Third referee, command bunkers, touted for NRL
The NRL has floated the prospect of introducing a third on-field referee in 2016 as part of a sweeping series of mooted changes hailed as the biggest to the game since the introduction of the video referee.
The governing body has engaged former Australian cricket coach John Buchanan and league Immortal Bob Fulton to oversee a full review of the refereeing ranks.
Part of their feasibility study will be aimed at trialling a video referee bunker by the middle of next season to improve the consistency of decision making.
The so-called "central command centre", which would be situated in an off-site location, would follow the lead from the NHL and the NBA, which have already embraced the technology.
Set to cost the game millions of dollars, it's hoped the innovation will lead to the match review committee laying charges in real time, meaning coaches could have a charge sheet in front of them by the time they get to the post-game press conference.
"A coach could one day sit through a press conference and take the early guilty plea on a grade one if he deemed that was the appropriate decision," said NRL head of football Todd Greenberg, who added the change could realistically be made in time for the 2016 system.
Other potential initiatives include:
- Inserting a microchip into the ball or using laser technology to assist with rulings such as forward passes.
- Further investigating captain's challenges.
- Digitising time-keeping protocols so they are co-ordinated between venues and broadcasters.
- Encouraging women to join the refereeing ranks.
- Communicating decisions to fans in real time via social media.
However, potentially the most contentious changes could come from a review of the two-referee model.
Some coaches have been outspoken in their belief that consistency would improve if only one referee was engaged. However, Greenberg floated the prospect of adding an extra whistleblower into the fray.
"When I say we'll look at the two-referee model, we could look at three referees," Greenberg said.
"The game is so fast that there are more decisions; two referees are under significant fatigue as it is.
''We look at the model and see how we can improve the model. I'm not suggesting we throw two referees out at all.
''There are other ways we could potentially make it better."
Greenberg allayed concerns the bunker would lead to more stoppages, predicting it would instead speed up the decision-making process. "It's got such an ability to be a game-changer, it could be rugby league's biggest improvement since the introduction of video refs," he enthused.
The choice of Fulton and Buchanan to oversee the review was likely to raise eyebrows. While coach of Manly in 1987, Fulton infamously said he wanted referee Bill Harrigan to be run over by a "cement truck".
However, Greenberg was unapologetic about the appointment.
"I think it shows our level of engagement," he said.
"Someone who has been one of our harshest critics, we've asked him for some assistance. He's an Immortal, a premiership-winning coach and captain. There's no one with a higher standing in the game. Why wouldn't I ask him for his opinion and help?"
The other man to work alongside Greenberg, Fulton and referee's boss Tony Archer is Buchanan.
The latter was first exposed to rugby league when taken to a State of Origin game as a five-year-old - "Johnny Gleeson intercepted a ball on the 25-yard line and got to the other end while being chased by Irvine and Cleary," he recalled - but admitted he was not an "intent" observer of the game.
"I'm obviously a fan of technology, but at the same stage there's a real balance in keeping up the integrity of the game with the entertainment value," Buchanan said.
"How you use technology in that process, I'm not 100 per cent sure, but technology is there to be used, so we need to do that in the best possible way."
Asked about the prospect of using technology to help adjudicate on forward passes, Buchanan said: "Everything, as far as I'm concerned, is on the table.''
''If you look at English Premier League, there is a laser technology used for that very purpose.
''It will be a very interesting job in looking around the world in different sports and how technology has benefited, and not so much so.
''We'll see how it best works for rugby league. Nothing is off the table."
Sydney Morning Herald