Johnathan Thurston reacts to referee Shayne Hayne's explanation of a controversial call against Manly
Photo: Getty Images
NRL referees' coaches Bill Harrigan and Stuart Raper must be sacked at the end of the season, if not immediately.
Season 2012 has showcased some of the worst decisions by match officials ever seen, and they've happened under the watch of Harrigan and Raper.
The litany of mistakes came to a crescendo with the mother of all blunders that occurred in last Friday night's semi-final between Manly and North Queensland.
With the Sea Eagles leading by four points with 17 minutes to play, video referees Paul Simpkins and Steve Clark awarded a try to Manly's Michael Oldfield, despite Kieran Foran clearly knocking on in the lead-up. The conversion gave the Sea Eagles a nearly unassailable 10-point advantage in what had been a tightly-fought finals match.
Simpkins and Clark's call may well have cost the Cowboys a spot in the preliminary final, and ultimately a premiership.
Watch the try that infuriated the Cowboys
Some commentators tried to play down the significance of the error by declaring Manly were the better side on the night and deserved to win regardless of the refereeing.
They may well have been the better team. But the Sea Eagles' superiority on the night doesn't make up for the fact that the Cowboys were deprived of a fair shot at victory. As most sports fans know painfully well, the better team doesn't always win.
The wrongly awarded Oldfield try changed the complexion of the game. Had the score remained 16-12, the Cowboys were still within a converted try and a realistic shot at victory. The decision would have been a horrible one in any week of the season, but the consequences it had on the fate of a genuine premiership contender made it considerably worse.
It's not the only big game in 2012 in which video referees' errors have proved costly to teams. Who could forget the try awarded to Queensland's Greg Inglis in Origin I, as the Maroons led 12-10 with eight minutes remaining?
It was ruled that Robbie Farah had knocked the ball from Inglis's grasp with his foot, and hence Inglis was allowed to continue and score the try.
Watch Inglis's controversial try in Origin I
Regardless of whether Farah deliberately tried to kick the ball out of Inglis's hands, whatever happened to the onus being on the player in possession to hold the ball securely?
That contentious try was the killer blow delivered by Queensland, who went on to win the match 18-10.
Other notable blunders that hurt teams dearly included the try awarded to Queensland's Justin Hodges in Origin III, despite what looked to be an obstruction play. The Maroons won the decider by a single point.
A four-pointer scored by Canterbury against the Wests Tigers in round 24 should have been disallowed for the same reason. The Tigers, who lost that match 23-22, finished two competition points outside the top eight.
To the dismay of fans, common sense has gone out the window under Harrigan and Raper's tenure, to be replaced by rulings on grey areas that are too often decided by technicalities.
When the pair began as referees' bosses at the start of 2011, they made some impressive changes. Although they might seem minor, the directives to clamp down on teams running in front of the kicker on restarts and kickers dropping the ball in front of their own goal-line from line drop-outs have improved the game.
However, it has become apparent that the judgement of match officials has been clouded by too much information. A lack of clarity when assessing line-ball decisions has made their job too difficult, leading to a series of mistakes and a complete loss of confidence.
The solution? Video referees must take the spirit of the game into consideration when making decisions. If it looks like a try, award it. If it feels like a try, give it. Critically, the same applies in reverse.
Should Harrigan and Raper be sacked, the replacements should give match-day referees a simpler set of directives. Intervene only if there is an obvious need to do so, and don't be afraid to rely on your gut feeling when making a call that could go either way - even if the rulebook offers the slightest opportunity to interpret an incident differently.
The views in this article are those of the author and not necessarily those of BigPond Sport.
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