The referee’s a neutral

The uproar surrounding the appointment of Matt Cecchin as the referee for the four nations final kind of surprised me. But then I’d forgotten the capacity for conspiracy on the stands of rugby league grounds. I’m a Widnes fan after all, we know enough about it (as a side note all of the theories of wrongs against Widnes are probably true). No one ever loses a rugby league game fairly the RFL have always had a hand in the result, everyone has something to complain about – did teams lose games before Steve Ganson started whistling at the them?

I guess the root of this latest issue though is firstly that the general standard of refereeing in this tournament so far has been pretty low: bad decisions, not going to video when they should, hiding behind the on report ruling – there have certainly been some dodgy calls from the men in the middle.

The second and probably most important is that the bloke is an Aussie, incidentally the home of the top rugby league competition on the planet and by association the best referees. Yes they may have slight different nuances in the game down there but we’re all playing from the same international rugby league rule book.

So the calls have been for a neutral ref, but we asked for that last time and looked what happened, we appointed an inexperienced Kiwi who looked to be doing well before making a mess. Forget the fact that Ben Westwood milked the high tackle (by his own admission – shame on you Ben) by far the biggest decision against us was not giving the Briscoe try. 

So we won’t be asking for Henry Perenara anytime soon, which would leave who? Thierry Alibert is a name thrown in the hat, a man who (correct me if I’m wrong here) hasn’t reffed a game in this tournament so far. I’m not sure starting in the final is the right way to go for the man from France.

So if we can’t have a neutral why not an Englishman? In all honesty I don’t know, I guess Cecchin was considered the better choice and in all honesty down the years I’ve seen English refs be just as harsh as foreign refs to our national team.

Most of the complaining to me smacks of people lining up excuses before the game has begun, getting the conspiracy whispers going early. But look back at those bad displays from the referees so far and in all honesty whilst they had an impact on the game I don’t think they changed the outcome, England would most likely still have lost to a 12 man Australia even having pulled a try back, and we still beat New Zealand – in fact had the ref not made a good decision going to video early on England could well have been struggling from a try down and what a different game that might have been.

Also people won’t be laughing at the sport for not appointing a neutral ref – you really think the people at FIFA will be looking at us thinking “What a Mickey mouse sport can’t even appoint a neutral ref”? Really? I’d say that appointing the best ref regardless of nationality merely reinforces our faith in the integrity of our game’s referees.

I’m not going to say the ref is going to have a good or bad game, but he is a professional official and I fully expect he will leave any national loyalties at the sideline, even if he does ref in a fashion more akin to the NRL than the Super League – which surely a New Zealand referee would do as well? If he makes bad decisions it is most likely a mistake on his part, not a part of some underlying subterfuge – if he has a rubbish game then he’s possibly a rubbish ref, but I very much doubt he’s carrying out some anti English agenda.

The only people who will ultimately win or lose this game are the players and I’m sure they know that – I’d be very surprised if they’re worrying about the fact that the ref is an Aussie, they’re more likely concentrating on what the Australian players will throw at them.



Given some very valid feedback I’ve received I’d like to clarify that yes I would prefer a neutral ref, this post is aimed squarely at those who seem to think that the ref will throw the game Australia’s way simply because he’s an Aussie. It’s not meant to be a wholesale defence of not appointing a neutral ref – without the comments from places like the Love Rugby League facebook page ( to frame the article it does read slightly differently than I had intended. But there is still the bottom line – unless you’re questioning the integrity of the ref then whilst you may prefer a neutral I’m not sure how much you can complain about it.

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