On a recent edition of Freesports’ Rugby League Backchat program, former Huddersfield Giants player Luke Robinson admitted that he played the game differently depending on whether the match was televised. When the match isn’t on TV, he explained that players can get away with that bit more than they can when the cameras are present, such is the extent of coverage they offer and because of the availability of the video referee.
Concern and awareness over this matter isn’t solely the preserve of players; it is something which many fans and pundits have an issue with. How can it be the case that a situation which results in a try in one game can result as no try in another? That is the scenario we are currently in because the video referee isn’t an option afforded to the on-field official in every game. So one try which is scored in the corner after seeing the ball worked across the pitch with dummy runners running through the defensive line is allowed but then, in a televised game, the score gets sent up to the video official who rules it out for obstruction – teams are therefore almost playing to a different set of rules for televised games and those which aren’t.
One solution would be ensure all matches in each competition are played in the same situation, whether that be with video officials or not. If a try is awarded in one game, the same play scored in another should also be awarded but that is a situation that doesn’t always ring true. For example, Ryan Hall’s late try against Castleford last Friday was awarded by the video official after being sent up as no try by his on-field colleague. However, Judah Mazive crossed in similar fashion for York City Knights against Keighley but, being in League 1, the video referee isn’t available and the try wasn’t awarded. The consistency which would be afforded by either having 100% presence or none at all would add to the integrity of the sport of rugby league which must be promoted as one of the key elements in the bid to recruit new supporters and encourage investment. It shouldn’t be that difficult to get cameras at every game – there are highlights on Super League clubs’ websites or youtube channels as well as on Sky Sports – as well as getting an official in a box to decide. It wouldn’t even necessarily need to be one who is capable of being an on-field ref in terms of fitness; what would the issue be in having retired officials or even ex-players in the box? As long as the spectators are shown the views the video referee sees on the big screen – as is currently the case – then there is transparency.
Another aspect of the video refereeing which should be looked at is the time it takes to get to a decision – sometimes it can take three or four minutes to get a decision from the video referee and, if three or four calls are referred to the official in a half, it takes it from forty minutes to sixty, dragging the game out for fans and players alike. Football is a sport currently trialling video assistance and there is much controversy over the fact that it removes interpretation and seeks to challenge the officials’ decision. Referees aren’t robots and can’t be expected to get absolutely everything right. Yes, it would be nice if they did but, as Hull KR’s Shaun Lunt explained to Get ’em Onside recently, “without them the game wouldn’t exist.” We don’t expect every player to do the same thing as their fellow stars so we arguably shouldn’t expect the same of every official.
However, a limit to the length of time an TV official can take to find conclusive proof to either agree or disagree with the on-field decision could be something the authorities look to trial. For example, if the video referee has a thirty second or one minute limit to find proof that the referee’s call is incorrect, the delays through the game would be cut dramatically. If the video official failed to disprove the the on-field call, the original decision stands and the game continues. It’s just an idea but one which could improve the game.