I might be in the minority, but I actually think NRL referees are doing a good job. No one in the game comes under more scrutiny than our officials each and every week. They have their every decision analysed in slow motion, frame by frame and discussed by the experts. Some of the calls are so close, that even the experts can’t give a definitive answer. Yet each week the referees turn up and do their best and get the majority of decisions perfectly right.
If the players came under as much scrutiny you’d find that even the superstars of the game make mistakes. Johnathan Thurston, Billy Slater, Cameron Smith, they all make mistakes that can prove costly, but you don’t see their coaches blowing up at press conferences about them. It’s part of the game, it’s part of being human, mistakes are always going to be made, but I think the officials are doing as good a job as possible in limiting the errors.
I have a mate who played soccer at the highest levels in England and he can’t believe the criticism we heap on our referees. He said if you look at the English Premier League every week and watched how the referees went, you’d see a mountain of mistakes. In the lower leagues the referees are often a joke, but everyone just gets on with the game. I think we have to be grateful for the good job the referees are doing and get on with enjoying the season as the battle for the premiership hots up.
There is going to be a trial of a captain’s challenge system in a final round Toyota Cup match this year. There are going to be limitations on when a captain can make a challenge and under which circumstances. They’ll be allowed one incorrect challenge per half, but as many correct ones as they like. I don’t like the sound of it at all. One of the best features of our great game is the pace at which matches are played. The speed of the game is one of the things that makes it so exciting and it plays an important part in adding fatigue to the mix. I think video replays are already slowing the game down too much, so to have captains chatting to teammates before lodging their challenge, then waiting for the video referee to look at the challenge, waiting on a decision – it’s heading in the wrong direction.
Reigning premiers Manly showed last week against South Sydney that they’ll be right in the thick of it when the big games roll around. The Rabbitohs might have been missing Greg Inglis, but Manly were without Steve Matai, Jason King and Darcey Lussick. They showed that they have the game and determination to defend their title and contenders like Souths and Canterbury are going to have to play very well to beat them. Securing Brett Stewart on a new contract will be a huge morale boost for Manly as well. He really is at the heart of everything they do.
Manly takes on Newcastle Knights at Brookvale this Sunday in a match that is shaping up to be a real battle. These two clubs simply hate each other and it all started back when Newcastle first came into the competition. That first year they played a trial match against Manly and it was a really spiteful introduction to the big league. Ever since then it has been a clash of working class Newcastle and the silvertail Manly mob. The hate continued right through the 1997 grand final and the titanic clashes between Mark Carroll and Paul Harragon, up to today when the Knights are owned by a multi-millionaire, coached by the best in the business and have many players from outside the region. I think it will be a closer match that some would expect and it will be a true test of whether the Knights deserve to make it into the top eight and play finals football.
The other team that will have its semi-final credentials tested in a big way this weekend is Wests Tigers. Benji Marshall said during the week that he thinks a side from outside the top four can win the grand final under the new system being used this year. He believes the Tigers themselves are capable and he will have no better test of that theory than on Friday night when the Tigers take on the red-hot Bulldogs. The Bulldogs were incredible last week fighting back against the Broncos and this week they have two of their best returning in Sam Kasiano and James Graham. The way the Bulldogs play the game, these two big men act as an extra set of halves. The Bulldogs are a much better side when these two are taking on the line and slipping passes to support players and I think the Tigers are in for a tough night.