Friday, July 19

Why the NRL needs you to be angry at referees

I read a headline that caught my eye on Monday, ‘Jack Wighton fined for accusing the referee of “trying hard” to help the Tigers win.’

I watched this game and in all seriousness, I couldn’t believe some of the calls against the Tigers, including a horror forward pass by Wighton himself that the Raiders scored from and likely contributed to them winning a tight match. The Raiders had a few marginal decisions go against them, but I’d love to hear Wighton’s logic. However, it got me thinking how every coach, captain, fanbase, and occasional CEO, feels as though they are consistently hard done by the NRL’s match officiating.

Watching the Women’s Football World Cup, I couldn’t believe the technology that was on offer to capture offside rulings, which could easily be deployed to identify forward passes that lead to a try in the NRL. It’s been baffling to me why the NRL won’t utilise this software, but then it dawned on me…. It’s not in their best interests.

Let me explain.

Nothing gets fanbases more fired up than perceived injustice against their team. If social media has taught us anything, it’s that anger and frustration fuel clicks and engagement far more than love and acceptance. So, there’s nothing better to stir debate and engagement, than controversy. Particularly any controversy that can leave fanbases feeling aggrieved by those in put in charge to oversee fairness. And the NRL would have to pay for this technology. So, you’re basically saying to the NRL – pay money for technology that will decrease fan engagement and headlines for the sport. That is not going to happen anytime soon.

If refereeing decisions were left to an AI ref, fans and coaches would be calling foul, because so often the rules are open to interpretation, and finding consistency across several unique situations and personalities is pretty much impossible.

And yet, next season will present the toughest the NRL has ever produced and you can bet your ass the decision-making from officials comes under even higher scrutiny than ever before.

For the first time in a while, it’s hard to see any club firing their coach next season, and there’s a wealth of experience returning to help promote perennial strugglers like St George (Shane Flannagan) and the Titans (Des Hasler). Other teams like the Dolphins and Bulldogs have continued to strengthen their stocks and will benefit from another off-season under their respective coaches.

Next season is going to be brutal. The Warriors will likely have to play Penrith, Broncos and Storm twice. Any team that can reduce travel will benefit from reduced injuries. The Broncos had very few injuries this season – and a large part of that comes down to almost no travel in the first 3 months of the season. If Payne Haas, Herbie Farnsworth, Reece Walsh, and Billy Walters had been out for 3 months, I’m not so sure the Broncos would be where they are on the table. The Broncos had the very fortunate situation of being able to build fluency and consistency by playing pretty much the same team week in and week out for the first third of the season – and then some.

The Warriors, Bulldogs, and Roosters, on the other hand, had the worst run of injuries. Throw in the Warriors travel on top of this, and it makes their achievements this season even more astonishing.

This weekend they travel to the Waikato for what is weirdly, an away game. And that’s because the Tigers struggled to book a stadium due to the congestion created by the Women’s Football World Cup. So, they decided to take the opportunity to repay the Warriors for their sacrifices by bringing a game to NZ.

When the Tigers take the field on Saturday, I really hope the crowd shows their appreciation by giving them a standing ovation before and after the game, and wouldn’t it be great to see some of the Warriors players who feel comfortable, performing a haka for the Tigers at the end of the game, to express their gratitude.

However it plays out, I really hope the Tigers players and fans are made to feel welcome and the game is played in a better spirit than the Titans game was. David Fifita was more than lucky to get away with only a little bitch slap from Marata Niukore. Had that gone further, I’m pretty sure Fifita would have joined Charnze for an HIA assessment.