RICKY STUART – SUNDAY TELEGRAPH COLUMN

Challenge concept will iron out faults and put ball back in captain’s court
By Ricky Stuart – August 19, 2012

EACH January, my wife Kaylie, heads down to Melbourne for the Australian Open of tennis.

She loves it.

Loves the atmosphere, the quality of tennis and just how well catered the entire tournament is for fans of the game.

Not once has she come back from the grand slam complaining about Hawk-Eye.

Not once has she returned home to tell me a story about how slow the game of tennis has become, all because the players of today get their chance to question the umpire’s decision.

Now, you don’t have to tell me that tennis is a long way from our great game of rugby league.

But still, I’ve been stunned by the mixed reception this week, following the NRL’s decision to trial an `on-field’ captain’s challenge system.

As far as I’m concerned, the only gripe I have is that the NRL have chosen to trial the innovation in a round 26 Toyota Cup match and not as soon as today’s Warriors-Panthers clash, which will have no bearing on the NRL finals.

For those that are unaware, the NRL declared this week that under the system to be trialled, a captain would receive a challenge for each half of a match and would only lose that challenge it if they were incorrect.

A sub-committee made up of past and present coaches, recommended that the areas a challenge are limited to, include strips and knock-ons and a decision by the referee to award a try.

Areas that can’t be ruled on include forward passes and video referee decisions.

And so slowly, but surely different figures in and out of the game have begun to have their say on the proposed system to be trialled in two weeks time.

Already, you can draw a line down the middle of those who are for and against the proposal.

The ones doubting the porposal, are predictable.

Those who aren’t affected, whose careers aren’t impacted by the whistleblowers, like ex-players and commentators, have panned the idea.

Instead of embracing the opportunity to support the NRL’s bid to move with the times, and treat our game for what it is, entertainment, its already being shot down.

Forget that other sports have already latched onto the concept and made it work.

Sports like American football, cricket and of course, tennis.

The naysayers claim that a captain questioning a decision will only slow the game down. How fast do you want the game too be?

I’ve always said we need to support our referees. Give them the tools they need to ensure that the focus is on the the product, the game. Not them.

There’s no doubt this latest move by the NRL is in direct response to the criticism of the referees this season.

If this is the best way to take the focus off the officials and back onto the players and coaches, that’s a good thing isn’t it?

Lately, it seems not a week goes by that a coach or player isn’t left venting about a referees call or decision that they believe impacted the game.

I know. I’ve been there myself.

I would have loved to have checked a knock-on or strip during the recent Origin series. We could be sitting here with the Origin trophy. Maybe.

The point is, this system, places the pressure back on the two teams.

Not the referee.

It’s also been asked in some circles that how can a captain, someone like Paul Gallen, who churns out 200 metres and 20-odd tackles a game, have not only the energy, but the clear mental conscious, to make a call that ulitmataly could cost his team two points, a semi-final, or a premiership.

Well, that argument was shot down this week, the moment Gallen was on Triple M radio declaring he was a fan of the idea.

I for one have been critical in the past of the game’s decision makers and lack of innovation to take our game forward.

But not this time.

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