This article was first written and published for the Roar.
Over the State of Origin period, the quality of rugby league certainly takes a back seat.
But over the last two weekends we’ve all been reminded how glorious rugby league can be due to the quality of the footy that’s been played.
On Saturday night we saw the Manly Sea Eagles inflict a loss on the Melbourne Storm by a single point in golden point.
That’s only the Storm’s third loss of the season and places the Sea Eagles well within striking distance of the top four.
Then there’s the Penrith Panthers, who heading into Round 10 of the competition looked well and truly out but now find themselves in the top eight still, despite receiving a reality check on Sunday afternoon from competition heavyweights the Canberra Raiders.
But if I’m completely honest, for me this weekend has been soured by the questioning and criticism of our officials.
This ‘ref’s fault’ culture that prevails amongst rugby league fans is by far and away the biggest problem in our game and makes rugby league fans look petulant.
Footy fans don’t seem to be content unless they are complaining about something and this weekend, it was about our officials.
Let’s go back to Friday night where Kalyn Ponga was sent to the sin bin for what, at the time, was deemed a shoulder charge on Michael Chee-Kam.
It astounds me that when that decision was made, people were more concerned about Ponga spending two minutes in the sin-bin than Chee-Kam, who was left spasming on the ground.
I concede that in the aftermath, very few thought it was a sin bin. Plenty thought it was at least a penalty. But the footy media certainly debated it for hours afterward.
Ponga showed plenty of class after the game. When he was interviewed and asked about the incident, he refused to play along and simply said “I don’t care [if it was a shoulder charge or not]. I just hope he’s ok.”
And isn’t that the main thing?
The second incident that I want to focus on came in the game between the Parramatta Eels and the New Zealand Warriors where, with only a few minutes left, the Warriors were denied a try because Roger Tuivasa-Sheck was deemed to have thrown a forward pass.
In my view, the pass was forward. Plenty may accuse me of bias given that I am a Parramatta Eels supporter. But there were plenty on social media who agreed with me. And plenty who didn’t, which simply reflects what the call was – a 50/50 call that the referee made a decision on.
Footy fans are a funny lot – we want a fast game and for officials to back themselves and make a decision. But when they make a decision that we don’t like or that we think is wrong, that referee never hears the end of it.
To compound the issue, we had the national broadcast partner of the NRL, Fox League running polls to determine whether the officials got the call right or wrong.
In my view, the national broadcaster should aim for much more than clickbait and contributing to that culture where we blame the officials for a team winning or losing a game.
A betting company based in New Zealand even went so far as to refund all head to head bets on the Warriors for that game… for what was a 50/50 decision.
That call is now being blamed for costing the Warriors their season (along with the 9-2 penalty count).
You know what it might be more appropriate to blame? The Warriors’ inconsistency through the year. Or their ill-discipline. Or even the decision to let Shaun Johnson test the market last year.
But instead, we’ve chosen to zero in on the referees.
I would go so far as to say that this ref’s fault culture does not exist in other sports to the same extent that it does in rugby league.
Recently in the Women’s Ashes, we saw Rachael Haynes get dismissed LBW when she sat was just 13 runs away from her maiden Test century. The Women’s Ashes does not feature DRS because a decision was made that it was too costly.
Later replays showed that Haynes was not out. None of the headlines the next day focused on that – but instead chose to focus on the rest of the day’s play.
I wish rugby league were more like this.
The sooner we accept that our referees are human and will make errors, the happier we will be as fans. And additionally, maybe we don’t call for someone’s head when they have made a 50/50 decision that could legitimately go either way.
So let’s get back to focusing on the footy, because the best part of the season is yet to come.