Dave Craven: Bentham deserves respect for sticking head above parapet

Referee Phil Bentham
Referee Phil Bentham
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It is not often that strange species called ‘referees’ get any praise. Especially if you are called Phil Bentham and venturing near Kirklees any time soon.

But credit where credit is due. For all Huddersfield Giants fans may still be spitting about that official’s decision-making, at least he stuck his head above the parapet to put his view across.

Danny Brough was incensed, Paul Anderson ripped a TV from its socket such was his disgust while countless Giants fans were left muttering some very unflattering things about Bentham as they departed the John Smith’s Stadium on Sunday night.

In opting not to award Huddersfield a drop goal in the penultimate minute of their Challenge Cup tie against St Helens, when Brough was adamant his effort sailed between the posts – admittedly, very high between the posts – to put them in front and into the next round, caused so much ire.

Understandably so. Of course, we all know what happened next; Saints went down the other end and did score a drop goal themselves to win 17-16.

The subsequent post-match mayhem was not quite as furious and heated as Bradford Bulls’ rightful disdain at the infamous Magic Weekend events but there were certainly some similarities to all that injustice overflowing in Cardiff seven years ago.

The match commissioner did admit he was getting his “tin hat” on in readiness for Anderson’s arrival in the press room.

But, one of the questions left unanswered in that aftermath, both in the press conference and on the BBC’s live coverage was why, especially given the importance of the decision, had Bentham not checked Brough’s effort with the video referee given the obvious proximity – one way or another – to the upright?

No-one really imagined to get any answer let alone an answer of any real clarity as, as we all know, referees do not have to speak to the media unlike Huddersfield’s head coach Anderson or their captain Brough, who showed remarkable restraint when interviewed just moments after that acrimonious exit.

It was encouraging, then, that a call to Jon Sharp, the RFL’s head of match officials, was met with a swift response on Monday but, not only that, also facilitated an interview with the referee in question. Bentham put his point across to The Yorkshire Post and gave the reasons behind his decision – essentially, a conviction in his own belief that he had seen the kick miss and, so, there was no need to ever refer to Ian Smith.

Granted, one of the two TV angles gave the impression it could have been on target but another suggested otherwise.

As he revealed, the video referee Smith admitted, on review, that if he had been asked he would have deemed the video evidence inconclusive and, therefore, referred it back to Bentham, whose original ruling would have stood. Plenty of people will still argue the official got it wrong but it is reassuring to know that there is no longer a wall of silence behind which referees can hide.

Bentham must surely have earned some respect for coming out and answering questions while Sharp’s decision to encourage such interaction must be applauded too.

All supporters want to hear is the reasoning behind major decisions in game and getting information from the man in the middle undoubtedly helps.

It is far more than anything they would see or hear in football and it is a step forward for the sport which should certainly be explored more often.