The referees’ union has unleashed a stinging attack on the NRL, accusing them of overlooking player safety in their controversial move to go back to one whistleblower for the game’s return.
In their first strong statement back at the league since they launched industrial action, the union on Friday claimed the NRL were “arrogant” and like a “bull in a china shop” in their rush to make changes.
They also questioned how the shift to one referee would make the game more entertaining or save it money during the coronavirus pandemic.
The criticism of the league comes ahead of what is expected to be a firey arbitration hearing over the weekend.
“It’s simple: Today’s game is safer with two refs,” the Professional Rugby League Match Officials said in a statement.
“On numerous occasions, the second referee has picked up potential causes of harm to players which were not detected at the same time by the other three match officials, nor the bunker.
“This includes tackles, holds and throws that can cause significant injury.
“Identifying and responding to these incidents promptly is crucial in ensuring player safety, and in complying with concussion protocols where a head injury is suspected.
“But this does not appear to concern the league’s bosses.”
The union claims that 80 per cent of ruck penalties are spotted by the pocket referee, who has been eliminated in the NRL’s new model.
Instead, NRL officials believe making those pocket referees now act as touch judges will increase the quality of officials across the field.
Touch judges will be charged with watching the ruck closely, as will the NRL’s bunker.
A new automatic six-again rule for ruck infringements is also aimed at speeding up play and getting rid of time wasted for penalties.
Most coaches have urged those in the league to get on with the game and for the rules to be reviewed at year’s end, but the union are annoyed changes have been brought in mid-season.
“The league bosses were simply arrogant with this one ref decision,” the statement said.
“They were like a ‘bull in a china shop’.
“They ignored the unanimous view of a Project Apollo discussion panel held on 11 May 2020.
“Representatives there included players, coaches and clubs, all of whom agreed that the two-referee model was superior.”