Saturday, June 22

Why the Warriors need an Aussie hero, a champion to advocate against their injustices

The Warriors were well beaten on the weekend, and you can make an argument they didn’t convert their chances against a rock-solid Roosters defense, so the match officials had little to no bearing on the ultimate result. 

However, it does appear new rules have been established; the bunker now firmly believes that when viewing replays to check knock-ons, all hands playing at a ball belong to a Warriors player, it’s open season on shoulder charges against Warriors players, no checks are required for dubious 40/20s, and it’s optional to call blatant knock-ons against opposing teams. Oh, and in case you haven’t noticed, referees should only warn opposing players for not being straight at marker without penalising them but can penalise Warriors players for not being straight at marker without warning, even if they are straight. Okay, up to speed with the new rules? Excellent. 

While the match officials weren’t to blame for the overall loss in this instance, watching some of their decisions is like having video evidence of someone beating you up and the cops doing nothing about it. There are not many things as frustrating as your team getting a raw deal from match officials, let alone losing a game because of poor reffing decisions. It leaves you disheartened and leads to resentment for the game and everyone in charge of running it. We honestly don’t mind if our team is beaten fairly, (so long as they put up a fight). What I can’t stomach is when my team puts up a fight yet loses the game because a referee is inconsistent or makes poor decisions that influence the outcome. 

Now I fully appreciate there will be many out there foaming at the mouth over the idea of anyone using the referees as an excuse. However, it’s not an excuse, mate. It’s a valid and logical explanation for how the outcome of a game being swung through shifts in momentum created by one person in charge of enforcing the rules and regulations, and who for whatever reason – doesn’t. We all understand why coach Webster can’t voice his honest feelings on the matter and is choosing to focus on the things he can control. He can’t even consult with the refs and just has to suck it up. Fat load of good expressing his opinion on the issue will do for him or his players.  

But it doesn’t mean someone else can’t. 

Let me explain.

The Anzac Day game followed closely by the Roosters was fantastic evidence that unconscious bias plays a part in sport, particularly the NRL in which the Warriors suffer greater bias because the match officials aren’t from the same tribe. 

Looking around at other NRL clubs, I wondered if any other sides receive the same treatment from the match officials as consistently as the Warriors. About the only one that comes close is Canberra, who outside of the Fox sponsored Melbourne Storm, are the only other Aussie side based outside of Queensland and NSW. So that makes sense, although one can’t help wondering if it’s because most people think Ricky Stuart is a dickhead and enjoy seeing him lose his shit. 

It’s important to remind ourselves what unconscious bias actually is. It’s when we make judgments or decisions based on your prior experience, personal assumptions or interpretations, and are not aware that you are doing it. That’s the important part:

You don’t realise you’re doing it. 

Until someone calls you on it and you’re forced to self-reflect. But it often needs to be by someone you’re prepared to listen to. So, who are the match officials and NRL administrators prepared to listen to?  Warriors fans, players, and coaches? 

Yeah right. 

Often the only person that people with unconscious bias are often prepared to listen to is one of their own. It shouldn’t go unnoticed that the Warriors have only tasted their two first grand final appearances under Australian coaches. But they didn’t win – not even close in those two games. 

That’s not to say that having an Australian coach is the key to success – but it can’t hurt. No, the voice of reason can’t come from someone who will benefit from the Warriors success. They can’t have skin in the game or be closely associated with the club.

So, what if the Warriors had a champion advocating for them who had little to no links to the club? An Aussie mate who decided to put their full weight and voice behind the Warriors ill-treatment. All we’ve seen so far is the likes of Andrew Johns offering pity. Sorry Andrew, but while we all admired your ability during your playing days and are happy to listen to your expert opinion about tactics, no one can say with a straight face that they fully respect the worldly views of a guy that claims he barely remembers most of his hey-day because he was a drug addict.  No, the Warriors need someone revered to stand up for them, but someone that Aussies genuinely respect the broader opinion of and has maintained their integrity. So obviously not Willie Mason then. It needs to be someone in a proxy-club ambassador type role who will draw attention to the poor reffing and average treatment of the Warriors by the NRL administration. Gus Gould was somewhat set up to be that person. Maybe it was Covid that put an end to that, or maybe he realised it was mission impossible.

But what if, as an example, Billy Slater or Braith Anasta decided to use their platforms to promote the ongoing injustices the Warriors face? I’m not holding my breath on Anasta. You’d be lucky to hear the word ‘Warriors’ most nights, on NRL 360. What if one of those guys or the likes of Cameron Smith proclaimed, “they’re one of us.”? 

Because until referees in the NRL view the Warriors as such, nothing will change, and the Warriors will continue to endure an ongoing unconscious bias that will haunt them and any chance they have to make the top 8 each season let alone win a grand final. 

The Warriors need a champion. 

They’re holding out for a hero. A mate to take their side. But who? Who has the moral fibre and integrity to be heard? But more importantly, the guts to stand up.