SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA - MARCH 16: Referee, Gerard Sutton gestures during the round two NRL match between the Sydney Roosters and the Canterbury Bulldogs at Allianz Stadium on March 16, 2018 in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by Brendon Thorne/Getty Images)

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.

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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.

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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?


  1. No not too many… not enough!! Hopefully they start penalising forward passes more too. The rulebook states the ball must be passed BACKWARDS not flat.

  2. Are ref’s blowing too many penalties?
    Y. E. S!!!!!
    It is killing off all the excitement of the game. Not to mention that the ref’s are consistently being inconsistent.
    We are getting “Union style” results with the majority of points coming from penalty goals and causing unwanted headlines from poor refereeing (aka the Broncos win against the Tigers where the winning penalty goal come from a very poor penalty!)

  3. In the Tigers/Broncos match last night the referee nit-picked all night with the off-side rule, not too much with the play the ball. But deep into the extra time he somehow found a ”markers not straight” penalty, the only one of the match (I could be wrong) right in front of the posts, with little time to go.

    I believe this was the only penalty in extra time. Makes you think….

  4. The game has been going down hill for years and has gotten even worse since Greenberg became CEO.
    The refereeing is at an all time low. We DO NOT need two refs on the field. It is one of the worse decisions that has ever been made in the game of rugby league.
    As for last nights game, Klein needs to be sacked as that was blatant cheating.
    No wonder more and more kids are taking up AFL and soccer.
    I used to watch every game every week but now I usually only watch the game my team is in. Even then it is only if I don’t have something better to do.
    Have been watching league religiously for 36 years but am at a point where i am turning away from the game and following other sports.

  5. Greenbergs smoke screen won’t work. His biggest issue is documented evidence of him, whiĺe at the bulldogs, breaching 3rd party rules trying to lure Foran to Canterbury.
    Skeletons are coming out of his closet.

  6. I liked the spread of your perspective and the questions you pose. I for one support the referees and the crackdown on the goal-line creep and 10 m policing. All to do with the trigger that has been absent in the game for so long – yes … ‘the foot on the play the ball’ … defences now have a focal point they can use to charge forward …As for the ‘goal-line’ creep, the outside backs are always in front of the line, mainly to get a look at the play the ball, so when the lay comes their way they will always be ‘off-side’ … this is a curly one … how many penalties over what time frame gets a sin-bin decision? Yes, the guy trying to get back onside close to the line, and the dummy half runs at him, that player has to try and stop the try – that is the sin-bin offence.

    I have a question though – in the ‘downtown’ offside play – if the player returning the ball runs 10m’s all the defence is deemed onside even though they were in front of the kicker. So when the play shifts left or right in the opposition 10, if the ball moves more than the 10m’s, should all the defence be then deemed to be onside? Or, in the alternative, should those chasing down 5th tackle kicks be behind the kicker to be able to engage in the tackle of the kick returner?

  7. NO, but stupid idiotic penalties like that extra time one in the Wests v Qld swaybacks which decides a game when the penalty was not even a penalty is a joke. That ref should be droped and his bank accounts should be monitored to see if he is winning big bucks on certain games like the one he orchestrated on Friday night.

    As for the other penaty onslaught its simple. The rule states that when the ball is being played by the foot the defence can charge up to tackle. If they run up to early it is a penalty. All players including those out wide must stay behind the ref. The players will get used to the rule that has never really been applied. It has been the frustration of fans for many generations and its about time the refs educate the players on this rule.

    Next I hope they give the drop ball rule the flick and go back to a knock on and a knock back. The referees still don’t have the ability to know what a knock back is these days. They see a ball that is a knock back and order a scrum to the opposition feeder.

  8. It seems that there are quite a few penalties but in order to force teams to play the ball correctly, the advantage will drift towards the Defence
    It seems that there are quite a few penalties but in order to force teams to play the ball correctly, the advantage will drift towards the Defence
    To even up the balance of slower play the balls the Refs are policing the 10 metres more harshly.

    It is very simple if the teams get a bit of discipline and stop going early then the Refs won’t ping them.
    The issue I have is they tend to blow the pea out of the whistle in the first half and then forget about the 10 metres in the second half.

    I feel that there are way too much ‘holding down and second efforts with wrestling tactics are not enforced enough.

    All I know is that the Rabbitohs have been canned in the Penalty Count 3 weeks in a row now.
    Souths SMASHED the soft Eagles despite a Count favouring them by 11 to 4.
    In 3 games so far this season Souths Penalties For 20, Penalties Against 35
    That is a hell of a lopsided advantage against the Rabbitohs.

    • Look at the rabbits team, filled with a bunch of grubs of course there penalties are going to be against them

    • Like usual only hear from 3 twat when Souths actually win a game and then she disappears again, for smith 6 weeks waiting to win something else, sad little girl

  9. The rules are the rules. The referees’ job is to ensure the game is played within the confines of the rules. So I have no dramas with the referees blowing for penalties when players breach those rules. It’s a tough gig for the referees now days though with the increasing speed of the game and teams continually pushing the boundaries of the rules to gain a competitive edge.

    • If rules are rules, why are teams allowed to push plyers 10 metres backwards or towards the sideline when the rule states that once a player’s forward momentum has stopped the player should be allowed to play the ball?

  10. the refs will stop blowing penalties when there are no infringements – its fairly simple really (well, except in the last 10 mins of each match, golden point or when referee Cam is involved)
    Stay onside, don’t get hands in the play the ball, markers stay straight, ball carrier play the ball on the mark (not 2m off the mark), pass the ball backwards – its all basic stuff but ones where the players and coaches are always looking for an advantage.
    I for one don’t care if there are 100 penalties a game, yes it kills the spectacle of the game but it only takes a week or two for the players and coaches to get the message and the infringements come down.
    If you let them get away with it, they will get away with it, if you don’t let them get away with it then they look for another way.
    I know its all fairly simplistic and in reality wont happen, but we need to remember that, in the most parts, we are dealing with simple characters.

  11. The problem isn’t that the refs are blowing too many penalties, the problem is that things like play the balls have been allowed to become ridiculous over a number of years. The refs have not been officiating the game properly for too long, and players and coaches have started taking advantage of it. Now they are cracking down and it looks like they are nit picking. It is up to the players and coaches to start staying within the rules and then the penalties will drop off again.

    And before the comments of what about this obstruction or that forward pass etc, don’t forget the refs are human and there will always be inconsistency.

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