Sport Rugby League NRL refereeing a finals accident waiting to happen

NRL refereeing a finals accident waiting to happen

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The Hayne howler

Following a few pleasant weeks of only light murmuring of refereeing inconsistencies, Shayne Hayne has thrust the NRL’s officials back under a scalding spotlight with a diabolical call in Wests Tigers’ big loss to Manly on Friday night.

Tigers winger David Nofoaluma lunged for the try-line in the opening minutes, but Hayne inexplicably ignored the option to go to the video referee, ruling a knock-on and a scrum feed to Manly. The replays showed Nofoaluma had, in fact, scored a fair try.

Refereeing errors have been an ingrained part of the code since 1908. But Hayne’s costly decision to not use the technology at his disposal is unforgivable, while the perfectly-placed touch judge and the video referees deserve an uppercut for not tipping off the man in the middle that he might want to get a second (freeze-framed) opinion.

We are in the midst of one of the all-time worst seasons for shocking mistakes by on-field officials and video refs – and it feels inevitable a big blunder will tarnish the finals series. The Cowboys infamously had their 2012 and ’13 September campaigns scuttled by inexcusable decisions, while only dumb luck will prevent another team’s season being ruined by a howler.

It’s a tough gig, and occasional human error is unavoidable. But the erratic utilisation of the video referees – and the incorrect decisions that are made once it gets to them, in spite of what seems obvious to millions of viewers – is too hard for players, coaches and fans to swallow.

The arbitrary interjection of the video refs was another frustrating aspect of round 18; some initial restart decisions were overturned, while others were confusingly left as the incorrect on-field call even though they had ample time to get in the whistle-blower’s ear.

If referees boss Tony Archer has any bottle, Hayne will be dumped from first grade duty for at least a week – otherwise the pair deserves the post-match wrath coming their way from Robbie Farah and his fellow NRL captains, the premiership’s unsympathetic head coaches, and armies of disgruntled supporters.

Konrad Hurrell is in terrifying form for the Warriors. Photo: Getty
Konrad Hurrell is in terrifying form for the Warriors. Photo: Getty

Dark horse Warriors start their charge

Manly has consistently been the most impressive team of 2014, fellow heavyweights the Sydney Roosters and Souths are well-placed despite being yet to hit their straps, and Canterbury has surged into contention. Melbourne can never be written off, the jury is still out on big improvers Penrith, Brisbane and St George Illawarra, while Parramatta, Wests Tigers, North Queensland and Gold Coast have hit the skids.

But the team that has the contenders looking over their shoulders is the rampant New Zealand Warriors, fresh from their seventh win in nine games – and their best of the year – a 48-0 rout of the Eels. It represented the club’s biggest win in eight years, the first time they had kept a team to single figures in over two years, and the first time they had achieved a clean defensive sheet since 2009.

And for all their trademark attacking flair and unparalleled firepower, it’s that newfound defensive steel and commitment that can carry the Warriors to a maiden title as early as this season. The current side bears a striking resemblance to the outfit that stormed into the 2011 Grand Final under Ivan Cleary, except with the added attributes of halfback magician Shaun Johnson’s burgeoning maturity, the superstar qualities of Sam Tomkins – who had easily his finest game since joining the club amidst great fanfare – from fullback, and the terrifying centre weapon that is Konrad Hurrell.

Even the most cynical of Australian pundits are beginning to talk up the chances of the notoriously inconsistent Warriors – and it would be no surprise for the most even premiership in decades to be taken out by a dark horse.

Week to remember for …

The Canterbury Bulldogs’ second undermanned upset of a star-stacked side in the space of eight days has further enhanced their premiership credentials. After rolling Manly without their Origin players, the 2014 version of the ‘Dogs of War’ produced a titanic defensive display to hold off Melbourne 6-4 for their first ever win at AAMI Park.

Week to forget for …

Two of the resurgent success stories of the 2014 season, the finals hopes of former cellar dwellers Parramatta and Wests Tigers received a massive body blow in as both sides crashed to heavy defeats. The Eels and the Tigers are still in touch with the top eight, but tough runs home and injury woes are set to derail the clubs’ admirable return to respectability.

Play of the week

The Warriors have pulled out a surprise scrum push on a few occasions this year, reaping that rarest of rugby league occurrences – a win against the feed. But it paid even greater dividends after the Parramatta pack was caught unawares, with Sam Tomkins picking up the ball from the back of the scrum and diving over for his second try, Zinzan Brooke-style.

Anthony Milford's stunning performance was bittersweet for Raiders fans. Photo: Getty
Anthony Milford’s stunning performance was bittersweet for Raiders fans. Photo: Getty

Blunder of the week

No contest – Shayne Hayne’s refusal to refer David Nofoaluma’s early try for the Tigers on Friday night goes straight into the hall of fame of shocking referee errors.

Standout performer

Johnson and Tomkins were sensational in scoring and setting up tries for the Warriors, but for volume of brilliance, Anthony Milford’s display in Canberra’s drought-breaking defeat of the Gold Coast was unmatched. The 20-year-old scored two dazzling tries after accepting return passes from players he put through holes, and produced two more try assists with deft touches. It must have been bittersweet for Raiders fans in the knowledge Milford is on his way to Brisbane at the end of the season.

Monday night

The Penrith-Brisbane clash shapes as the most important Monday night match of the season. There’s plenty at stake as the Panthers attempt to hang onto their share of the competition lead, while the Broncos can lift themselves above a five-team logjam for seventh spot. Peter Wallace is a big out for Penrith, but the home side still has a slight edge heading into this one.