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Consistency the key for referees

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George Riley George Riley | 23:28 UK time, Wednesday, 22 February 2012

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

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.


  • Comment number 1.

    As usual a varied and insightful blog George.
    Firstly RIP Robbie Millward, Ian may not be the most popular coach Wigan have ever had but your heart goes out to someone who loses a child, a truly devastating tragedy to anyone it befalls and certainly puts sport into perspective.

    Consistency is the age old question with ref's but sadly we will never get it. Agree that video ref's need to be in place at all games but money of that nature doesn't come easily, particularly when the RFL decides to give its premier competition's lead sponsorship naming rights, in exchange for a few painted trucks, that most RL fans seem to think are as many in number as a unicorn! (btw I did see the Broncos oneon the M6 last Wednesday)

    Ref's are all different, they are not robots. They will, no matter how much you train them have a different perception of incidents. Ref's will even form different opinions of players, I remember Ganson sinbinning Tomkins for allegedly asking if he was penalising Wigan as Saints had lost/were losing.

    Refs have a thankless job, there will always be 50% of the fans they upset, sometimes 100% and one thing Rugby has over a lot of other sports is respect for the officials, we should give them the support they need and in the context of the pain felt in the Millward family this week we must remember it's only a game.

  • Comment number 2.

    On the wider issue of punishing players for foul play, the current set-up of either sending off or putting on report has largely been a failure ever since its inception, with refs all too often taking the cop-out route of putting bouts of serious foul play on report. This means that any actual sendings off are a shock to fans, who rightly bemoan inconsistency.

    And if a player placed on report is subsequently banned for his offence, the team who were the 'victim' of the foul play (perhaps losing a player to injury) do not receive the benefit of the player's ban, rather the team(s) who the banned player's club play next are the beneficiaries.

    IMO, the RFL should bite the bullet, accept that the notion of 'on report' is allowing refs to avoid sending a player off, and implement a half-way punishment of a yellow card and sin-binning for moderate foul play. As in football, if a player collects two yellow cards, they're off.

    Similarly, an offence sufficiently serious would still generate a straight red card.

  • Comment number 3.

    SL should definite introduce video technology at every game as done so in the NRL. Currently it is unfair to have this technology solely at televised matches. The RFL should force the clubs to stop penny-pinching and use some of the increased revenue from the new SKY deal to install video tecnology at every ground on a permanent basis.

  • Comment number 4.

    First all my condolences to the Millward family, very sad.

    On to the topic. Even if there is video replay, whether the ref uses it is another issue altogether. So the decision make is still the ref, it's just another tool for him tio use to get the decision right. And getting the decision right is his and ONLY his purpose in the whole game, to adjudicate, to judge right from wrong, to be the arbitrator.

    Too many times the ref feels he must be the most important person on the field and dominate the game. A good ref is absent from the game and both sets of players feel well done by.

    Case in point Huddersfield v Warrington. The ref does not use it in 2 instances, the high hit on Briers which would surely have proved a staright red and the try by Monaghan with a dubious forward pass from Westwood (God knows why he didn't just flop over the line himeself BTW). I am wires fan.

    The irony of the hit on Briers was the ref and his assistant debated on the issue for donkeys.....which took more time that a video review we saw on Sky 17 times ! Your on report for a high tackle......cop out decision as he was stood 15 feet away with a clear line of sight.

  • Comment number 5.

    In this day and age it with technology advances it would only take 2 refs in 1 location to make every decision. Seems a no brainer and nowhere near 250k a year.

  • Comment number 6.

    I love George Riley, but i thought u was ginger?

  • Comment number 7.

    £250, 000 to implement at every game?? - Unbelievable figure. And to think some people here want clubs to foot the bill for this!! Why should clubs pay when increased Sky money is compensating the loss of sponsorship money of the league due to the RFL's poor negotiating skills.

  • Comment number 8.

    1/4 of a million to run video tech at every game? is this every year or a one off outlay?
    If its a one off, then get it spent. I agree we need a level playing field at every match.

  • Comment number 9.

    Firstly I'd like to add my condolences to the Millward family.

    Secondly video referees are called at the referees discretion and I see nothing to suggest Ganson would have referred the controversial Hull try in Round 1 to the video ref, when his own touch judge looked to disagree with him but he seemed to give it without consulting him.

    As for Moas challenge the funniest bit for me was him asking "what's that for?" to Silverwood after the red card. Classic!

  • Comment number 10.

    It isn't £250,000 a match; it's to have the video ref at every game for every club!

