There was suspicion as to whether it actually existed, which says a lot about the culture at League Central right now. Another suggestion was that it came out of a reader survey in The Daily Telegraph.
This column eventually crow-barred the findings out of the NRL, and they were vague at best.
In a “State of the Game” poll conducted late last year, more than 18,000 fans were asked: “If you could introduce one rule innovation to make the game more unpredictable and entertaining, what would it be?”
The most popular answer was “scrums”, whatever that means. The second was “one referee”.
The poll came off the back of last year’s grand final, when referee Ben Cummins signalled Canberra had six more tackles but then backflipped, leaving poor old five-eighth Jack Wighton tackled on the last.
In the competition committee meeting that followed, there was absolutely no talk about reverting back to one referee, according to three of the panel members present. It wasn’t a pressing issue then — so why now?
The COVID-19 crisis has exposed the game’s financial vulnerability, so costs need to be slashed, but is saving $500,000 really going to help?
A defensive V’landys phoned this column on Thursday to insist he’d consulted “every stakeholder”, while claiming I’d just canvassed a “couple of coaches”.
This isn’t true. Many of the public comments I’ve seen from coaches, players and officials have raised doubts. Privately, they’re a little more effusive.
At the very least, they don’t want such dramatic changes introduced to an already disrupted season.
Then there’s the referees. Remember them? They’ll tell you the one-ref system will work for some whistleblowers but certainly not others as they come to terms with the old way of officiating.
They’ll tell you they fear the first few months of trying to make this work will lead to poor decision-making, more video referrals and an erratic play-the-ball.
And they fear this is what the NRL wants because it will take the focus off the shitfight happening in the front office.
Rushing through policy based on what the fans think is also folly. They must always be heard. Without fans, the NRL is no better than a pub comp.
But if you listened to the fans they’d also want to bring back the biff (ranked 18th in the survey), the shoulder charge (ranked 22nd), and cold cans on the hill (first in a straw poll of my mates).
Let’s see. The ultimate gauge will be the footy. If this is the long overdue panacea to the mind-numbing wrestling techniques that have overtaken the game, I’ll be the first to buy V’landys a Metaxa.
“But if it fails, it’s all my fault,” he said. “I take full responsibility.”
You gotta give the bloke credit: at least he fronts up.
Rumour of the Weeks
There’s a nasty rumour getting around that chief operating officer Nick Weeks is on $900,000 a year.
It suits the narrative being spun about everyone on the NRL’s executive team being paid enormous salaries as part of a “bloated” head office.
Like a lot of information getting around right now — and some of it is coming out of League Central — it’s just plain wrong. His salary is actually closer to $500,000, according to various sources.
Weeks is angry because it paints him in a poor light with colleagues at a time when people are losing their jobs.
Luc who’s not talking
“Don’t judge your taco by its price,” said the late Hunter S Thompson, although you can certainly judge the interest in a story by its page views on the internet.
So this might stun you: The Herald’s story about Luc Longley’s silence about The Last Dance documentary is the most read sports story — outside of live blogs — in the history of our website.
It shows just how much the doco, which focuses on Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls’ domination of the NBA in the 1990s, has captured the world’s attention.
Longley, who played for the Bulls during their second run of three NBA titles, wasn’t interviewed because of budgetary reasons according to director Jason Hehir. He also hasn’t spoken publicly about the doco.
Ridiculously, some have assumed that’s because of “sour grapes”, but that’s not Longley’s style. It would be presumptuous to assume the reasons but he’s more likely to be keeping his thoughts to himself until the 10-part series is over.
Former Boomers teammate Chris Anstey gave a beautiful insight into the man in a Facebook post earlier this week.
“As the world watches The Last Dance, and the spotlight once again shines on the Chicago Bulls, Luc is again conspicuous to many in his silence,” Anstey wrote. “But my bet is that Luc is not silent to those around him. He is likely sharing a much broader perspective on the phenomenon that he was a part of. He is unlikely silent to those who are interested in more than the three-and-a-bit bit seasons he lived in the centre of the sporting world.”
Meanwhile, in the booming sport of rugby union, Optus director of sport Rich Bayliss came in hot last week when he told Sky Racing that the telco had never been interested in rugby.
“It’s hard to almost look at that now given what’s happened in rugby since, I think the speculation was out there but to be honest we weren’t particularly close, nor was it going to happen given COVID,” the former Fox Sports talking head told the Big Sports Breakfast.
That was news to those at RA who had been negotiating with Optus about buying the rights from next season. They’d never even heard of Rich Bayliss and were dealing then — as they are now — with people well above his pay grade.
Various RA sources are adamant Optus was a week away from securing a deal with them before the coronavirus crisis ruined it all.
Minichiello fit to burst
Who is the fittest man to ever play rugby league? Wayne Pearce? Billy Slater? Mark Riddell?
Sydney Roosters legend Anthony Minichiello would have to go close, having rebuilt his body after suffering back injuries that almost ended his career.
The Mincat looks like he could still play, but in these uncertain coronavirus times he’s making do with his new MiniFit live and on-demand workouts, which provide subscribers with functional 15-minute sessions whenever they want.
I’ve done three of them and already have abs the size of cricket balls. No joke.
“I played footy at the top level for 18 seasons and in that time I gained a lifetime of experience in health and fitness,” Minichiello says. “Now my goal is to train every day, to feel good every day.”
Check it out at minifit.com.au.
“Stuff like this happens.” — Baltimore Ravens safety Earl Thomas, whose wife Nina held a gun to his head after bursting into an AirBnB where he was in the middle of an orgy with his brother and other women. Look, it happens.
Mike Tyson, 53, released a video via Instagram this week of him brutalising some boxing pads and it was the most frightening, and impressive, thing to happen to the sport in years, on social media at least.
Very sad to hear of the passing of AAP racing editor Caryl Williamson, 67, who was a permanent fixture at Australia’s biggest meetings over the past three decades. She died peacefully at her Sydney home on Tuesday.
It’s a big weekend for … the German Bundesliga, which returns this weekend behind closed doors but with enormous TV audiences expected to be watching around the globe.
It’s an even bigger weekend for … Santa Ana Lane, the veteran sprinter looking this Saturday to win the group 1 Goodwood at Morphettville for a second time. Good luck and good punting and bet with your head, not over it.
Andrew Webster is Chief Sports Writer of The Sydney Morning Herald.