There’s a debate gathering steam within rugby league circles in Australia about the merits of having two referees blowing the whistle during a game.
The NRL introduced the system in 2009 because it felt the game had become too fast for one ref to adequately officiate the run of play.
It’s indisputable that the NRL is the fastest rugby league competition in the world. Although the European Super League is quick, it’s nowhere near as fast as the version down under, and that comes direct from players who have plied their trade in both comps.
The NRL is the only rugby league competition that uses two referees. The division immediately below it comprising the Queensland Rugby League Intrust Super Cup and VB New South Wales Cup is a step or two slower, with SLE falling somewhere in between.
There’s a growing feeling in Australia that the two referee system is not working mainly because of the inconsistency of having two guys with whistles taking turns controlling the game.
It has been suggested that because we’re all individuals, no two refs are going to call the game in exactly the same way. There are different styles and different ways of controlling the game, which can lead to inconsistencies in officiating.
One suggested solution is to implement a system whereby there would be one main man in the middle who would have a ruck assistant whose job it would be to make sure the ruck was consistently marked, enabling the main ref to concentrate on things like the 10 meters. It’s thought that would allow the same guy to call the game and still be able to get help from the ruck assistant if he missed something.
Minimizing mistakes by referees and players alike is the end goal.
In England, meantime, there’s a refereeing debate of a slightly different nature going on with clubs there critical of reffing decisions in Super League.
This season has been littered with coaches’ complaints about referees costing their teams games because of bad decisions, particularly around the ruck. Coaches say the tempo of games has been slowed down because of it and they want improvements.
American National Rugby League director of match officials Rob Irwin says while the two referee system doesn’t appear to be working perfectly in the NRL, it’s still a move in the right direction.
“I think it is, because the game’s getting so fast and with coaches analyzing the game so much these days I think with the changes over the years it’s important we keep pace with those changes,” Iriwn told WeAreRugby.
“It’s not working at the moment because there are quite a few mistakes being made, but I think we probably need a lot more quality referees.
“It seems to be double trouble at the moment. It seems to be more of a hindrance and instead of having one guy making mistakes you’ve got two. I think you need a bigger pool of referees.”
The AMNRL does not utilize the two referee system. Granted the pace of the domestic game in the United States is getting faster all the time, but it’s still a couple of steps slower than the Australian or English club level, so for now a single ref is still able to keep up with the play without missing too much, although Irwin isn’t ruling it out in the future.
“Somewhere down the track, developmentally,” Irwin continued. “We’re not there yet. We don’t have enough referees. We need to train more referees.
“The problem we have is we have a short season. Compared with overseas competitions, we’re all over in 10 weeks with only a limited number of games, so it takes longer to train referees in the States and get them to a point where they can control AMNRL fixture games.”
And according to Irwin, another problem facing the game in the USA is finding referees who are prepared to put in the long-term effort.
“It’s hard to get them to commit and get them to the highest level,” he said, “but certainly I feel that having two referees in a game is a sound idea. I think we need to look at a bigger pool of quality referees to make it work better.”