After an enthralling weekend of NRL Finals it is somewhat disappointing that much of the limelight has been stolen by talk of the standard of officiating. At a time when the performances of the players are perhaps better than they have ever been, they are being let down by refereeing that can be described as nothing less than bewildering. On
Saturday and Sunday night the coaches of the eliminated teams voiced their own frustrations at the standard of the men in the middle but perhaps the most poorly officiated game was the best game of the weekend.
On Saturday afternoon Parramatta went toe to toe with the 2017 Minor Premiers, the Melbourne Storm. Given very little hope of causing an upset, the Eels rolled up their sleeves and did an outstanding job of throwing the Storm off their rhythm. In a see-sawing contest in which Cameron Smith broke Darren Lockyer’s NRL Games Record, the Storm advanced to the Preliminary Final after edging Parramatta by 2-points.
Whilst understanding that what I am about to say puts me on the same side of argument as the likes of Mark Latham, I have to say that 300 game referee Ben Cummins made mistakes that a school boy in his first game wouldn’t make. As one of only six men to reach the 300 game milestone, it would be his inability to reach the correct conclusion in a number of obvious incidents would prove so telling in the contest.
It didn’t take long for him to let his incompetence have an effect on the contest either, with his first bewildering decision taking place in the 4th minute of the match. Having watched Josh Addo-Carr cross the try line after catching a pass two metres in front of the passer Curtis Scott, Cummins awarded a try. The veteran ref decided the ball had gone forward off Kirisome Auva’a despite the fact that it was inconclusive if it had touched the Eel winger and the fact that the ball needed to travel forward to hit him in the first place!
If awarding the Storm one try incorrectly wasn’t enough, he doubled the damage in the game’s 45th minute. With the Eels leading 10-4 and the Storm attacking 25 metres out a loose ball was swooped upon by Cooper Cronk and Tim Glasby. The forward won the battle of strength wrenching the ball out Cronk’s hands and play continued with Cummins unobstructed and undeterred 5 metres away. That’s right, Cummins had a clear view that Cronk had possession of the ball, then a team mate in front of him had possession of the ball, and the knock on or offside rules didn’t occur to him.
For the most part neutral fans responses have fallen into two distinct categories, the “Who cares, the games were fantastic”
or the “Your team made mistakes too, who cares if the referees made their job harder than it needed it be too?”
Both of these responses miss the point entirely. Players and coaches win or lose their highly lucrative contracts based on the results on the field. Fans invest vast amounts of time, money and emotion in the results on the field. These stakeholders in the game deserve more than incompetent mistakes being shrugged off as part of the game. While there are a number of situations where it is understandable that a referee is placed in a difficult position to officiate, it is not too much for stakeholders to expect that a referee with an unobstructed view of a play makes a correct ruling in a basic situation.
While the ranting of the likes of Shane Flanagan is unlikely to cause anyone to pause for thought (considering the frequency of his complaints), when a coach like Brad Arthur who very rarely is drawn on such matters very calmly raises concerns, it should result in more than the glib responses of the neutral supporters. While Arthur refused to blame anyone other than himself and his team for his defeat, he rightly questioned the consistency of the adjudication in the match.
As odd as it sounds, it’s not just the losing fans that are negatively affected by the ridiculous officiating. While the saying may go “Winners are grinners and that losers can please themselves”, incompetent officiating creates a great pall that can overshadow the joy of victory for the winning team and it’s supporters. Not to mention the fact that neutral fans are forced to listen to the pained cries of those who feel slighted by the decisions.
With the greatest of respect to Ben Cummins who has clearly chosen his vocation because of a great desire to give something to the game, his mistakes on Saturday afternoon were not acceptable from a senior referee. In a game where scoring can be so infrequent, it is imperative that the NRL make a strong stand in response to an official botching the decision-making on two scoring plays. How many players who, under no pressure bomb two tries, avoid some kind of punishment?
There is no question that for as long as Rugby League has been played, or will be played, there has or will be refereeing mistakes. While this is as true as night following day, there also needs to be consequences for egregious errors like there are for any person in any other walk of life. Until there is a consequence we will continue to bewildered by a level of decision making that is not up to the level that the players and fans deserve.