Consistency the key for referees
Warrington and St Helens may be flying high at the top of the Super League table, with London Broncos and Widnes making poor starts to the season, but it is the subject of referees which has got supporters talking once again.
And it was the usual subject of video technology and refereeing consistency which dominated the agenda when the Rugby Football League's match officials director, Stuart Cummings, joined us on a BBC Radio 5 live rugby league special this week.
I was lambasted on Twitter by angry Hull FC fans after insisting Richard Silverwood's decision to send off Hull forward Sam Moa for a shoulder charge on London's Julien Rinaldi was correct.
Sam Moa was sent off after falling foul of the shoulder charge rule. Photo: Getty
This was especially incendiary given Tommy Lee's high shot on Lee Briers, which, the previous night, had escaped censure. Both have subsequently been banned.
Unlike rugby union, the shoulder charge remains legal in league and I would hope it stays so. The massive hit in a rugby league match is like a double espresso on a hangover. It brings the crowd and players to life.
We must not lose it, but there is a responsibility for players and officials to get it right. The fine line Moa overstepped was mistiming it by a millisecond - connecting with Rinaldi's head, and knocking him out cold. I think Silverwood got it right.
Half an inch lower and it would have been a belter, but such is the danger and brutal nature of our sport, that get it wrong and it's curtains. It was a game-ender for both men.
"People have problems understanding rules and interpretations. The players are taking a while to settle down too," Cummings said.
"Not all circumstances are the same. The scholars of the sport will understand that. Fans are fans and want their team to win so will react angrily when it goes against them."
So are referees like Silverwood monitored for consistency in their decision-making? "Yes, we measure referees to see if they are consistent in their award of penalties," says Cummings. "We passed with flying colours last year."
And the crux of the video technology debate is also consistency.
Warrington coach Tony Smith sparked things up as early as round one after a frustrating draw at Hull FC. The award of one of Hull's tries triggered Smith's ire.
Warrington spent pre-season in Australia, where they have the uniformity of video technology at every match, and this brought the issue back to the forefront of Smith's mind.
He, like many, feels it should be all or nothing in terms of the option of video referee referral at fixtures.
When I spoke to Cummings last summer he insisted that, at an estimated cost of £250,000 to implement this at every game, he was not convinced it would enhance the decision-making quality of the officials he already had in place to merit the financial outlay.
Cummings stresses that, ultimately, it is the 14 Super League clubs, rather than the RFL, who will make this call as they must have majority agreement.
At the moment I understand several clubs are unwilling to take the financial hit that agreeing to share the cost of such a system would prompt.
"We have regular forums with the head of referees from the Football Association, English Cricket Board and Rugby Football Union on various issues," said Cummings.
"Technology regularly crops up - [football's] David Elleray is passionately against video refs but I can more than hold my own with him. I think football is taking a step back in not moving with it."
Cummings says sports like football argue against the introduction of video technology by citing the perceived long delays in a fast-moving sport that referring decisions 'upstairs' would incur. That, he says, is not an argument that holds up.
"We keep stats on how often the technology is used during a game and how long it takes," he said. "You may be surprised to know that on average it is 2.4 decisions per game at an average duration of 57 seconds - which is not a great deal. And what can be better than getting the right call?"
This week, the NRL scrapped its controversial play-off system to follow the model used in Super League. Perhaps it is finally now time for Super League clubs to bite the bullet and follow Australia's lead on universal video technology.
I would like to finish this week by extending the heartfelt condolences from the BBC rugby league team to Castleford coach Ian Millward and his family following the sudden death of his 19-year-old son Robbie.