NRL clubs lobby for return of second referee – without a whistle

The NRL has been pitched a proposal from a group of influential clubs for the return of a second referee – without a whistle.

Just over a year after the NRL returned to a single referee during the COVID-enforced suspension of the competition, the push for another match official to be in the middle for 2022 is gaining traction.

But the idea has come with a catch.

According to sources familiar with the situation, several clubs have lobbied the NRL during end-of season reviews to consider using a second roving referee who can be another set of eyes and ears for the main referee, but won’t carry a whistle to stop play themselves.

Instead, they will help the lead referee police areas such as the ruck and 10-metre infringements – as well as increase player safety in spotting potential concussion incidents and foul play – and communicate accordingly to the lead referee in charge of the game.

It is potentially a major shift to how the game is officiated, with the advent of six-again calls, a reduction in scrums and the increasing spotlight on the handling of head injuries creating what many clubs consider an enormous task for a single referee.

The NRL has been floated a proposal for the return of a second referee – without a whistle.Credit:NRL Photos

The second on-field official will still be wired up and able to communicate with the main official, and would be given the ability to move into different parts of the field as they see fit.

The idea was raised by several clubs during recent video hook-ups with the NRL to discuss a range of issues, including on-field rules as well as the match review and judiciary process.

The Australian Rugby League Commission is due to meet early next month to analyse the feedback.

The NRL opted to return to a one-referee system in May last year, partially as a cost-cutting measure, which initially caused angst between the governing body and match officials who were only told of the changes at short notice.

It also came at the same time as the implementation of the six-again, which has increased fatigue in the game and provided another dimension for referees to grapple with.

The two-referee system had been in place for more than a decade before then, and was primarily used with the second match official on the field acting as a pocket referee behind each ruck. They also carried a whistle and could blow penalties and other stoppages when needed.

Several observers have noted a concussion incident involving Manly’s Sean Keppie during the finals – in which he staggered around for several tackles before play was eventually stopped – would have been identified earlier had a second on-field referee been able to assist.

And many coaches have argued to the NRL another on-field official could help ensure defensive teams don’t flout the 10-metre rule while the main referee is focusing attention on the ruck.

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