Do “Too many refs spoil the prop”? Ok, bad joke, but with Rugby League “over-reffed”, Matt Lygoe breaks down where he feels the system is letting down fans and players alike.


Whoever coined the phrase “two heads are better than one” obviously was not a Rugby League fan.

Referees have always made mistakes and they have always felt the ire of coaches, fans, players and their mothers, disappointed in their son’s choice of career. We all love to have a crack when they get it wrong. It’s part of the game. Or was. It’s changed. A lot.

It seems to this increasingly disengaged fan that every time there’s been an additional adjudicator added into the mix, the perplexing dramas have increased also. In the past decade and a bit, the game has gone from a sole referee making all decisions with the only assistance from the touch judges, to video refs, in-goal refs and two on-field referees (what’s a “pocket referee”?), with a bevy of video “rule experts” ready to radio-in a call to the man in the middle, and this is where the game is suffering most.

It’s more “too many cooks” rather than “several heads are better than one.”

I’ve lost count of the times I’ve heard commentators say, “What are they looking for? Why don’t they just award the try?”

(I’m just grateful Bill Harrigan has retired, as he’d be milking the stoppages so he could get his pretty head on the telly more.)

The introduction of video replay technology was a great innovation, but its overuse has set the game back. Has lessened the viewing pleasure.

I’ve stopped leaping out of my chair when my team scores and I withhold any celebration until the 16 replays from 14 angles are complete. So instead of screaming, “YES!”, it’s more, “It’ll be nice if this results in four points…eventually.”

Upon his passing recently, I read many tributes to Richie Benaud. One contained a series of quotes by the great man, with the standout being, “The slow motion replay doesn’t show how fast the ball was really travelling.”

While this may have been a rare misfire in Richie’s commentary, it could easily find a place in this discussion.

It seems that the higher speed/frame rate can detect the most minuscule separation of the ball and hand in the act of scoring a try, when, to the naked eye of every person watching, it was a try. It won’t be long before someone gets a physicist involved. Instead of “sending it upstairs” they’ll “send it to the lab.”

In those excruciating moments when we all know what the call should/will be after one replay, euphoria is displaced with, “I hope this doesn’t take too long.” It’s where I’d happily sign up for the “if it walks like a duck, quacks like a duck” rule if it meant getting on with the bloody game!

I know, “Rugby League is big business. Fans/teams deserve the right decision”, and every other cliché trotted out in defence of the much maligned referees. And this is not an attack upon them. It’s a plea to the administration to do whatever they can to retain some human element, expedite the process, in the hope it will improve the value of the product.

In 2015 entertainment is fast, on-demand, and perpetual, and Rugby League has wandered off in another direction as if the game has dementia (or is this my dementia kicking in? Where are my slippers?).

The most arduous, infuriating moments are the ones that could have so easily been waved on.

Alternatively, I’m convinced the many replays of a high-swinging arm of St George Illawarra Dragon Tyson Frizell to the head of Bulldog Tim Brown, in Round Six, went a long way toward Frizell staying on the field because the replays were in slow motion and didn’t look as bad as it did in real time (I’m applying the Benaud theory here). There was time to show so many replays because it took ten minutes to get an unconscious Brown into a neck brace, on a stretcher, onto a medi-cab and conduct a quick search for his head in the grandstand. I assume that more than one opinion meant doubt and a handball to the judiciary.

That swinging arm, in today’s “we must treat concussion seriously” age, goes on a to-do list for later on in the week.


Incidents like these have spawned such classics as, “Mums won’t want their sons playing Rugby League when they see that kind of thing.”

Not using the send-off option robs the game of another twist. The Dragons should have been down a man and struggling to protect their lead. Instead the Bulldogs were a man down and the Dragons finished way stronger. Any suspension imposed mid-week will only aid next weekend’s opponents…a little. Even ten minutes in the sin bin would have been a more just course of action.

(NB: I’m not a Bulldogs fan. Can’t stand ‘em to be honest. Frizell got two weeks.)

The greater number of people having a say in decisions has to result in more doubt and delays. On the whole, the decisions are correct, but the refs need to be supported in making their decisions with a bit more expediency and confidence to be in the moment.

The controversy of the James Graham charge-down on Adam Reynolds in Round Five that resulted in a knee injury for Reynolds and referees being pelted with bottles was a black day for the game, and I’m hoping upon hope that it was not a symptom of the fans’ overall frustration with the current system that I’m talking about here. (Graham got four weeks…but has a history. Let’s leave it at that…)

I think fans will accept human error if made quickly for the sake of the game, far more than they’ll accept decisions that have no common sense after numerous replays.

“Many hands make light work” if you’re moving house and “two heads are better than one” is great where moonshine and banjos rule, but in Rugby League, “If it’s broke, fix it.”


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