Dave Craven: Briefing provides better understanding of referees’ decisions

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REGULAR readers will realise I am not the biggest fan of some referees.

It is James Child who irritates me in particular as he seemingly finds fresh and new ways to frustrate the life out of players, fans and coaches alike. However, his competent performance while in charge of Huddersfield against London last Sunday should have put up the red flags for what was to follow this week.

I actually left a media briefing at the RFL feeling almost apologetic for my previous ventings, even a little sorry for officials.

Perhaps that is a tad far-fetched. Let’s just say I do have a greater understanding for the travails they must face on a weekly basis.

Match officials director Stuart Cummings and technical co-ordinator Jon Sharp were the main protagonists in an impressive presentation which attempted to enlighten assembled journalists about all the mechanics of on-field reporting, match review panel and the disciplinary committee.

Leading referee Richard Silverwood was also present and, fair play to him, for standing up and allowing some of his errors to be put under the microscope for us by his smiling bosses.

An informative couple of hours provided a rare insight into the processes involved.

Peter Charlesworth QC explained his role as chair of the disciplinary panel, amusingly adding how head coaches always insist their guy is full of remorse, continually goes to schools to teach kids about the game and can often be found helping old ladies across the street.

He did, however, give a thorough explanation of the manner in which he and two side members – drawn from ex-players including Graeme Hallas, Ikram Butt and Nathan McAvoy – came to their conclusions over the recent Rangi Chase case.

Cummings made some interesting comments about the average play-the-ball speed this year revealing that – up to Round 13 – it stands at 5.91 seconds.

In comparison, after the opening eight rounds, the NRL average is 5.64 perhaps dispelling the myth the Australian game is far quicker than Super League.

Just out of interest, St Helens boast the speediest PTB here, averaging just 5.69 seconds.

The way James Roby can exploit space around the ruck, that is no surprise. But, given Saints are sixth in the table, it does not automatically follow the fastest team is the most successful.

Castleford, meanwhile, are the lowest performers recording 6.10.

However, probably the most interesting segment was Sharp’s step-by-step analysis of how the revamped match review panel, which can pore over a game for four hours, can grade seemingly the same foul in different ways.

He highlighted various types of illegal tackle they are trying to eradicate – chicken wing, cannonball and crocodile roll – before concentrating on the contentious “crusher” which can look, and feel, as bad as it sounds.

Using video footage of four different examples, he showed how four different punishments were meted out.

They ranged from just a phone call to Catalan coach Trent Robinson to warn player Ian Henderson about his technique to a three-game ban for Bradford Bulls forward John Bateman, but the ex-Huddersfield coach was able to perfectly illustrate the reasons why. There is, then, certainly nothing random about their decision-making but it is all done with the finest video technology – which brings me back to my original point of feeling sympathy for refs; they only get ONE chance to make a call so we cannot be too tough on them when they get it wrong.

On that subject, a Super League referee does make an average 3.5 mistakes per game according to strict weekly assessments.

Now, I wonder if the RFL will furnish us with each individual’s record.

I’ll let it lie and, instead, say ‘Well done’ for the continuing work being carried out at improving player discipline.

The stats there, too, say it is working.