You have to smile. At twenty past four on Sunday afternoon, the RFL sent out an earnest press release entitled, ‘Inaugural match official conference hailed a success’.
The event at Huddersfield the previous day involving 200 referees and touch-judges from the professional, semi-professional and community games and headlined by Howard Webb undoubtedly was.
But try selling that to the fans of Widnes, Wigan, Catalan, Hull K.R……Whatever the new era brought on its opening weekend – and it was certainly highly encouraging crowds and no game higher than a 19 point margin – it didn’t stop the major talking point being those men in the middle, and on the side line and in the video booth.
Still, at least it wasn’t the Charity Shield in Australia where the clash between Souths and St George’s had ten adjudicators!
From the sending off of Patrick Ah Van and Matty Smith’s kick – what should be the appropriate on-field sanction for that?, through a disputed push by the Dragons to a blatant obstruction try by Danny McGuire, no matter how much we’d like to think all is shiny and different, the major topic of conversation was the same one it always is.
Full credit then to Denis Betts for saying he thought the red card call on his winger was correct and Chris Chester who diplomatically commented, “I don’t want to talk about the referees too much, I think Eddie and Stevo did enough of that on Thursday and Friday night.”
In defence of those with the whistle, we can’t expect our players to be up to speed in round one so allowance has to be made for them as they acclimatise to the new season.
And the physical, testosterone-releasing intensity of the opening 20 minutes in the Warrington and Salford game took some managing – although Tony Smith’s worries about the cannonball tackle need to be hastily taken on board.
So what did we learn from these initial clashes? The stand out score was Huddersfield nil, with no new combinations in the key areas to bed in, not scoring for the first time since 2011 and at home for more than 10 years raised the furthest eyebrow.
The season-openers were a little like Willie Tonga, huge expectation going in and, after the initial impact a fuzzy feeling that it was pretty much like any other opening round.
The 2014 season ended with a red card and 2015 opened with one, Wigan on the giving and receiving end and not triumphing either time.
The game at Saints went on interminably, not so much new era as new epoch, ‘every hour mattered’ – maybe the schedulers got it right with their choice of Thursday opener with its drama to the last.
There was widespread disappointment at the no-shows of, especially, Todd Carney and Kevin Locke although Terry Campese and Albert Kelly look like a lively, watchable handful.
Aston Villa finally scored as Warrington eventually conceded after over five halves of the Wolves not being breached.
Eloi Pelissier and Kieron Dixon could have taken the focus off the referees if they had got the ball down at crucial times in their respective matches.
Thomas Bosc’s reef from Mark Percival was sensational and didn’t get enough credit.
The concussion laws seem haphazard; when is a knock to the head that requires a player to go off and be diagnosed not so, with just a shake to clear the fug sufficient.
Superb gesture reported on twitter by Salford fan Scott Hedgecock, who reported that whilst in a pub in Warrington a member of the Wolves board came in and bought all the visiting fans a drink, as he said – #fairplays #respect.
Great pre-match chant from the Rovers fans to pre-match entertainer and celebrity hawker Jake Quickenden, “You should have stayed in the Jungle” and the number of Coronation Street stars at matches or RFL events, five – when we’re counting TOWIE we know we’ve arrived.
The fans turned out in force, not least because they’ve waited four long months for meaningful action. Hopefully the novelty of the new will not wear off.
The broadest smiles are in Wakefield the morning after.