Bunker Bernard becomes boss

2017 was the year of the bunker. In lounges and pubs, fans grew frustrated with outrageous calls that no amount of fast forwarding, rewinding and freeze framing could save.

They were dud calls, odd interpretations of the rules and the NRL’s million dollar bunker only made it that much easier for all to see. Referees boss Tony Archer took the brunt. Shunted aside with former bunker boss Bernard Sutton his replacement and a new mandate delivered by the NRL hierarchy to crack down.

Fast forward to 2018 and the pre-season saw the whistle getting a work out on the play the ball. Long overdue, but the players seemed to have clocked this one pretty quick. Season proper has seen most towing the line and from the record number of penalties that are getting blown, only a handful are for sloppy play the balls.

Where is the record number of penalties coming from?

NRL boss Tony Greenberg has quickly come out in defence of the referee's after Joey Johns blew up on Chanel Nine and the other Johns called for the re-introduction of the five-minute sin bin.

Greenberg spoke with Matty Johns on the Triple M Grill team to explain.

“They’re going to keep blowing penalties and I’m going to keep giving them that direction,” Greenberg said.

“We’ve been very strong over the offseason of making sure of two things; that the play the ball was cleaned up and they’ve done exactly what I’ve asked and to make sure the players are staying back onside and they’re doing exactly what I’ve asked.

Greenberg continued to say that it will happen all year and that they have
the committee’s that will debate the merits of a five-minute sin bin.

Great!…simple directive, no drama’s here, but is there?

No pain, no gain!

Greenberg likes to talk “spectacles”, “ratings” and any other CEO type buzz words that simply translate as ‘we just wanna watch a decent game of footy’. Greenberg also likes to do things for the “betterment” of the game, so we should give him the benefit of the doubt here and assume that this 14-year high penalty count directive is for that purpose.

There will always be teething problems with this kind of heavy-handed approach.

Greenberg himself admits this saying: “This is a little short-term pain for long-term gain.”

So what is the long-term gain?

As a CEO, Greenberg is very adept at sidestepping these types of concerns, but we’ll gaze into the crystal ball and presume he means a free-flowing game that is to borrow a phrase somewhat of a “spectacle”.

You would probably hope that involves more tries, players in motion for longer periods, and games not decided by the whistle. Just a good honest game of footy, where the best team wins and the fans are left feeling elated or deflated, but still willing to shake the hand of the bastard that just beat you.

Is the answer right under the NRL’s nose?

Greenberg has already lamented the fact that the whistleblowers will be doing just that…and they will be doing it all year long! Wrong!…come Wednesday 6th of June these rose-tinted glasses will get turfed out of the corporate box altogether.

Replaced with parochialism of the highest order. No NRL directive and certainly no referee is going to mess with the greatest sporting rivalry in Australia. It's worth noting No CEO is gonna mess with the greatest ratings bonanza they have up there sleeve either.

Yes, that’s right, STATE OF ORIGIN, where the biff is back and get on-side means get back far enough so that when you do smash your mate from another state it will rattle the grandstands.

In the 2017 State of Origin series, the referee's blew on average 8.3 penalties per game. To put things into perspective over the entire three-match series, the refs blew just 25 penalties. In the Tigers upset win of reigning premiers the Melbourne Storm just last week, the ref blew a whopping 26 penalties in one game!

During Game Two, I recall sitting glued to the screen. Partly because I am a mad New South Wales supporter hoping for a miracle but also because the lack of stoppages made it impossible to leave your armchair. It was riveting rugby league, the best team won fair and square. But it was other nuisances, like fatigue, tenacity and turning up for your mate that made it the spectacle it was. One thing is certain, it was never going to get ruined by the referee or any NRL directive.

So as Greenberg and the brains trust at the NRL crack on with their crackdown I can’t help but think it might pay sometimes to take a look back rather than forwards.

What's your take? Are the ref’s blowing too many penalties? Do you think it’s going to wind up better for the game in the long term?

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