Video killed the Super League star
I've spent the last week wondering whether we should scrap video technology all together if we are not in a position to have it at every ground.
On the face of it, that would appear a crazily counter-productive step but I left the Stoop at the weekend ranting to anyone who would listen about how unfair the arbitrary nature of the current set up is.
Harlequins had been ultimately well-beaten by the champions Wigan, who came good after half-time despite the clear fatigue of having played two games in less than 72 hours. But Quins were the better side over the first 40, had three tries chalked off and somehow contrived to be 14-6 down at the break.
Those decisions clearly triggered a massive momentum shift and I felt at the time that Rob Powell's side had been hard done to simply because the game was not on television.
Had it been, then the referee Rob Hicks would have referred all three decisions and the outcome may have been much different.
Rob Purdham was controversially denied a try during Harlequins' loss to Wigan. Picture: Getty Images
I am not for one moment suggesting the London club would have won the game. But it would have been heads up rather than tails between legs at the break. Fair play to Hicks, who is a good bloke and was happy to chat to me about the decisions in the players bar afterwards. He explained each call, and revealed that he was ready to award one of the tries but overruled on the say-so of a touch judge who claimed he’d seen a knock-on over the line from 60 yards further away.
But the arbitrary nature of having “the big games” on TV, means that the more unfashionable clubs like Harlequins are liable to be involved in more non-televised games where such debatable decisions are therefore common place. Indeed I have been to many games over the years where there have been clear errors, obvious knock-ons or offsides in the lead up to tries which have thus been awarded because of the absence of a video ref.
Sky are obliged to show each team at home twice per season. As it stands video technology is only used in games televised, which in Super League terms is generally two games per week.
So just two out of seven weekly fixtures will see (supposedly) flawless decisions, with the remaining five subject to a great deal of human error. How can that be fair?
I was so angry I rang the boss – the RFL’s Match Officials’ Director Stuart Cummings. I queried all the calls in the Quins v Wigan game and Cummings to his credit was excellent. In fact his response added further strength to my argument, as he insisted it was Wigan rather than Quins who were on the receiving end of the worst calls!
His view, having studied the replays from the available footage at the game, was that all three Quins tries were rightly disallowed, and Wigan in fact should have had two scores awarded that were not. I hadn’t even noticed those.
When pushed however on a seemingly straightforward score denied to Rob Purdham for knocking on over the line, Cummings did concede that was the most “dubious” disallowed try of the afternoon. The very fact we were having this conversation highlighted an ongoing inconsistency in a game that prides itself on innovation and trailblazing.
Before calling Cummings, I’d canvassed opinion from several current and former players.
“It’s not right. Every game should have technological assistance. But it comes down to cost,” said St Helens and England forward Jon Wilkin.
“It should be available at all games. The games are always taped and even if they can’t finance a full set of cameras, you would still see more,” said England and Leeds scrum-half Rob Burrow.
“It’s absolutely unfair and if the RFL are as innovative as we’re led to believe they should get it sponsored and that would cover the cost,” said former Great Britain, Wigan and Bradford coach Brian Noble.
“Imagine if they brought this technology into football but only used it in some games – it would cause uproar as it just is not fair,” said Harlequins full-back Luke Dorn.
To balance this, we need both to remember how much the introduction of video technology – way before most other sports – has enhanced our great game, and applaud the RFL for that. And we also need to note that ours is not the only sport to harbour such inconsistencies.
Only the show courts at Wimbledon for example can rely on Hawk-Eye to assist on line calls. Roger Federer dislikes the technology and thus is loathe to use his challenges, but that doesn’t deprive his opponent of the opportunity.
The upcoming international Test cricket series between England and India on the other hand won’t use Hawk-eye technology because the BCCI (Board of Control for Cricket in India) aren’t keen. Hardly fair on England who have become accustomed to it.
So why can’t we have some degree of video replay technology available at every Super League fixture? Would it be that expensive? We wouldn’t need to go crazy with big screens and copious camera angles at every game like Sky, just a couple of cameras, and an official watching a monitor on a gantry should do it.
Cost is cited as the main stumbling block, but how pricey would something like that be? It wouldn’t be 100% accurate but it would be an improvement on the naked eye. This has been looked into, but it is the clubs themselves rather than the RFL that are not forthcoming.
“We trialled a system two years ago at a non-televised Hull derby,” says Cummings. “We had one camera at each end, one in the middle, and referee Ashley Klein sat in a truck in the car park as video ref. It worked well but even for that basic system it was pricey.” How much?
“The package we looked at and presented to the clubs would have cost £250,000 a year. So you have to ask would we get a quarter of a million pounds worth of benefit out of it? My view is that the officials we have are good enough to say we would not get our money’s worth from video assistance.”
This package was presented to clubs at a 2009 meeting, and nothing has since happened. Indeed the only change has been a worsening of the overall financial climate, so clubs are less likely to stump up the cash for it now.
There are other issues too. Even if this was financially viable, you would need a big enough pool of quality match officials to afford one video referee per fixture. Are we adequately resourced for that at the moment?
So what is the solution? Can we realistically strive for equality across all fixtures? Does it really matter? After all, it’s the same for both sides on the day. One option would be finding a sponsor to finance it. Would it be fair to expect the RFL go back to the clubs with a better offer off the back of their record £22.8m turnover for 2010?
Or do we just accept that having technology for the “big games” is better than nothing, embrace the positive impact the introduction of technology has hitherto had on the sport and stop demanding perfection?
Rant over, on to “any other business”. Shaun Briscoe and Louis Anderson have confirmed they are leaving Hull KR and Warrington respectively. I expect Briscoe to sign for Widnes and Anderson for Catalan Dragons.
And Noble was speaking to me after another session at the gym – keeping fit for the next Super League coaching opportunity that comes up. So watch this space.