The more Rugby League gets right, the more it is guaranteed to get wrong, writes Greg Cary.
As is the case in the wider society, one of the reasons for short-term problems in Rugby League and other sports is the search for longer term solutions.
Indeed, you could argue that they try a little too hard — that there’s too much change for change’s sake. The wonderful writer Jim Harrison reckons that one of the sad triumphs of the age has been the victory of process over content and he could be right. Too many businesses are worrying more about how to do things rather than the thing itself.
The NRL, for instance, has at least three big issues to resolve: the on-going problem with refereeing mistakes, what to do about the interchange and how to deal with concussed players.
Curiously, the refereeing problem is a direct result of trying to resolve the refereeing problem. By introducing more refs and even more off-field assistance all we have done is placed more focus on the refs and their (often wrong) decisions. You could call it the technology paradox - the more you attempt to get things right, the more you are almost guaranteed to get things wrong.
The answer, in part, is to have fewer refs and no slow motion replays. Life, after all, is lived at full speed. Scientists have long found that simply observing things can change the structural reality of that being observed. Referees are now so coached, analysed and criticised that their decision making is no longer instinctive. They are, understandably enough, second guessing themselves. They have become a dominating force that officials should never be.
Almost every try results in replays on the big screen and minute examination from every angle. As a result the decision becomes the issue, not the try, and controversy is guaranteed.
Debate also surrounds the interchange with the prospect of 10 replacements being reduced to eight or even six. This will re-balance things between bigger and smaller players and allow the fleet of foot an advantage when the big boppers get tired. It will also make the game a bit safer if players aren’t continually being hammered by fresh opponents.
Player well-being is also the point of the (still abused) concussion laws.
Canterbury Captain James Graham says it should be his choice whether to stay off or go back on. Wrong. If concussed, you are in no position to make an informed choice and the game has a duty of care to protect you — even from yourself.
Graham, who once infamously snacked on Billy Slater’s ear, is serving a suspension after his appalling behaviour in the game against Souths. The fans, taking their cue from the skipper, attacked the officials as they left the field.
Coach Des Hasler says that none of this is reflective of the club in general. He must be kidding. Graham defended his players aggressively (and incorrectly) after their actions led Isaac Luke to leave the field. He then clumsily and illegally came into contact with Adam Reynolds’ legs which will put the Souths half out for several months and, to cap a truly ugly performance, argued violently with the referee when penalised. He showed his ignorance of the laws and contempt for authority. Their half-hearted and insincere apologies were a further embarrassment. Not a week passes that Hasler doesn’t deride referees. It has a cumulative, corrosive impact.
Those supporters who attacked the officials are responsible for their actions but there can be no doubt the anger, disrespect of the referee and ill-discipline on field had an impact in the stands. And, sadly, on the thousands of children watching.
Graham’s late hit on Reynolds came a few weeks after the League missed an opportunity to send a strong message after several late shots on Johnathan Thurston. At the time, many leading figures said there had been an over-reaction.
Tell Adam Reynolds.