No seriously, who’d be a referee?
Without them, we have no game. Yet the amount of abuse they receive is incredible, to the extent that you wonder how any of them can stomach it.
As if being a referee isn’t bad enough, try being a referee with a Twitter account.
Joe Cobb is the current most frequent victim of hatred and vitriol on social media, following two successive games where he was publicly blasted by long-serving Super League coaches Paul Anderson and Denis Betts.
While those who were at Widnes against Wakefield might have had some empathy with Betts due to how the game unfolded at the hands of Cobb and the officials, myself included, there is a wider issue that goes well beyond Cobb’s performance.
St Helens whistler Steve Ganson is in charge of the limited pool of officials and he is no doubt faced with multiple questions and concerns from coaches every week.
Not helped, I’m sure, by the frequent disagreements that Stuart Cummings seems to have with the on-field decision while commentating on Sky Sports.
Trolls on Twitter can be blocked, but the issue of inconsistency won’t go away.
The trouble is, while people are more than happy to complain about it, no one seems capable of coming up with a solution for the problem.
The more people complain, the harder it is going to be to recruit referees.
There was a drive a decade ago to persuade former players to take up officiating, something ironically that Betts declared an interest in towards the end of his own playing days.
Only Jamie Bloem, who is today reserve referee for a game involving two of his former clubs – Halifax and Widnes – is the only ex-player of note to have had a stint in the middle.
Technology doesn’t appear to be the answer either, considering the number of controversies surrounding the video referee in recent times, so it appears that only adding to the quantity of officials available will help improve the quality.
The NRL operates with two referees, which means that one official is focused on the ruck – this means that decisions surrounding the ball coming loose at the play the ball aren’t just an educated guess, but a lot clearer.
It also ensures managing the defensive line can be given more attention.
Touch judges must also take their portion of responsibility, though of course with them being wired up via headset, it’s hard for the average Joe fan to determine whether a decision has been influenced by a flag-waver or not.
There are staunch defenders of officials online, and likewise there are blinkered fans who claim it’s all a conspiracy against their club – it’s not.
While public criticism of referees is perhaps unfair, it is at times not unjustified.
But continuous criticism isn’t going to solve the issue. Only an appreciation from the top that there is a problem and an investment from somewhere to make an improvement is going to make a difference.