    Post No. 7, the RFL haven't lost out on any money on the Stobart deal. The Stobart deal has allowed the RFL to bring in other sponsors e.g. Heinz, Elonex etc, which is bringing the cash to the table. The Engage sponsorship didn't allow this and neither would the Betfair deal. So the RFL are not only getting a proper cash sponsorship deal through companies like Heinz but also a free advertising campaign through Stobart to increase the profile of the sport around the country. This was also confirmed on the Five Live programme last night. It's a great deal all around and the RFL should be applauded!

  • Comment number 11.

    You were rightly lambasted, George. The attitude towards high-tackles, as evidenced by you, many prominent pundits and journalists, is everything that’s wrong with the British game.

    Rugby League in the UK is being plagued by the same sensationalism and reactionary irrationalism that’s prominent in Football and Rugby Union. This was all too clear in the recent Four Nations, when every marginal decision that went against England was responded to by a chorus of outraged, offended English fans. Even on game-day the atmosphere is often unacceptably hostile, more akin to something you’d hear on football terraces. I’m not going to cite past examples because I know my position in itself is going to ruffle feathers, without pinpointing specific fans and incidents.

    However, I will reflect on the Sam Moa hit over the weekend, and argue that the red card and ban are nonsense.

    To start off I want to propose an alternate outcome to the hit, two hypotheticals with the scenarios as follows: (1) Moa makes the same hit and Rinaldi falls to the floor, gets up and plays the ball and (2) Moa goes for the same hit and is himself knocked out, with Rinaldi going over the top of him. It’s my contention in both these hypothetical’s that not only does Moa avoid a red card, but the referee doesn’t even blow a penalty.

    I use both these imaginary scenarios to demonstrate that the tackle itself wasn’t that bad. The reason Silverwood gave Moa his marching orders, the reason commentators backed the call and the reason fans and pundits are still supporting the decision is because of one thing, the outcome of the hit. The problem with forming opinions and making decisions based upon the outcome of an incident rather than the action is that, well, it’s downright foolish.

    I'm reminded of the ridiculous ban of Manu Tuilagi last year in Rugby Union. He was banned for 5 games for having a fight with Chris Ashton. Why 5 weeks? Because he threw some pearlers. He did nothing more extreme than any other player in a Rugby fight, his only crime was being a better fighter than Chris Ashton. If he threw 3 nothing punches he'd have gotten maybe 2 weeks, but because he's a powerful lad he's banned because of the outcome of his punches, not the action itself.

    Sam Moa received a red card not because his shoulder came into contact with Rinaldi’s face; instead he received the red because Rinaldi ended up unconscious – No other reason.

    This sort of decision making is problematic, because you in effect blow your whistle at random. Every second hit-up – anyone who’s played the game will back me up on this – will see you catch an arm, shoulder or chest in your face. Every game there’s at least 100 tackles that are by-way of the rule book absolutely illegal, so what sets apart the Moa tackle to any other? Rinaldi didn’t get up, that’s the difference.

    It seems that this reality is escaping much of the British Isles, because anyone who’s honest with themselves (Broncos fans too) will see that the Moa hit was marginal, at best.

    Rugby League in Britain is getting soft, and don’t tell me it isn’t because it clearly is. 3 years ago Ryan Bailey knocked Maurie Fa’asavalu unconscious in a remarkably similar hit, and everyone hailed it as a great tackle, save for St Helens fans. What’s happened between now and that time? I’m not sure, but I fancy there’s a conspiracy at work here, as it seems like there’s a conscious effort on behalf of the RFL, Sky and other forms of Rugby League media to manipulate the culture of the game and soften it up, probably with the intention of making it more broadcast and by extension advertiser friendly. Or maybe it’s just a sad indication of the PC culture in Britain, and the death of violence in sport is nearing.

    Perhaps more distressing is that this softening of the game isn’t going to stop at 50-50 high shots; it plans to go much further. The intention seems to be to ultimately removed shoulder charges from the game.

    Stevo on numerous occasions has called for the shoulder charge to be banned from the great game of Rugby League, and Eddie is of the same opinion, judging from the Hull – London game. When Moa made the hit, the commentators began talking about the legality of shoulder charges in relation to Rugby Union – you’re welcome to find the footage on a certain video sharing website – and Brian and Steve were basically saying for viewers that the shoulder charge is legal in League, unlike Union. Eddie interjected and stated, “Looking at this, there’s a case for saying that you can’t hit them with the shoulder”.

    I apologise for going off on a tangent and I expect most of you think me as barking mad, but this seriously grates me. I’m an NRL man and they have it so much better. In Australia and NZ the pundits would praise the Moa hit as one of the best of the season, they’d be media uproar if a red card was given. The common sense approach of judging tackles on the action rather than the outcome is something that, rather unfortunately, seems to have been lost in Britain.

