Over the past few seasons the results in Rugby League are getting closer and closer. While there are the occasional blow out scores, and sometimes even a couple per round (like last weekend), the �flogging� seems to be an endangered species.
When you consider it, there doesn�t seem to be one telling factor that has led to this phenomenon. The teams have far from perfected their skills as there are still plenty of handling errors per game. The salary cap has evened out the quality of each team�s playing roster, but this doesn�t explain how Souths (who are short a quality player or two) can consecutively defeat Penrith and Cronulla. Maybe the improved fitness of the players could be one factor that is having the greatest influence on the close results.
Either way, close games have resulted in a more entertaining competition, coupled with a more anxious experience for fans, players and coaches alike. Now more than ever one simple mistake can change the fortunes of a club. Of course coaches, captains, players, administrators, selectors, team physios and club doctors have all made the odd mistake to the detriment of their team over the years. But it is the referees, both on and off the field that have been copping it from all directions lately, due to admittedly some pretty poor decisions. Steve Clark was the latest referee to be criticised by Nathan Brown (and countless St George fans) for what they believe were some poor decisions. Brown hasn�t been a lone soldier in this act, in the past 5 months almost every coach has been publicly critical the standard of refereeing. Sometimes the criticism is justified, other times it�s not.
While acknowledging the referees do get it horribly wrong at times, I refuse to accept that a referee�s performance is the sole decider of whether a team wins or loses. Sure contentious decisions may disadvantage one team, but all teams have 17 motivated players, well thought out coaching strategies and umpteen weekly fitness and skills drills to ensure they can overcome a few bad calls by the ref. Basically if a team is fragile enough to have to rely on refereeing decisions to dictate whether they win or lose, they were probably never meant to win.
I am also certain coaches (and disgruntled supporters) would accept that for every bad day a team has with refereeing decisions, there is another team that has benefited from said decisions. I understand what it is like to see your team be disadvantaged by poor refereeing, but I have also regularly watched my team rely on a few 50/50 tries to win a game.
Brown has come out on Tuesday and apologized for his comments about referees, explaining that he understands that he�d be better served focusing on the elements of St George�s game that he can control. In delivering this apology, Brown is acknowledging the harm his comments could possibly make to the club. The real fear for St George supporters is that their players (particularly the young and impressionable ones) may start to believe they are losing solely because the referees are picking on them. This could make the concept of trying harder kind of futile.
Meanwhile we will continue to see the referees make mistakes on a weekly basis. Maybe it�s time we all begrudgingly accept it and move on.