No plans for Super League referees to stop officiating their hometown club, says Phil Bentham

Aaron Bower

Phil Bentham is the RFL's new head of match officials.

The new head of match officials at the Rugby Football League has insisted he has no plans to try and prevent Super League referees from officiating in games involving the team representing the town they are from.

Bentham is making the move back to rugby league after a high-profile role with the PGMOL, the governing body for referees in football. It is standard practice in that sport for referees to not take charge of a match in the town or city where they are from, to avoid suggestions towards bias.

But with a much smaller pool of officials in rugby league, that is a much trickier ask. Referees in Super League frequently take charge of matches involving their local team; last weekend, Wigan’s Liam Moore was the man in the middle for the WarriorsWorld Club Challenge victory against Penrith, for example – with countless other occasions as an example. Bentham himself has refereed games involving his hometown, Leigh, during his own on-field career.

However, Bentham stressed he has no problems with that being the case in league, and insists he has full confidence in his team of match officials to referee every game the same, irrespective of who is playing.

“I’m 100 per cent happy with the way it’s run in rugby league,” he said. “They’ve got a large selection pool in football, so they can make those decisions and they can avoid people refereeing their hometowns, in rugby league we haven’t got those numbers and the other side of that is that I also think that on a bigger side of it, it questions the integrity of the referee.

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“I can tell you from experience, I’ve refereed England and when you get on that pitch, it’s white against black or it’s white against green and gold, that’s how you referee.

“You are not even thinking ‘I’m refereeing England against New Zealand’. You are just refereeing the incidents that come up in front of you. It’s probably difficult to understand that if you’ve never been in the middle of that and experienced that, but I would never question the integrity and I have no intention whatsoever to change that.”

When asked if the referees were content with that situation themselves due to the possibility of perception from fans creating undue pressure, Bentham admitted: “I can understand that. I know during my career, I’m from Leigh, and the time I refereed Leigh I was criticised for over penalising Leigh because they thought I was trying to prove that I wasn’t being a homer towards the team that I grew up supporting, so whichever way you do it, it can be become difficult.

“But ultimately, I know the guys go out and referee incident by incident and tackle by tackle – not based on the colour of the shirt in front of them.”

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