It’s the middle of the State of Origin period, a six-week length of time where once-a-year League fans and the die-hards all come together. Whether at the office, the worksite or the local pub, there’s discussion surrounding who played well, who let their side down and usually, what questionable referee calls came out of the game. If the recent games are anything to go by, there will almost certainly be controversial calls which see the referees slated by coaches, players, fans and the media post-game. Whilst game 1 was such an engaging game from a defensive point of view, we still had Blues coach Laurie Daley immediately requesting a change of referees for game 2.
Now whilst Daley has fallen short of actually blaming the referees for the loss, the fact that one of the coaches from the pinnacle event of the sport has laid even a little bit of responsibility on the whistle blowers shows that attitudes need to change, particularly from those at the top. The time and place for discussion of the officials is behind closed doors, not in an open forum like the post-match press conference.
Over the weekend in the Cronulla junior district in New South Wales, a 16 year old referee was viciously punched by a 34 year old trainer. Not only did the offender assault a minor, he’s brought disgrace to junior Rugby League through
his behaviour whilst acting as his son’s teams’ on-field trainer. No doubt the man will receive a life-time ban from the game to complement his charges in court.
Earlier this year in March, another referee was assaulted on the Central Coast, this time by a 16 year old player, who then turned on his captain when he tried to intervene. Whilst no one is suggesting that Laurie Daley’s comments inspire the physical assault from a minority of individuals, it’s a problem that needs to be addressed from the top down to grassroots to achieve a true cultural change.
Now whilst escalating to violent behaviour towards a referee is something we don’t often see, and something restricted to the smallest of minorities, we are all guilty at times of perhaps laying a bit too much blame on the man in the middle. As the old cliche goes, if there’s no referee, there’s no game. It’s also worth remembering that a 16 year old refereeing a junior league game will make mistakes, and a spray from parents on the sideline isn’t going to make his or her refereeing performance pick up in any way. Let’s focus this weekend on junior footy being about the juniors, and the enjoyment they get from playing our great game.