Have your say: How can rugby league’s referee crisis be solved?

Criticism of referees seems to be at an all-time high – so much so that club owners are now taking press conferences to put their points across.

There aren’t many people who want to be a referee, but ultimately without them, we don’t have a game.

The problem is that criticism doesn’t solve the issue – so in this week’s Have Your Say, we’re asking what can be done to save rugby league from a refereeing crisis?

Should in-goal judges be scrapped, in favour of an extra official on the pitch, like the NRL?

Should the video referee be at all games or none (with the former perhaps replacing the need for in-goal officials)?

Are the laws of the game too open for interpretation, and are tweaks made far too often?

Should officials be put in groups, so the same referee always has the same touch judges to aid with familiarity and coming to a decision?

Let us know what you think in the comments below.


  1. Refs do their best, sometimes make mistakes. Forward passes, obvious to the crowd are missed. Are they standing in the right position to see them? I think not. Touch judges should help more. Two refs. on the field would cut down errors, but can they be afforded? Possibly not.

  2. Scrap in touch judge do they really don’t anything…the ref needs more help off the linesman it’s rare they help the ref and only put there flags or have seen anything till the ref has blown his whistle.

  3. Train part time referees again, we lost a couple due to having to go full time which is a load of rubbish as the standards are no better full time than part time. Give them a good pay rate and it could attract new referees who could top up their present income.

  4. Stop the sky commentators from scrutinising every decision with multiple camera angles,slow motion and repeated views. The ref gets one look in real time from one angle, often obscured by players. Give the poor fellow a chance!

  5. The main problems have been brought about by the constant changing of the rules in addition to some rules being either totally ignored or blatantly misinterpreted and we have always had poor refs but it is certainly getting worse.
    The scrums were always poor in the old days but now they are abysmal we may as well have line outs.
    Then the play the ball which is beyond belief a total joke just roll the ball anywhere there is no need to have any feet to play the ball now. The forward pass which was always simple i.e. if a player passes the ball and the receiver catches it in front from where the pass was made it is definitely forward none of these stupid ideas of it drifted forward 5 metres but thats ok.
    Far too many ball steals being treated as knock ons when clearly they were raked out this is primarily caused because refs are usually watching for offside and not the play the ball.
    I have been saying it for years quite often the refs determine the winners with their penalties hence the saying penalty penalty try then there is the obstruction which has become a farce it should be simple we always used to refer to it as crossing but now video refs are spending far too much time debating the issue.
    Also not square at the play the ball which some players are taking too much advantage of just get on with the game.
    Finally one good thing is the refs regularly shouting your off to help keep the game flowing.

    • Well said the trouble is that a decision which is overlooked in one game i.e. incorrect play the ball – forward pass – obstruction – can be overlooked by one referee, but if another referee wants to be pedantic he can almost penalise a team out of the game. We used to have mistakes by the referees when I started watching the game many years ago, but at least we thought they were mistakes…. I have now lost faith in the system, and the way the game is controlled.

  6. I have said all along you should get rid of the video ref if you cannot have it at every game you should not have it at all, Catalans get the advantage or disadvantage at every home game,
    Why when we play the same game at both hemispheres and play internationals against each do we have different rules, and yes think about 2 refs it seems to work down under,
    Personally and I thought I would never say this at the moment I think Phil Bentham is the best ref the others should watch him he lets the game flow it’s not about the ref it’s about the game, only thing is he goes to the video ref too much but if you get rid of that problem solved.

  7. 1. The video ref needs to be at every game. The technology is there, it just needs an official in the video room, linked to the referees earpeice. The TMO system they have in rugby union works very well, and could easily and cheaply be copied. No need for a big screen except at the televised games.

    2. Get rid of in goal judges, they do very little anyway, and a universal video ref would render them unnecessary.

    3. I’m stealing someone else’s idea from another thread here but; a global referee academy to allow sharing of best practise and standardisation between the domestic and international game. This could be done perhaps through web portals (video conferences etc) and also maybe meeting up a couple of times a year where the season permits.

    4. More liaising between clubs and referees. During the recent 4 nations referees were spending time with the two sides they were going to ref during the week, I’m not sure if this already happens in SL but if it doesn’t then it should as it would be a valuable tool in helping teams understand what is going to be expected and how they are going to be treated during the match.

    5. Stiffer penalties for those who publicly criticise officials. Yes, it’s frustrating when poor decisions cost you a game, especially when it happens in consecutive games. But public criticism of officials is not helpful. We’ve seen that. It just gives the officials a trench warfare mentality where they feel unfairly persecuted and some of them have been lost to the game because of it. It’s not the answer. These thugs need to be addressed behind the scenes so that no one feels scapegoated.

    6. Off the back of point 5: a referees standards council should meet once a week, with reps from every club in attendance so that specific points can be clarified and grievances aired; that way clubs don’t feel the need to criticise on air, knowing that they will have the chance to address it later in the week.

