Stop complaining about the refs, Ricky, and answer these questions about the Raiders

This article was first written and published for The Roar.

“I’ll be waiting for Todd [Greenberg] to ring me and to tell me what an obstruction is.”

First question – will a ‘texer’ suffice?

That statement is from Ricky Stuart’s press conference on Saturday night after the Canberra Raiders lost to the New Zealand Warriors 20-19 to start their 2018 season 0-3.

Predictable is not a word I’ve used to describe the NRL season so far, but what is becoming increasingly so are these types of press conferences from Ricky Stuart where he makes a decision to move the focus from what his team has done on the field to the officials and the interpretation of the rules.

Stuart’s comments were in relation to Junior Paulo being denied a try because of an obstruction. Had it been awarded it would have taken Canberra’s lead to 25-6.

This decision came a week after a try was awarded to Tautau Moga in similar circumstances in the Knights’ 30-28 win over the Raiders. It also came the day after Moses Mbye was awarded a try in the Bulldogs game against the Panthers after the Bunker ruled that lead runner Will Hopoate had made minimal contact with James Maloney. This decision is still under review by the referees’ boss, Bernard Sutton.

Stuart may be right in that we need greater consistency in our game about the obstruction rule. The reality is though, referees will never get every decision correct.

Stuart needs to focus on his team and should be forced to answer some serious questions about a team that has blown three significant leads in as many weeks.

Here are some facts:

The Raiders scored zero points in the last 31 minutes of their game against the Warriors.

The Raiders put the Warriors in a position where they had the opportunity for three attacking plays in the last three minutes of the game.

The Warriors’ winning field goal was off an 80-metre return. Additionally, when Shaun Johnson took the field goal, he was under no pressure at all from the Raiders defence.

In the opening three weeks of the season, the Raiders have led games by 18, eight and 12 points. They lost all of them.

The Raiders still could not get the job done against the Warriors despite New Zealand losing Adam Blair to the sin-bin, the Raiders making more line breaks, missing fewer tackles and also making fewer errors than their opponents.

Some questions need to be asked.

Canberra Raiders coach Ricky Stuart

(AAP Image/Dean Lewins)

Like why are metres so easily being made by opposition teams running toward Blake Austin and Sam Williams? How has such an obvious target in defence been allowed to remain?

What is wrong with the Raiders defence and why do they lack such game awareness? Is it a fitness problem or is there something fundamentally wrong with the defensive structures they practice at training?

Why is Jack Wighton persisted with at fullback? His attack is no longer an appropriate excuse for his positional play, which at times leaves me completely bemused and his team exceptionally vulnerable.

Why does Stuart not want to play Siliva Havilli for more minutes? He has been one of the Raiders’ most impressive players so far this season. He is physical in defence, provides real spark out of dummy half and is an exciting player to watch in attack. He is the clear option going forward for that hooker position.

But most baffling of all: Why is Aiden Sezer not playing in the halves? I feel for this young player who came from the Titans to the Raiders and has not been set up to succeed. We have not seen the best of Sezer at the Raiders and part of that is because he is constantly shifting position. The experiment with him at hooker is not working. His service out of dummy half often halts the Raiders and he seems to struggle in making the correct decision on which way to send the ball.

I doubt he will be at the Raiders much longer.

Aidan Sezer Canberra Raiders NRL Rugby League 2016

(AAP Image/Lukas Coch)

A controversial refereeing decision may have been made in relation to that obstruction call, but one favourable call is not going to be enough to turn around the fortunes of the Raiders season.

Refereeing is something that has come under immense scrutiny in the opening weeks of the competition.

Some incorrect calls have been made. For example, Bernard Sutton has come out and said that the penalty awarded against the Tigers in double golden point extra time was wrong. Ashley Klein’s decision to penalise the marker defence has been called ‘an error in judgement’. This penalty saw the Tigers lose their first game of the season. I’m certain Ivan Cleary and his men were disappointed, but that they have also already shifted focus to next week against the Parramatta Eels.

Some games have been frustrating to watch because of constant penalties. My bias as a Parramatta supporter was clear to those around me at the game on Saturday night, when it took until very late in the second half for the Eels to be awarded a penalty.

But I am a firm believer in the idea that some refereeing decisions will be in your favour and others will not. This is part of sport.

In a difficult weekend for Aussies who love sport, the scandal which has engulfed Australian cricket has once again demonstrated to me that above winning there are some very fundamental principles which go towards how we think sport should be played – principles of honesty, integrity and at all times fairly and by the rules.

One principle that I would add to that is the importance of not only learning to win with grace, but losing with it too.

Stuart has every right to be frustrated and to wear his heart on his sleeve. He clearly feels for his players and that the effort they are putting in continues to go unrewarded.

But it’s time for Ricky to put his phone down hoping for Todd to call and instead get back to work to help his team be in a position to win their first game of the season.