Video killed the radio star, but what’s it doing to rugby league?

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The 2009 Carnegie Challenge Cup final showcased all that is good about modern day rugby; and rugby league in particular. It had fast flowing action, big hits, errors and tries aplenty.

The Wolves touched down three times in the opening 15 minutes. Then the Giants countered with possibly the try of the match; an incisive break through midfield instigated by the strength of Stephen Wild, exploited by the pace and vision of fullback, Brett Hodgson and completed by the work rate of hooker, Shaun Lunt.

The game also contained a more than healthy dose of controversy too.

Video referee, Phil Bentham, was called into action almost as much as the average winger. Three of his rulings resulted in debatable ‘No Try’ decisions, with two of those highly contentious calls robbing the Giants of much needed momentum.

The so-called double movement that was spotted as Shaun Lunt twisted out of tackle to reach over is the sort of thing that only get’s picked-up in slow motion and to be frank, well, we don’t play the game in slow motion. So why should we rule on it in that fashion?

If you freeze frame a touchdown it can look a cast iron grounding, yet viewed in normal pace the player can be clearly observed to have lost control of the ball in ‘real time’. Perhaps in slo-mo he’s still got finger-tip control. Maybe. But that’s a real stretch, something akin to Stevo’s famous momentum rule I’d say.

The video ought to be used only at normal speed and only because it offers clearer sight lines and chance for a second, considered, viewing. We should not be using it to reduce a game of energy and excitement to freeze-framed instants in time. It distorts the outcome and sells the player’s efforts short.

As for the ridiculous crossing-rule, it’s now bordering on bringing the game into disrepute. Any defender who makes a bad read can now just thos his hands in the air and claim that the dummy runner obstructed him. Whether intentionally or not we have taken a skill element out of the hands of our attacking players.

Kevin Brown pulled off an impressive jinking run that drew in the Warrington defence, froze some of them on their defensive line and left that line ragged. It enabled him to slip a superb ball out to David Hodgson and ought to have seen the Giants roundly back into a first half that was slipping Warrington’s way.

Instead, an inside dummy run, which ended in a minor collision with a dozey Wolves defender, was deemed sufficient reason for Bentham to rule out the score.

And here is another point. Our video referees seem now to be focussing on finding reasons, however obscure, to deny a try. What happened to giving the benefit of the doubt to the attacking team?

If anyone of these issues had been addressed, the outcome of the game may have been different.

  • Slow-motion freeze frame replays
  • The ‘he-ran-into-me’ crossing rule that robs attackers of a legitimate weapon and empowers lazy defending
  • The pedantic and infuriating ‘he referred it to me so there must be something wrong with it‘ attitude that seems to bedevil video referees. Giving the benefit of the doubt to the attacking side should be paramount.

However, it has to be said that the reason the Giants lost owes more to their own poor disappointing performance than any of the above items and such was Warrington’s dominance, I somehow feel they would still have triumphed.

The objective in resolving these issue ought to be to minimise controversy. To ensure that rules are seen to promote rather than hinder a just outcome.