    • We criticise players coaches why should the refs not be criticised some decisions they make are disgraceful let them speak to fans forums to explain why

  8. I feel they need to simplify some of the fifty fifty rules that are open to much to interpretation. Despite what people say I personally believe some referees are biased to some teams. Phil Bentham and Ben Thaler in my opinion are far better than the rest

  9. I feel for officials as nobody likes them. But they don’t help themselves and some of ours are too arrogant for their own good too. I’m not saying we’re perfect, but how many headshots went unpunished in our game v Widnes this weekend. They are inconsistent in their decision making at best

    It’s time to stop tweaking the rules every off season, scrap the video ref altogether, tell TJ to actually do their job instead of leaving it to the ref, go back to the simpler game we had 10/15 years ago, scrap the ban on shoulder charges (Why penalise leading with a shoulder in defence but not attack) and scrap the explicit “no punching” ban. Since that came in there’s so much more niggle. Captains ONLY to speak to the ref, which means the ref actually listens to the captain when he has something to say too.

    Since we went all pro the standards have nosedived. But when poor refs with no credibility game wide are put in charge of developing refs, it’s a vicious circle.

  10. I think they should be to refs on the pitch the same as NRL, the touch judges need to do more to warrant having them they should be looking for offsides not the ref and they can help with forward passes and other bit, make them work for their pay instead of being pritty much useless as they are now. Video refs should be at every game but you don’t need a big screen at every game, maybe add the refs video to highlights on TV so everyone can see why they made the call. I don’t want to turn the game into a game of penalty’s like rugby union but something needs to be done, why aren’t the RFL trialing something?

  11. If the owners of clubs feel that way why don’t they get out ion the middle with their acme thunderer!!
    The game is quicker than it ever used to be so sometimes is tough to keep up with play that said though maybe that’s where the video ref could come in and assist.
    Last point, Respect. If a player has been deemed to have done wrong, forward pass, obstruction, poor PTB accept it and move on. Stop surrounding the man in the middle and maybe learn how to PTB correctly, pass backwards whilst moving forward, or run a decent line.
    There aren’t too many people who would go out in the middle on a Saturday and ref 26 plus subs. If we lose these fellas and we will if things like this are allowed to continue, we will have no game!!

  12. I don’t necessarily think the referees are the problem. The problem arises from the rules themselves and, ultimately, the disciplinary process. I know it’s frowned upon, but we should follow the NRL, after all, it is a far superior sport to watch. Over there, it seems like there is less scrutiny on an (potential) offence – from the fans, commentators and players. Not standing square goes unpunished if the player doesn’t come into direct contact. If a player is offside, it is unpunished unless he is first or second man in the tackle. If there is a bit of pushing and shoving at the play the ball, sod it! Nobody wants to see penalties!! Let the game flow. Sky sports don’t help with constant comments of ‘that should have been a penalty’ and, worse, having an ex ref on the panel talking us through every penalty. I firmly believe that if we didn’t scrutinise everything as much, fans would soon give up on crying out for a penalty and, ultimately, less penalties will be given. I understand there if player welfare to consider but, if a player is half a yard offside on kick off, let it go! Unless of course it’s on purpose and the team gains an obvious advantage. I think all refs and members of the RFL should watch the NRL and copy the approach of rules and regulations. Rant over.

  13. The ref’s job is very difficult, too much to watch. So first give the touch judges more responsibility for off sides at the play the ball, forward passes and incidents in the tackle. Then sort out the interpretation of the rules. A knock on means the ball has gone forward but many fumbles result in the ball going backwards, either stick to the law or change it to make ALL fumbles a scrum to the opposition. Off side when defending your own line, both feet should be behind the line, no messing, the touch judge could see to this. Professional players don’t squirt the ball out when in a tackle with three or four defenders, lose carries are used too often when ball stealing is the case. Diving during the play the ball, penalise them, let’s not go down the soccer route. Use the video ref more, should have constant contact between ref & video ref during game. And finally, FORWARD PASSES,no such thing as the momentum rule, the laws of physics can be over ruled by the mower marks and white lines on the field – if we have the technology then use it, too many match results are decided by the long ball!

  14. We are falling into the ways of football, players questioning every decision showing disrespect. Referees make mistakes their human and do a thankless job.Everyone sees a refs decision differently depending whether its for or against their club. Players and club officials should show respect to referees and accept their decisions . Sky sports have played a major part by constantly putting referees decisions under the spotlight and get rid of Stuart Cummins as all he does is try to justify a referees decision whether its right or wrong. Finally referees as a group need to be more consistent in their decision making. Finally We all need to get away from this them and us mentality referees and players need to meet more and discuss the issues that cause the infield problems.

