Dave Craven: Move towards two-referee system needs to be encouraged

The RFL are going to trial a two-referee system in Academy games later this year.
The RFL are going to trial a two-referee system in Academy games later this year.
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THEY say two heads are better than one.

More often than not, it has to be true, though I suppose it begs the obvious question – does it not all depend on whose heads we are talking about?

News that the RFL will trial a two-referee system in certain Academy games this weekend has been met, generally, by positive nods.

Of course, the wags out there will argue that when one official is so blatantly inept, throwing another in to the mix is not necessarily going to improve things.

But they are the cynics. Let’s be optimistic and serious for a moment.

Increasing the number of officials on the pitch – yes, on it, not hanging around resembling a hesitant pitch invader like those in-goal judges – can only help improve referring standards.

A problem shared is a problem halved and the like or, more precisely, a workload shared is a workload halved.

A lot goes on out on a rugby field and referees do have to be eagle-eyed. Whether it be attackers surreptitiously clamping on to defenders in order to try and win a penalty for interference, craftily poking possession from a tackle when two or more defenders are in or just general niggling in back play, it is already an arduous task.

The biggest shock is that the RFL have not followed the NRL route earlier and doubled the number of officials.

I am not normally a fan of the seemingly de rigeur rule that says Super League has to religiously follow all the rule changes our antipodean cousins make.

However, in this instance, it is one worth replicating and I am surprised it has taken nearly six years to even get to what is, admittedly, a trial stage.

The NRL introduced it in 2009 and, under their system, one referee polices the play-the-ball area while the other stands in the opponents’ defensive line to ensure they are onside.

Granted, the pessimists will counter that there are not enough good referees to marshall seven Super League fixtures on their own each weekend let alone doubling that number to two and, thereby, requiring the need to find 14 competent officials.

Nevertheless, it has to be encouraged especially given the state of the ruck in some games this season when that aspect of the sport has been reduced to glacial speeds. It also allows the referee to get closer to the action in the tackle area and tidy up any of the nefarious acts going on in there rather than being caught out 10m behind the action.

The decision to trial the system was taken following a meeting between the RFL’s laws committee and Super League head coaches after positive feedback was provided by Wigan Warriors after they experienced two referees in a friendly match against New Zealand Warriors ahead of their World Club Challenge clash with Sydney Roosters.

Referees from the Super League panel will be involved in the games where the system will be trialled and the matter will be reviewed by the laws committee at the end of the trial.

It could also help negate the ongoing offside problem, too; a second referee on the pitch will potentially allow attacking players an extra body to legally run behind rather than one of their own...

Two heads are better than one? Two problems solved in one, more like!

Ironically, however, the decision comes after Bill Harrigan, the former NRL and international referee who helped introduce the idea in 2009, publicly decreed last month that the system no longer works and it has been tinkered with so much they should revert to a solitary official.