    Clearly I’m out of touch, though. As it seems that reactions and punishment being decided by the outcome of a high-shot is seen as perfectly normal.

  • Comment number 12.

    Just to summarise my argument, in case it isn't clear what I was getting at. What I'm saying at a basic level is that Silverwood wouldn't have given a red if Rinaldi hit the deck, got up and played the ball. Silverwood and many fans I'm sure believe the correct decision of made, but if Rinaldi wasn't concussed then we wouldn't be talking about the incident, because there would have been no card, would there?

  • Comment number 13.

    If Silverwood was consistent and we did referee based on the rule book - ie, every time a player makes contact with the head they're put on report, red carded or a penalty is blown - we'd end every game with 34 men on report and a few red cards, and it would be barely distinguishable from American football, save for the lack of helmets and melanin.

    These refs should either play to the rule book or shut up and stop talking about the rule book when they make daft calls.

  • Comment number 14.

    Another good blog, George, thanks.

    Like everyone else in the sport, I too would like to extend my deepest sympathies to Ian Millward and his family after the sudden loss of Robbie. Unlike Wigan fans, we Saints fans have very fond memories of Ian and Robbie, who would often sit side by side during a match. It's a very real tragedy and I hope the family find strength and peace during this horrible time.

    Secondly, I would like to say how much I enjoyed 5 Live's hour long rugby league programme on Thursday. It was everything a rugby league programme should be. Although I was unfamiliar with the anchor, he was very good, as were the guests and the phone interviews. There was a wide and interesting selection of topics discussed and the comments were intelligent, knowledgeable and articulately expressed. Very refreshing and I hope the BBC will do another one at some point in the future. When the BBC do get the bit between their teeth they do a really good job.

    As for the matter in hand. Firstly, although I love big hits, I'm not very keen on the shoulder charge. I've seen two in recent years that have had significant impacts on Saints players: the hit by Bailey on Maurie Fa'asavalu's face, which went entirely unpunished (in spite of it knocking him out cold momentarily and making his face bleed profusely), and the one to Gary Wheeler's shoulder which resulted in an absence from the game from Good Friday to about three weeks to the end of the season in 2011. I don't think there is any place for a type of tackle that is capable of causing that degree of injury. Yes, injury is part and parcel of any contact sport but on both occasions the injury was as a direct result of a specific kind of tackle, which is brutal in its force and entirely unnecessary within the game.

    Following on from what was said on the 5 Live RL show, I would be interested in hearing the feedback from players on this subject, via League 13, as it is their bodies (and lives in the case of head injury) that are put on the line here. Whether the shoulder charge is fun to watch or not (and actually when it hits somebody's head it isn't fun to watch), this is one of those occasions when I think the players should decide as to whether it should continue to be legal. Personally, on balance, I don't think it should be, even though I love watching Sia Soliola when he gets one right! (As opposed to when he completely misses his target)

    So far as referees are concerned, I rather think Cummings was making excuses for ongoing problems with refereeing. Sure, there is going to be some difference between one referee and another when it comes to the more subtle elements of the game. For instance: Was that really a forward pass? (It may depend on where the ref is standing at the time as to his perception) Was that ball reefed or dropped? (Again, the decision may decide on the referee's angle) However, when somebody hits somebody else in the head then that is undeniable. There can be no issue of interpretation there as the head clearly goes back, whiplash stylee. In both cases last weekend there was obvious contact with the head. Given that head high tackles are illegal, it is therefore automatic that the shoulder charge to the head is illegal. What was different in that instance was that one referee had the balls to bring out the red card (the known punishment for the offence) and the other did not. That isn't interpretation; that is about discipline of the referee. It is possible, of course, that the reason Silverwood brought out his red card but Bentham did not was that Cummings had intervened in the interim. I sincerely hope that from now on in, if the shoulder charge is to remain legal, ANY charge to the head (regardless of whether intentional or accidental) should be an immediate red with a further one match absence at least. Players' lives should not be put at risk any more than they are in the natural course of a game. The head of a player should be completely and totally untouchable.

  • Comment number 15.

    BorthwicksNose - are you any good on twitter?!
    RoyaltyinTheChampionship - yep my favourite bit too
    weby72 - I agree, completely understand the introduction of 'on report' and it has been good in several instances but more often than not now it is a safety net for officials.

  • Comment number 16.

    I thoroughly enjoyed the RL show on Five Live also the other night. However, all news sources seem to have missed the biggest news of the week that Hemel Stags have been introduced into Championship One in 2013. With Northampton already introduced to the division in 2013 and with a further two other sides to be included (hopefully Bristol and Coventry), RL is continuing to grow and expand. With the RFL stating participation levels have increased to over 100,000, increased attendances at both grounds and on TV, plus the huge SKY deal, RL is developing really well in the UK. Roll on the World Cup in 2013!

