Blues employ referee to help stop Maroons
The NSW Blues have taken an unprecedented step in an attempt to turn the State of Origin tide, employing a former referee as part of their coaching staff.
For years the Blues have complained about being on the wrong end of critical decisions and have held a view that former Maroons skipper Cameron Smith was the master of manipulation when it came to the whistleblowers.
But the retirement of Smith hasn’t stopped the Blues from bringing a referee into the ranks to assist with preparations for the opening game of the Holden State of Origin series in Melbourne next Wednesday night.
NSW coach Brad Fittler has brought in his long-time friend and former NRL referee Luke Phillips, who is also a full-time referees coach with the Penrith Panthers, to the team’s Coogee camp to give his side every chance of victory in the series opener at the MCG.
Phillips, who played with Fittler at the Sydney Roosters for four seasons during his playing career, has also been part of the coaching staff under Fittler with City Origin and with Lebanon in their historic World Cup campaign last year.
The 42-year-old former fullback has been quite vocal about his displeasure when it comes to the current refereeing structure and the way the game is being officiated, however he does have a rare insight into what referees look for and potential ways it can be exploited.
In previous Origin campaigns, both NSW and Queensland have requested meetings with the referees boss to gain an understanding of how matches will be officiated.
No doubt that will happen again this year, but NSW have taken things to a new level in 2018 as they look to combat the expected crackdown on the ruck that has been prevalent throughout the NRL season.
Phillips recently posted his frustrations over the crackdown on social media, fearing for the impact it could have on the Origin spectacle especially with the NRL reiterating its desire for Origin to be refereed in the same manner as the regular season.
"They are pinning guys who are one step offside," Phillips recently posted.
"With the pace of the game and everything that a player has going on perfection isn’t possible. Heck even a ref sometimes sets a 9 or 14 meter 10m!! They have now painted themselves into a corner with this. It will be very interesting to see what happens around Origin."
On Tuesday afternoon the NRL announced the match officials for the opening game of the series, handing Gerard Sutton and Ashley Klein the main gig for what will be the dawn of a new era considering the number of changes in both sides.
Nick Beashel and Brett Suttor will be the touch judges while Steve Chiddy and Ben Galea will be in the bunker.
Gerard Sutton has refereed the past 10 Origins, while Klein returns to the arena for the first time since 2013.
"We took into account form, consistency and experience when nominating the officiating group," referees boss Bernard Sutton said.
"Both the referees have been in excellent form over the opening rounds of the season and will take that form into the opening Origin game."
Witness Australia's greatest sporting rivalry when Origin comes to the Melbourne Cricket Ground on Wednesday, June 6. Bronze tickets available from $49 here