In 2008, the NRL is launching a new programme to encourage players to become referees when they retire.
The programme, dubbed the Cadet Programme, will be overseen by former NRL whistle-blower Steve Clark. It will consist of a three-year programme whereby the cadets (former players) will train with the current first grade refs, do school games as well as games in the weekends.
Referees’ boss Robert Finch is hopeful that at the end of the three-year period, the cadets are on the verge of first grade honours.
It is great that they will be doing school games. It would be such a thrill for the children to have their match officiated by a former NRL star and I only hope they are encouraged to and mix with talk to the children after the match because this will inspire the next generation of league stars.
The Cadet Programme is also a wonderful initiative overall. It gives players another option of what to do when they hang up their boots. They also have another way of making their name in league if they cannot crack the top-grade side after years of trying.
If the referees are former players, they will have been there and done that. They will know what the players are thinking because they have personally been there. That means they will be able to react accordingly and keep better control of matches. When we see testy situations in first grade and referees struggling to take control, it is often because they don’t completely understand what is going on in the minds of the players.
The players will also have more respect for the referee if he is a former player himself. Sure, they would test him a little bit when he first arrives on the refereeing scene to test his limits and find out whether or not he is a good ref, but in most cases it will already be obvious how mentally tough he is.
Players who will be a part of the Cadet Programme in 2008 are former Cronulla player Henry Perenara, former Rabbitoh Paul Mellor and former Rooster Luke Phillips.
I also think the NRL should consider using NZ referees. Often when the Warriors are on the wrong end of a controversial decision, New Zealanders accuse him of being biased towards the Australian team because he is an Australian referee. This is mainly bollocks. All teams are on the wrong end of a dubious decision from time to time and this includes the Warriors. Referees are not, nor will ever be, right 100% of the time.
Using NZ refs would minimize this effect, or at least ensure that this argument going both ways. In saying that, I don’t think NZ refs would end up regularly officiating Warriors games.
New Zealand refs are certainly worthy of NRL status and because the NRL will only consider Australian refs they are denied of an opportunity to make a name for themselves, no matter how good they are.
Glen Black controlled some Tri-Nations games in 2004 and 2005. He also did three Super League games in 2005. He has been named as New Zealand Referee Of The Year on at least two occasions.
Craig Pascoe did an excellent job of controlling the Junior Kiwis v Junior Kangaroos match a fortnight ago. He was the 2006 Bartercard Cup grand final referee and also won NZ ref of the year. He was also a touch judge in last year’s Tri-Nations.
Leon Williamson did a couple of Super League games this year. He was a touch judge in the Kiwis-Kangaroos centenary test.
Dave Pakieto was the video ref in that test match. He also controlled this year’s Bartercard Cup grand final.
None of those four referees would be out of place in the NRL and they would certainly do a good job.
The main reason why the NRL don’t consider NZ refs is because, logistically, they want all their refs to be Sydney-based. However I feel that for the refs, if there’s a will, there’s a way for them to get to training every week if they are not from Sydney, even if it means living in Sydney during the season.
There is no doubt that the fact that refs have to be based in Sydney forced Brisbane ref Tim Mander out of the game a couple of years early.
The NRL instead need to pay their refs more if they want them to be full-time refs. If their requirement for refs to be Sydney based is indeed a logistical one they need their refs to only have one job. Part time commitments with the poilce force or as teachers or whatever can only stand in the way.
If they were paid more, then they will have more time to spend with their families and to prepare for the big games, which will, in theory at least, make them better referees.
I believe the NRL owes it to the refs, the clubs and the supporters to ensure refereeing standards are as good as they can possibly be.