Respect for NRL referees? Let’s start with the role of media in making every decision

There is no sport in Australia that has more unhealthy relationships with referees than the Rugby League.

The disrespect and ridicule that is inflicted on our referees every week is unjust and completely unacceptable. So can this attitude turn around?

This week, I read an article by Phil Rothfield that revealed that two NRL referees had received death threats this season after their performances in the games. Following this, ARLC Chair Peter V’landys appealed to the rugby league family to “back off”.

It will take us longer than V’landys to differentiate this attitude.

First, the threat of death – be it a player, referee or any other member of the rugby league family – is completely inappropriate. Threats of this nature have become more common due to the increasing use of social media and the ability of people behind the keyboard to be faceless, and this is not true.

I also wonder if gambling and people desperately want their multiples to succeed have a role to play or whether people are taking their performance on the supercoach a little more seriously.

There is no such threat in the rugby league or anywhere else.

But back to the subject at hand. I always find it interesting when the media publishes articles about respecting referees because, in my view, the media has played an important role in taking fans to a stage where every decision is called into question.

Referee Ashley Klein talks to rooster Joseph Manu after receiving a high tackle from Rabitos' Lateral Mitchell.

(Photo by Chris Hyde / Getty Images)

After each single round of footy, without fail, you’ll see some media outlets posting a social media post that looks something like this: ? Or “The consequences of last night’s conflict were intense”.

We have created a culture where every single referee’s decision is scrutinized and kept under the spotlight. There is always a “huge negligence” or a “debate”.

Even when the call is 50/50 their big drama seems to be beaten up and an inability to understand what went wrong.

No one cheers for the referees. We all have our football teams that we support, but the referees are a completely different group.

When one of our players makes a mistake, we are quick to forgive. It is very rare that you see an article that suggests that Mitch Moses or Ryan Papenhuizen paid for their respective teams to win, but we often see those articles in the case of referees.

Referees are also used as scapegoats by clubs, coaches and players, when perhaps their focus should be a little more internal.

SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA - JULY 04: Referee Adam G talks to Tigers' Josh Reynolds during the Round Eight NRL match between the West Tigers and Penrith Panthers at the Banquest Stadium in Sydney, Australia on July 04, 2020.  (Photo by Mark Colby / Getty Images)

(Photo by Mark Colby / Getty Images)

It also doesn’t help when many members of the media don’t seem to know the rules themselves. These are the people whose fans are looking for the explanation and better understanding of the game When you blow them up because a rule has been applied in such a way that “it wasn’t like it was in the old days” it continues the description that referees are incompetent and can’t do their job.

Although compatible with many other problems in the rugby league, we do not know what we want.

Only two of the two on-field referees were decided by V’landys and ARLC two years ago.
Some of you may think that this decision was taken very quickly. Was it just a cost-saving measure? Will this lead to a more free flowing rugby league?

Now, there seems to be a call to return to the two-person model, because surprise, surprise, things are being missed (as if reducing the number of eyes on the field would not be exactly the result).

We want a lack of free-flowing rugby league and stops, but we want the referees to fix it all the time.
These two things cannot happen at the same time.

I often talk about the importance of our players – the game is not played without them. But equally, the game is not without referees.

And although thousands of their young men and women are interested in playing in the NRL and NRLW, I don’t think that’s true when it comes to joining the position of referee. The amount of criticism they face, why in the world would you extend a hand to that role?

We all have a role to play in changing attitudes towards referees. But the media must take the lead and focus on educating fans about the rules and the game, rather than trying to generate clicks through social media posts, citing constant debate.

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