I generally look forward to the start of the National Rugby League season in March and I enjoy most of the matches that are played in a round. As someone who watches not only the team I support, St. George Illawarra Dragons, but also most of the games played throughout the rounds on Fox League, I am starting to lose interest in the game. This wanning interest in the game I feel is boiled down to a couple of factors. It does not help when the team I support has been extremely disappointing the last five seasons or so, having trouble making the finals. But that is not the main reason why I am losing interest in the sport.
The main reason is the absolute inconsistency and what I feel is bias or favoritism by the referees towards certain teams. Now I do not believe that the referees are fixing or being paid to referee a game a certain way, but there is no doubt that there are certain preconceptions that referees have towards certain teams and players. One example I will give is the sheer amount of wrestling and ruck control that the Melbourne Storm can get away with compared to other teams. Along with this I also find that there are several issues with the standard of referring where forward passes (which for some unknown reason cannot be ruled on via a video ref), incorrect play the balls, offsides, and more all go missed which leads to huge momentum changes and swings in the outcome of the game. I know it is a fast game and there is a good amount of pressure on the referee who by and large get the calls right but there are still a large number of missed calls collectively in a round which could have an impact in a game.
The second reason which is closely tied to the main reason are the constant rule changes and interpretations of the rules. Last weekend was 2021 “magic” round and there was nothing magical about it. There was a greater focus on ensuring head high contact (neck and above) was penalized. While I whole heartedly agree with ensuring the safety of the players, rugby league is a contact sport and with most contact sport like rugby league there is going to be contact with the head. All of a sudden, the governing body of rugby league in Australia believed now it was time to crack down on it. I personally believe this was not entirely due to the safety of the players but because the governing body does not want to be sued (or limit how many individuals will sue) by former players when CTE and other head issues arise later in life. This crackdown is part safety and part financial. Two rounds in after the crackdown and some players get put on report and penalized only, while others are off for ten minutes while in magic round there were complete send offs. On the same day, only hours between games, one high shot will only be a penalty while another will be ten minutes in the bin. This is all because different referees see high shots differently. Not all high shots are the same, but you would think that if a player who got hit in the head and cannot return in the game the player who contacted him would be off permanently and not just penalized or sent for ten.
I can continue with more reasons but the final reason I will post here is the milking and the acting that is being done by players to fool a referee in giving a penalty away and now even getting a player sent off the field for ten minutes. A prime example which really annoyed me was when the Cronulla Sharks player Will Chambers was falling in a tackle and got collected in the head by St. Gerorge Illawarra Dragons player Paul Vaughn’s arm which was at his own side. Chambers stayed down before getting up and stumbling a little which gave enough time for the referee to review it. Paul got put on report, penalized and sent for ten. Chambers gave a cheeky smile, played the ball and went back to his center position. If the governing body really cared about player safety, then Chambers should have gone off the field for a head assessment. In my opinion if you stay down or are collected in the head and motion that you got hit in the head, you should be off for an assessment.
Rugby league, with all the refereeing issues, constant knee jerk rules changes and no transparency in why certain decisions are done by the governing body, I will be not watching any more rugby league until there are some changes back to normality and common sense is introduced in the game. Just like no player is above the game, no governing body individual is above the game; I am looking at you Peter.