck.
  • No Off-Field Communication – Referees can communicate with all other officials on the ground. They are not connected or subjected to outside interference.
  • Coaches Challenge – Each team is given two wrong challenges a match. Evidence must be clear to overturn.
  • Empower Referees – Referees need to feel they are in control of the match. They need to be empowered to make decisions. Each referee will have their own idiosyncrasies. That is fine. Attempting to standardize has been a disaster.
  • Revise The Rule Book And Leave It – Rugby League has made a horrible habit of introducing reactionary rules without looking at the consequences and then adding more rules when something unforeseen comes to pass. The game needs to simplify the rulebook and then stop making tweaks and changes.
  • Eliminate Blitzes – The rubbish we have seen this year has been an utter disgrace. The first few weeks there were a million penalties and now players can get away with murdering an opponent. Issue blitzes need to stop. Enforce the rules or eliminate the rules or decide that there will be leniency.
  • Accountability – All officials need to be accountable for errors and failings. Officials should be ranked weekly and those involved in catastrophic errors fall down and are sacked or slip to lower ranking games.

Two Legends Say Goodbye: Legends of the game Luke Lewis and Simon Mannering this week announced they would be hanging up the boots. Both deserve a word of recognition.

Lewis has enjoyed a stellar career that has taken him from a representative winger to one of the best edge forwards of his generation. He is part of the 300-game club and has won premierships with both clubs he has played for, winning the Clive Churchill Medal in 2016. He was a staple for both NSW and Australia, his Origin career spanning a decade.

Mannering is the epitome of what Rugby League is all about: hard-working, resilient, a quiet overachiever who defied his roots. He has stuck fat with the Warriors through some low times and has risen to be one of their most beloved stars.

The game will be the poorer for losing them both.

The Warriors Are Thinking: The New Zealand Warriors are rarely accused of thinking about the game too much but their use of the short dropout as an attacking weapon is outstanding. They have a good kick in Johnson and two very tall wingers. Rather than just allow for a contest, they get their big men to hit it back into their own in-goal or closeby, almost ensuring the Warriors get the wall back. Great tactics and great use of their assets.

Worst Game of the Year: One of the best tweets thrown out on Thursday night went along the lines of “if you are a neutral and watched the entire Eels-Bulldogs game, you need to have a good hard look at your life”. It was a truly heinous game and will not be beat for the worst game of the year.

Old Dog, New Tricks: Wayne Bennett can be stubborn and belligerent but he deserves credit for recognising the Broncos needed something to kickstart their season and shifting old favourite Darius Boyd into the centres and pushing Jamayne Isaako to fullback. It worked a treat. The Broncos posted 50. Isaako gave the Broncos energy and it made the entire side better. Great move.

2018 Field Goal Update – 27: A sad weekend for the field goal with absolutely nothing doing.

Fun Fact #1: Luke Lewis was overlooked for his Test debut for Darren Smith … by Chris Anderson. Smith turns 50 this year.

Fun Fact #2: Simon Mannering’s starting debut came on the wing against Eric Grothe.

Fun Fact #3: John Sutton won just three of his first 18 games of first grade.

Betting Market of the Week: The NRL Bunker is adamant the colour of grass is:

$3.50: Green
$1.90: Blue because the sky caught the grass on the outside of the shadow
$1.75: Yellow because it was sent up that way and cannot be overturned
$1.30: Whatever colour Bernie Sutton says it is … probably rocket

Rumour Mill: There is speculation that Billy Slater will announce his retirement from the NRL at season’s end this week in what would be a major loss for the game. Valentine Holmes is expected to be playing for North Queensland next year. The winger domino session is on with Jason Nightingale expected to shift to Super League while Daniel Tupou is doing his best to join the Dragons. Cameron Ciraldo is being sounded out about perhaps taking over Parramatta next year. Corey Oates has been touted with a move to Souths but the Broncos have not given up hope.

Key Stat For A Player Who Should Not Be Playing First Grade: Justin O’Neill has scored two tries in his last 35 NRL games – the same amount as James Graham over that run.

Game of the Year Nomination, Round 19: New Zealand – Melbourne, 6 – 12. Cracking game between new premiership leaders Melbourne and New Zealand. It was very much a defensive battle but a highly impressive one. The Warriors couldn’t have given much more while the Storm ground them down like they tend to do at this time of year.

The Coaching Crosshairs: It is hard to imagine Bernard Sutton having the job as referees boss after the debacle that has been officiating this year. After the utter disgrace that was Friday night he will almost certainly be made the sacrificial lamb at season’s end. It will be a deserved axing and the necessary finale to one of the saddest chapters in the history of Australian sport. Bill Harrigan has been touted as the new referees boss but if the NRL was serious about reform it would be Luke Phillips who was handed the reins.

Moronic Coaching Decision of the Week: It is not yet clear how good a player Jarome Luai is. He looks like he has some ability. Regardless, it seemed utterly ridiculous that he was thrown in at fullback against the Broncos, particularly after Caeleb Aekins debuted so strongly last week. Throwing young players into first grade and switching them around positions is a quick way to ruin a young prospects.

Beard Watch: Cameron Munster has the best moustache in the NRL. It is not even close. Unlike those who don the mo ironically or with a hipster bent, Munster is straight from the David Boon school. Outstanding.

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