  15. The best way to address this “crisis” is firstly to accept that the referee does NOT have the same view as the cameras, therefore what is “obvious” to the commentary team is not necessarily “obvious” to the referee. In my humble opinion the media, in all its forms, has played a great part in reinforcing the misguided opinion the the referee is wrong or of a poor standard.

    Secondly, we have to convince ourselves that the referee is NOT biased and does NOT have it in for us. He may make mistakes, but they are genuine mistakes. And though they may contribute to the result, in the same way as all the mistakes made by the players contribute to the result, but in themselves, they do not decide the result.

  16. all games on camera and have access to true incidents that all the crowd can see but the ref can not and be accountable and have them explain on tv why they gave a decision that only he seen, i understand its a hard job but they seem to take things personally sometimes and make it harder for themselves by not letting the touch judges shout for a forward pass etc

  17. There are too many inconsistencies within the game. We should make it simpler for the officials as the game is far too difficult to officiate these days. They need eyes in the back of their heads. Scrap the in goal touch judges, have video refs at every game, give the touch judges more powers to help the ref make the right decisions (particularly off-side) and get rid of that “try; no try on the field”. As a result of this, wrong decisions are being made which can decide the result. Not good for players or supporters alike.

  18. First Step is to get rid of Mr Cummings On Sky, No other sport on TV has an ex ref boss in the commentator booth examining every move the ref makes and highlighting his mistakes.. Refs are human, and humans can make mistakes, 50 – 50 decisions are exactly that!!!, there is always going to be one side who does not agree witha 50 -50 decision, but one who is happy with it, but most of all having one commentator who’s job it is is to scrutinise the performence of one person only on the pitch (the referee) and highlight every error / mistake he makes is unessesary!

  19. 1. Accept the fact the officials are un biased. They do a thankless job for the love of the game! They make decisions based on what they see with their own eyes, in one view, in real time . If your team suffers as a consquence, he’s not popular. If your team benefits, he’s good at his job.
    2. simplify the rules. Not for the officials or the people at home but those on the terraces. If you’re at the game you need to see the game the same way the players, coaches, owners and especially the officials do. A forward pass is easy to see and explain unless momentum is included. Minimum ‘A’ level physics, video and analysis software is the only thing that can correctly define momentum. Current referee interpretation cannot be that accurate. One is objective, the other is subjective.
    3. Ball Steal? All players are coached to tackle the ball carrying arm. If the ball does not come loose, no offload and PTB is slowed. If the ball comes loose, it’s a steal or loose carry and the ref decides right or wrong. If you want to blame anyone, blame players, coaches(a.k.a. ex-players) or the game itself for players understanding the importance of that action.
    4. Video ref for all the SL games or not at all. Just one set of rules and one set of interpretations, game to game, week to week and ref to ref.
    5. Always had a lot of respect for all the officials including Mr. Cummings but he does not help the game if he is analysing refereeing decisions. Does not matter if he is right or wrong, agrees or disagrees, does not matter if ref is right or wrong, the ref’s word is final. In the U.S. Masters golf, the organisers do not allow subjective commentary, only factual commentary from the T.V. companies. The same should apply to the Sky commentary team. Jon Wells is good at this but as for Mr. Hemmings.
    6. Match officials love the game, they know the rules, quote the rules, interpret the rules but I worry when I see them struggle to keep up with the speed of the game. Not a fault of the officials but something that must addressed if we want more accurate decisions. Fitter, faster, younger or just more of them on the pitch, I don’t know, but if we trust the body of RFL match officials, I’m cetain they can reach a solution. Afterall, who knows better how to officiate matches. Not me and I’ve been on the terraces or edge of my seat for about forty years.
    6. Create a culture of respect for the match officials. They are referred to as ‘sir’ by the players, maybe we should all have the same level of respect. If my team did not win it was because of the score, not the ref. No, I am not a ref, nor do I want to be. It is a thankless job, but I am grateful for the work they do. No ref, no game!

  20. As a fan of football (soccer) as well as of rugby league, I see far more bad, game-changing decisions in soccer. Rugby League referees do a pretty good job.

  21. I am old enough to remember Sgt major Clay who ruled the game with a rod of iron, one occasion comes to mind when a disgruntled player after being penalised kicked the ball in frustration the length of the field, Clay told him to go and retrieve the ball and return it to him, needless to say the opposing supporters jeered him all the way. the RFL make things more difficult for the officials by rule changes, why make a simple game complicated. Because of the shortage of top flight referees individuals are being promoted from lower divisions to super league and lack the experience of controlling games at that level

  22. Stop sky sports having so much influence over the game. They ruin everything they touch. Just listened to Phil Clarke commentating on Wigan saints game. Thought they were supposed to be impartial? Thought I’d tuned into Wigan tv. Rules of the games far too complicated for referees to officiate. Some referees don’t help by being premadonnas of tv. Bring back the old game and the old promotion rules. Neutral supporter!!

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