Changing nature of match officials
The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official view of the Queensland Rugby League.
“Your scientists were so preoccupied with whether or not they could, they didn't stop to think if they should.”
That line from Jeff Goldblum in Jurassic Park about the decision to reintroduce dinosaurs to the world is one of my all-time favourite movie quotes and its sentiment I have sampled many times over the past 20 years, most recently with regards to the introduction of technology to sport.
As video technology became more and more available, we explored ways in which to use it and assumed that by its use we could get all officiating 100% correct and therefore make sport an even richer experience.
But have we? Yes there are howlers that have been eliminated from almost all televised sport, but at what cost? Have we tampered with sport’s very essence in search of a perfection that simply doesn’t exist?
The Oxford Dictionary defines ‘sport’ as “an activity involving physical exertion and skill in which an individual or team competes against another or others for entertainment”. It's not supposed to be perfect; its literal purpose is to entertain.
This year in the Intrust Super Cup we have witnessed the introduction of the two-referees system for the Channel 9 televised match of the round, going part way to falling in line with what happens across all eight games in the NRL each week.
For Queensland-based referees with aspirations of officiating at the highest level exposure to working in a two-person system can only be beneficial for their careers and help them in their transition to the NRL should they be invited to take that next step.
But as I watched Sunday's game between Souths Logan and Ipswich, I again questioned whether we were doing the right thing by the game.
To me, a large part of what makes the Intrust Super Cup so endearing to fans and entertaining to watch is that it harks back to the days of the 1980s and 1990s when teams had their own unique styles and decisions were left to one official with a whistle.
In my view it is its imperfections that make the Intrust Super Cup so perfect.
Players, referees and even coaches make mistakes, but at the end of 80 minutes everyone shakes hands and we look forward to next week.
Even though a subsequent review cleared the try, I had no doubt in my mind that Marmin Barba bounced the ball as he crossed in the left-hand corner to score his second try against the Magpies last Sunday. But if the referee had simply pointed to the spot, blew his whistle and awarded the try we all – including me – would have moved on.
But instead he sent the decision upstairs as a “no try” ruling and after review, had the video referee confirm the on-field decision and award a try. Confused? So was I. It was like watching my Dad trying to pre-program channels in the VCR we bought when I was a kid. We loved the idea of this new technology, we just weren't exactly sure how best to use it.
The referee review found that the video ref in question simply got his wording mixed up in that instance which if anything reinforces the need for use of such technology wherever possible and by as many officials as possible so that we become more fluent in its application.
The great Roy Masters – in my opinion the greatest at articulating rugby league's nuances in written word – opined this week in the Sydney Morning Herald that the introduction of the NRL Bunker (which I happen to think is a great innovation) could make referees themselves an “endangered species”.
He speaks of the May Test match between Australia and New Zealand – which will be officiated by one referee under international rules – as a test case for how one sole on-field official can work effectively with the eyes upstairs.
We can’t and won’t go backwards when it comes to technology, but I sincerely hope that in our search for perfection we don't lose sight of what made this the greatest game of all in the first place.
A former editor of Big League, Tony Webeck is the Chief Queensland Correspondent for NRL.com.