New rules in Super League this season are designed to make the game faster and more entertaining and a large part of that burden rests upon the shoulders of the men in the middle – referees.
Senior official Phil Bentham told Love Rugby League that he and his colleagues have “a responsibility” to ensure the game is played at full pace with fewer breaks in play and less lengthy deliberation, particularly on video decisions.
He said: “We’re all in this together. We as officials have a responsibility to ensure the game is played as smoothly and swiftly as possible.
“There are some new initiatives this season designed to speed up play and make the game more entertaining so during close season we have been offering clubs advice and information regarding the new rules.
“We’re going out to clubs to make sure we’re all in this together and what we’ve seen this year is the clubs are buying into it, we’re all on the same page.
“I think everybody agrees that we want to see more of the players and less of the officials and we are making every effort to keep the game flowing.
“A simple idea like the shot clock has had an immediate impact. Players are not stupid, they adapt to the rules very quickly and last week we saw games of 42 and 43-minute halves instead of 48 and 50 minutes which has to help the sport.”
Another critical issue, according to Bentham, is the effort to reduce time taken with video-assisted decisions.
“It’s vitally important,” he said, “Average call times last year were one minute two seconds and we will be doing everything we can to get that down this season. Whilst we cannot let anything affect the accuracy of our decisions we have to accept that there’s no point looking at five or six replays of the same thing.
“The technology is improving every year, particularly with Sky who are very good at knowing what kind of video replays we will need and they’ve got them lined up for us almost instantly. That makes a big difference. There is a bit of a challenge with other TV companies where we have to tell them what we need to see but we’re working hard to speed up the whole process.”
Last week Bentham and fellow referee Liam Moore were in France to link up with Toulouse Olympique and Catalans Dragons. Moore officiated at Friday night’s pre-season friendly between the two clubs in Perpignan.
“We met up with touch judges and liaised with players and coaches,” said Bentham. “Just to make sure everyone is fully briefed before the season starts.
“The clubs are so welcoming, it’s in everyone’s interests that we work together. We offer this service to all clubs and some referees will go two or three times to different clubs, others are happy with just one visit. But the more we can work with the players before the season starts the better it is for everyone.”
The two officials attended a training session at Stade Gilbert Brutus, home of the Dragons, and Bentham added: “It’s a pretty passionate place this, as a referee you are aware that the crowd is on top of you.
“It’s loud, it’s a different sound, a different atmosphere to games in England. Obviously, it’s something that you’re conscious of when you referee here but ultimately we’re professionals and once a game starts it’s just red v blue for us. We’re too busy concentrating on what’s happening in the ruck or on the ten to worry about the crowd’s opinion.
“For us, our focus is on getting the decisions right, it’s not really about where you are or who is shouting at you.
“And at the same time we are fully aware of our responsibilities to keep the pace of the game flowing.”