Phil Clarke assesses the current standard of refereeing in Rugby League's Super League...
Last Updated: 01/09/09 5:23pm
Love them or loathe them, as the old saying goes, there's no game without referees.
I always attempt to talk about the players and the game, as I don't feel qualified to speak with any authority on the match officials, and yet they seem to receive more air-time in sport than the game itself.
"Ger 'em onside" is an almost constant appeal by some supporters when their team is in possession. It's not just in Rugby League either. The post-match analysis of a Sky Sports football match often includes the opinion of a recently retired referee and his verdict on the major decisions made in the match.
In my opinion, the referees in Super League put as much effort into their profession as the players. Physically they attempt to maximise their potential and have taken advantage of the benefits of sports science more than most teams.
Their training is specific to the demands of their job and I'd back Ian Smith to win a 60 metre race over 50% of the players in Super League, even though he's almost old enough to be their dad!
The simplistic argument about a 'good referee' is one that you don't notice, but I can't agree with that. Some people claim that a very low penalty count means that the man in the middle has had a good game, but has he? Was he watching the right thing at the right moment? Did he keep a count of the number of tackles in a set?
Just for the record, an average Super League game has 14 penalties in it over the course of the 80 minutes. If we take two referees as an example we'll see that Steven Ganson awards 11 per match on average, whilst Ian Smith blows for 15.3. All of the others fall in between that range.
So, is Ganson the best, or does he just miss more of the things that Smith sees? If you take a detailed look at exactly what Smith penalises, you'll see that he is prepared to penalise players for being offside, both within 10 metres of the play-the-ball, and at Marker Defender i.e. no square. Perhaps he just has better listening skills than Mr Ganson and is able to hear the crowd and their cries for offside!
It is also interesting to note that a typical Guinness Premiership Rugby Union game has around 22 or 23 penalties in it, plus one or two blood bins!