There is a problem in the NRL in 2017, and it’s not coaches complaining about referees.
You might be surprised at that statement, given Trent Barrett and Shane Flanagan amassed $50,000 worth of fines on the weekend after their clubs crashed out of the finals – supposedly at the hands of the referees.
However, contrary to popular belief, public derision of officials is not a problem, it’s a symptom.
Of course, like all symptoms, it needs to be stopped, but always requiring more urgent attention is the problem itself – the disease.
In this case, the problem is simple – there is no effective route for coaches or clubs to complain or question referees or decisions. Thus, they do it publicly. Flanagan admitted as much in his $30,000 press conference on Sunday.
Flanagan demanded referee’s elite performance manager Tony Archer address his players and explain how a number of decisions (10, according to the Sharks head coach) were reached.
This assertion enlightens us to the real problem. Coaches want to be able to question dubious decisions, but the only avenue they’re able to do so incurs a five-figure fine.
The opposite stance from Archer is completely understandable but is also symptomatic of the problem.
As a former referee himself, Archer will defend his whistle-blowers to the death, as he should do. However, his firm public stance merely comes off as stubbornness.
If there were an avenue for redress for coaches, perhaps in the form of a weekly meeting, his stance would not be required, nor would Flanagan’s.
What we have now is a Mexican standoff – coaches prepared to bite an expensive bullet to defend their players, and Archer prepared to do likewise for his referees.
However, Todd Greenburg and his NRL seen committed to backing their referees, win, lose or draw, and fair enough too. Greenburg should realise though, increasing fines will do little more than letting coaches’ anger boil over.
Similar to the judiciary, Archer should conduct a weekly powwow with displeased coaches, where there is an opportunity for the airing of grievances.
Were this the case, there would be no reason for any public attacks from any coach, and any that did take place would be justifiable hit with a hefty fine.
Recently, the Inner-West Council in Sydney (Tiger town, for those living elsewhere), found a solution to a similar problem.
Instead of attempting to solve a “street art epidemic” of youths spray-painting trains and public buildings, the council designated a number of bland walls purposely for decoration, turning a problem of the ward into a strength.
It is the same principle on which the NRL’s problem should be solved – instead of discouraging a practice, offer to encourage it, under certain conditions, allowing control from the regulatory body.
On Wednesday, outgoing Wests Tigers captain Aaron Woods suggested that referees should not engage skippers at all on the field.
This would only make the situation worse and is yet another failing to understand the problem at hand.
As Strother Martin said in Cool Hand Luke, “what we’ve got here is a failure to communicate”.
If the NRL start to encourage civil, constructive dialogue, the problem would disappear equally as quickly.