JON SHARP: Continuing to build the levels of trust between coach and ref

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It was almost surreal when I saw Richard Silverwood get Steve Ganson in a neck-hold as they started wrestling on the mats.

It’s my second season as the RFL’s technical director in their match officials department and I’m really getting my teeth into it.

Obviously, it’s different to my previous career as a player and head coach but I’m enjoying it.

Getting the refs to feel what players actually go through during a game is crucial.

We’re trying to eradicate dangerous contact in the tackle but, as a ref, there’s no point running around blowing your whistle without first having to understand and feel the pain that some of these contacts cause.

That’s why, at the start of the year, we showed them some of the wrestle techniques that are being used – they garrotted, strangled, chicken-winged and cannonballed each other and had the bruises to prove it.

The guys said it was very beneficial though and I do feel their understanding of dangerous contact has really improved.

They’re recognising it and aren’t as reactionary in dealing with players as maybe they were 12 months ago. They have a real understanding of how teams are trying to slow down the ruck.

As for the job I’m doing, it was important the role was right because I enjoy coaching.

I think I’ve had a reasonable career as a coach – 13 years in all – and had some success whether as Huddersfield Giants head coach, assistant at Great Britain or whatever.

If I was moving across to the RFL I wanted to still have some influence on the game and improve it. I feel like I am.

The Match Review Panel process is improving while the early guilty plea has been introduced and is working well too. I’ve got a little more responsibility this year as, for example, I have direct contact with coaches which I enjoy.

I know it’s a thankless task when you ring a coach up to tell him his player has been charged with a tackle which could rule him out for six weeks. It’s real tough but I try to do it with integrity, insight and balance. The coaches have been really forthcoming. Shaun Wane at Wigan, for example, has been brilliant. I spoke to him about a Liam Farrell cannonball tackle going in too low and, low and behold, he’s improved. The clips prove it – he is not going as low, not going as forceful.

I’ve enjoyed the debate with coaches, I’ve enjoyed the challenge. That’s got my juices going. I can pass it back to the refs department and get a little bit of a link between coaches, refs and the Match Review Panel.

I’d had clashes with refs as a coach – I was fined once for my opinions of a referee – but many a time I’d speak to Stuart (Cummings) strictly on a technical basis.

Instead of shouting off I’d bring in clips, we’d study and discuss things and only afterwards did Stuart say he found the meetings very beneficial for him too.

Now the referees are very much my players and they are fantastic.

Long-term, I want to be a chief executive. I’m studying a business degree and when you look at the current CEOs in Super League I don’t think there’d be many with that plus a background in playing, a background as head coach and international coach, as well as having worked within the RFL’s match officials department.

For all this, I do still miss that knot in my stomach when you’re struggling to get your breakfast down you because you know it’s game day.

But for now, in educating and improving refs, I just want to try to help get what everybody in the sport wants – consistency.

Interview by Dave Craven