How top officials cope physically with trying to keep 10m defensive lines and controlling the ruck without support should not be a cause for concern, according Annesley and Harrigan.
Of the current referee crop, only Ben Cummins, Gerard Sutton and Gavin Badger worked in the NRL before the two-refs system was created in 2009.
But Harrigan said referees were graded and promoted into the NRL on a solo basis, and there would be no drama with some of the fresher faces calling the shots.
Harrigan said the only reason the two-referees model was introduced was to give whistleblowers a breather late in the game – but they were more than able to handle the pace of flying solo.
“I heard some people say over the weekend the reason the two refs were brought in was to police the ruck. That’s completely false,” Harrigan said.
“Two refs were brought in to reduce the fatigue on the [lead] referee, so when it got towards the back end of the game he was not fatigued and making mistakes.
“I was always confident the referees were fit enough to handle the pace of the game, and they still are today.
“There will actually be less ground to cover because when you’re in the pocket, the expectation on you is to bust your gut to get to every ruck, stand over them and tell the players to get out of there. It shows you how fit they are to get there. So I’ve got no doubt referees will handle it on their own.”
The man nicknamed ‘Hollywood’ even hoped some refs used the opportunity to stamp their own style on the game.
Annesley, also a former top referee, said the current referees would be more than capable of coping with the physical grind: “The referees are all full time, they are under the guidance of full-time high-performance staff, and they train to the level which requires them to undertake their duties at NRL level.
“They adapt easily to international games played under one referee. And there’s no reason to believe a single-referee model will be any different.
“Some of the feedback I’ve had from [referee] coaching staff is the transition from head referee to pocket referee is one of the most physical things they do, so it may be the case that pressure will come off them under a single-referee model.”
He said if the rule was rubber-stamped, one referee would also be in place for Origin.
Wests Tigers co-captain Moses Mbye said he understood why V’landys wanted to save money in the NRL budget. Tigers teammate Corey Thompson said there would be a lot more wrestle, and teams like Canberra, who were good at standing up players and then peeling off, would benefit from less policing in the middle.
Christian covers rugby league for The Sydney Morning Herald.