  • Comment number 17.

    There is no way that a shoulder charge should be legal. It takes no skill and is a dangerous cowardly way of tackling. It discourages our more skillful players as they know that there is a brute waiting to step in to clean them out with the hardest part of the body.

    A bit hit is a wonderful thing to see, arms wrapped around the waist, shoulder into the player, skillful and much less dangerous.

    Also, going on report is a referees way of saying 'not for me to deal with.' I have recently, in a moment of ridiculousness, spent an our or so watching State of Origin brawls. The amount of them where the referee has watched a 2 minute brawl only to put it all on report is ludicrous, players are cited anyway!

  • Comment number 18.

    "....he was not convinced it would enhance the decision-making quality of the officials he already had in place to merit the financial outlay."

    "And what can be better than getting the right call?"

    Saving the money, apparently.

    To be fair, though, I do have some sympathy with the first quote. A recent incident which was put forward at the time as a strong argument for having technology at matches, in a way, almost argues against it.

    I think it was in the Saints v Salford game a couple of weeks ago where a grubber kick was chased through and the player dived on to the ball over the line. The video ref was called in, and on the first three replays, there was nothing to suggest anything but a try. However, the fourth angle showed an obvious knock on before the ball was grounded.

    Is that really a point in support of technology? Of course, the right decision was reached, but only due to the good fortune of the camera being in the right place. How can we be sure in future instances like this that there wasn't a knock on, but there was no camera angle that showed it?

    Secondly, that would also suggest that if the non-televised games are to have a video referee, they're going to need essentially the same number of cameras as a televised game would, otherwise you're almost certain to miss things like this. Is that what the £250,000 covers, or is that for something like a camera on the half way line and one in each in-goal area?

    If it's not done properly at the other games, you'll end up paying a lot of money for a system that is no more effective than the officials' own judgement; not a wise investment at all.

    Finally, 2.4 video referee calls per game? I must miss the ones where there are no referrals at all, as it seems to me that something just under a half of all tries scored are referred these days. He hasn't 'accidentally' included the non-televised matches in that has he?!

  • Comment number 19.

    Didn't see the tackle so can't comment - but a bit of biff should be ok at RL games. The amount of aggression and testosterone about is bound to have an effect. And I'm with Borthwicks post about not getting like football.

    As for video refs - should be consistency - at all games in SL or none. (get SKY to pay). But they don't always get it right and I wouldn't suggest for one second that they would solve all controversy. Some people think they would - I'm thinking of Tommy Makinson's try v Leeds in the grand final as an example (knock on and in touch).

  • Comment number 20.

    Thoughts go to all the Milward family - awful for them, makes you realise whats really important, hope that the whole RL workd sends their thoughts and best wishes is some small consolation.

    Right - we're not football or Union...bring on the biff !! However, keep it legal, ban the cheap shots more heavily that the mis timed ones - and yes of course we should have video refs at every game - and SKY or Snocashbart (sorry) should pay

  • Comment number 21.

    Some old names on here.

  • Comment number 22.

    You can never get total consistency because refs stand in different areas so would see an incident in a different way.

  • Comment number 23.

    George. Next time you speak to Stuart Cummings please ask him why the video ref cannot consider forward passes but can look at onside/offside? The concept and the maths are the same. Some passes are obviously forward so the video ref could rule on those. If it is unclear then the video ref would say so, same should go for onside/offside. Benefit of the doubt.

  • Comment number 24.

    What coaches/players/fans want is a consistent approach whereby once the ref has seen the incident then they all dish out the same penalty. 'On report' should be removed from the ref's arsenal, it is not needed. The ref must make a decision there and then, if anything more needs loking at then the video panel who sit on Mondays will pick that up. On the subject of consistency, why is the disciplinary committe made up of different people every week? They will have different views on incidents so players will have varying degrees of bans for the same type of incident.

  • Comment number 25.

    Refs also need to learn the basic laws of physics. How a ball comes out of a tackle would indicate whether it was dropped or reefed. If the player with the ball has three tacklers on top of him, he cannot get up so saying that he should play the ball quicker is silly. I have noticed in recent games that the tacklers are still hoding players when they play the ball which causes the attacking player to move forward to maintain balance but the refs tell them not to step off the mark. The rules state that the tackler must release the player once tackled, why is the ref not seeing that the tackler is still in contact? These little incidents are what get most players/coaches/fans annoyed. Royce Simmons was certainly unhappy last night, and said so!! Many mistrust closed societies and the refs appear to be just that. I think an ex-player and a fan or two should assess the games along with Stuart Cummings (they review all ref performances each week). They would learn from each other.


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