"When In Rome"
Opinion Piece: Should Wigan & Hull have 2 referees for their friendlies and first game of the season because, 'when in Rome' right?
The NRL have operated on a 2 referee system now since 2009 and have seen the speed of their game far surpass the Super League, to the point of which attendances are declining, the speed of Super League always falling short of its Australian counterpart and therefore the England National Team always missing the mark on the big stage!
Of course the World Club Challenge at the start of the year was like a small brain fart, we needed to tell ourselves we can the match NRL clubs despite the difference in standards between the 2 competitions. But it was too much of a brain fart for Warrington to handle because their heads are still farting since they beat Brisbane infront of a packed Halliwell Jones Stadium.
The pull on British based players such as the likes of Burgess Brothers (Sam, George and Tom), James Graham or even Joe Greenwood wanting to excel themselves in the fastest competition is the direct and only lifeline of individual class we have on the National stage, with the exceptions of O'Laughlin and Hardaker who are out by themselves representing Super League.
The chances England matches the Aussies on the team sheet has always been questionable because let's face it, they could pick 2 Australian sides to challenge ours, look no further than their youth setup, as their grassroots development is unquestionably superior to ours (participants and quality) with no further proof than their National Student side coming away with the win at the Student World Cup and Rugby League strongholds like Penrith (Sydney) boasting over 8000 grass-roots participants and Super League boasting that Rugby League is the 27th most participated sport in the UK.
But what the 2 referee system allows for the top tear of Rugby League, is the game play be broken down in 2 parts, of which in the Super League/International game play is left to the responsibility of only 1 referee.
The breakdown of tasks in any human mind is complex even at the best of times, but what if our referees had 13 less people to watch during game play? This would lead to better judgement calls, quicker play of the ball and hopefully a much more expansive quality of play, so at least we clean up our broken play and create a better spectacle for supporters?
After all, if the children watching our sport doesn't witness the game played at its fastest most prolific, cleanest speed, then how can we attract the youth of further generations to play our great game?
As someone who watches the NRL and follows it closely, but hasn't seen a game of Super League in a few years until earlier this year, I have witnessed the dive in standard between the 2 leagues and because of that I can't help draw comparisons to the slow, clumsy counterpart of the original model we broke away from in 1895.
Of course if you're a Rugby Union fan, I absolutely wholeheartedly agree with you if you say Union isn't the game it used to be and the speed is something which beats Rugby League. But I wanted to make the point that the tables have turned, as the same game I watched before I left for Australia in 2012, isn't the game I returned to in 2017.
They have taken the game and showed us the way, as much as it pains me to admit it, but the old archaic way of refereeing is holding us back. NRL is this fantastic spectacle, we see weekly acrobatic finishes, wide expansive use of the pitch by both sides, this then generates for more speed during the 'play the ball' and therefore more gaps in defence to exploit, which apparently is a better time for fans?
You wouldn't know about it today though, because Super League clubs constantly resort to that extra hammer drive up the middle, which is only created because the defence is being allowed more turn around time, and therefore attacking teams have less time to put something on much wider, where the gaps are.
A simple change to the rules would not only clean play the balls into faster versions of themselves allowing quick turn around time of the 'play the ball', they will (along with the help of linesmen) keep an eye on the defence so the attack has sufficient time to hit the edges creating bigger gaps much earlier in the game.
Of course the question about standards inter league would be raised as the professionals actions would create a greater gap between the top teams and the lower teams, as part-time players with less training would be exposed by faster Super League opposition which has had the luxury of 2 referees, because like all things Rugby League the 2 leagues may as well be run by 2 different sets of executives and that is the problem with the RFL, they are operating British Rugby League, as if they are breaking it, choking the speed of the game by holding onto traditions which are stunting the speed.
Amongst potential extra sponsorship, better TV ratings and hopefully a well advertised Super League, British Rugby League has a key opportunity in their experiment, to see how a different system would benefit us, after all if they truly wanted to attract the Indigenous of Australia (no pun intended) they would play by the rules they are used to.
Initial efforts were made a few years back but then the RFL decided to scrap this idea because questions were raised about whether the RFL can afford it? But how can they afford not to is the question I want to ask?