Debate Grand Final result overshadowed as referee Mike Hosking whistles up a storm

Referee Mike Hosking and match official Toni Street.

Referee Mike Hosking and match official Toni Street.

Kevin Norquay ponders how the TV political debate would pan out if it was a game, with Mike Hosking as referee.

OPINION: A stunning display by ref Mike Hosking in the Televised Debate Grand Final has overshadowed yet another victory for the Blues over the hapless Reds, as the Blues extended a winning streak stretching back to 2008.

At the heart of the contest was the performance of Hosking, who ruled Reds captain Jacinda Ardern could not take the field until she cut her fingernails, then made a series of what were seen as pedantic decisions in a penalty count that ran 3-111 against the Reds.

Hosking in action.

Hosking in action.

Hosking's appointment by Grand Final organiser TVNZ was controversial, after public concerns he had a pro-Blues bias after reffing the 2014 Grand Final.

New Zealand First captain Winston Peters had objected to Hosking being handled the whistle for the game. NZ First went out in the semifinals, as did the Green Party after it lost co-captain Metiria Turei and two other players for the season.

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Jacinda Ardern risked being sent off for this high tackle.

Jacinda Ardern risked being sent off for this high tackle.

On field microphones picked up Hosking telling Nats captain Bill English "we have bright prospects for the future, so long as you keep possession"* as the match started.

Hosking had declared himself the right man for the match after his appointment was questioned, saying "I've reffed the Blues several times now, and we've never lost".

His on-field attitude to Reds skipper Ardern replicated the tone he had used on 2014 Reds captain David Cunliffe when she queried one of his early decisions; to award an eight-point try to the Blues for the Reds interfering with a try-scoring Nat.

Blues captain Bill English and a group of fans.
Hannah Peters

Blues captain Bill English and a group of fans.

"Are you incompetent or mad? Are you out to lunch or out of touch? Are you deluded or living in a parallel universe,"* he was heard to say.

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After the match he dismissed his refereeing as a factor in the 48-37 Nats win, saying "the entire Labour movement, the PC takeover, the blancmange veneer that is modern Labour is the real issue."*

The win was a victory for individual liberty above social and collective activity, lower taxes and government spending, more choice in educational and health services and more individual responsibility for paying for them and for welfare benefits, he said.

Annette King and Jacinda Ardern were key figures in the Reds.

Annette King and Jacinda Ardern were key figures in the Reds.

While Labour tried to share the ball around among all the players evenly, and helped its poorer players "the socialisation of producing, distributing and exchanging possession" was their failing Hosking said.

Most of the crowd had wanted a Blues victory, so it was a "market driven" result, he said.

Hosking called numerous delays in play -- three times changing boots when they got specks of mud on them, twice reapplying hair gel, and undergoing constant readjustments to the front of his jersey.

But to be fair, he generally made rapid decisions. He ignored Toni Street in the bunker when she tried to point out possible whistling errors, in order "to keep the game flowing" -- one of those times was when the Blues scored on the ninth tackle (outside the six allowable).

Also controversial was his decision to get the Reds to retake a successful shot at goal as the Blues players had moved illegally. The second shot also went over, and the third and fourth, but were also ruled out as the Blues had again moved.

When the fifth missed, Hosking let play carry on.

Four times the Reds were pinged for being inside the 10 metres on defence (9.97m, 9.91m, 9.89m and 9.99m according to a pocket-sized measuring device Hosking produced).

Among other penalties awarded were an incorrect scrum feed (not seen in rugby league since 1989); playing the ball without using the foot (1992); the Reds hooker having a loose arm (1932); while Reds prop Kelvin Davis was sent off when opposite number Paula Bennett headbutted him

"That's a headbutt, I have no alternative," the ref was heard to tell a baffled Davis, as he departed on a stretcher. Reds players were also sent off for allowing themselves to be victims of illegal tackles.

TVNZ declared itself happy with Hosking as ref.

"You've got to remember the Grand Final is all about entertainment, not ensuring the players and fans see it as a fair contest," it said.

"The Hosk is the best in the business, his audiences are bigger than either the Blues or the Reds can gather, people tune in to see him. Also we pay him loads, and advertisers like him for hauling in viewers."

Hosking is under contract to control all TVNZ Grand Finals, until 2036.

Note: quotes marked with an asterix are approximations of actual Mike Hosking statements about politics. All other quotes were made up by a fertile imagination.

 - Stuff


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