The bold proposal is the brainchild of South Sydney star Damien Cook, who tabled it to ARLC chairman Peter V’landys as part of a brainstorming session he conducted with other senior players including Wade Graham, Daly Cherry-Evans and Chris Lawrence. The initiative will be “pressure tested” as part of an overarching review of the bunker at the end of the season.
“The idea I had was all about not using the bunker so much and putting a bit more responsibility on the refs to make that decision,” Cook said.
“At the same time, it also puts the pressure back on the players and takes it off the refs. If the teams haven’t got any challenges left and they get to the end of the game and there’s an important decision to make, that’s where the ref has their wildcard, the one time they can go to the bunker.
“Each team gets theirs and if you have that big moment at the end of the game, it protects both teams from a bad call, that human error that can be made.”
The rule change will likely result in less referrals, although there will still be enough breaks for advertisers to promote their products. NSW and Australian hooker Cook believes the change will also increase fatigue and make rugby league a better spectacle.
“When you know it’s going to be a try, sometimes you don’t know what they are looking at,” Cook said of the time it can take for the video referee to make some decisions.
“The fans and the players will respect the refs a lot more for making decisions off their own bats. If that’s how they see it, then award the try.
“If a player doesn’t like it – someone says to Reno [South Sydney captain Adam Reynolds], ‘He’s definitely knocked it on or been held up’ – you can challenge. Otherwise, play on.
“It takes the pressure off the refs onto the players and keeps the game going as well.”
The NRL has already made a fundamental change in reverting to one referee for the first time in more than a decade. The other tweak ahead of the resumption of the season on May 28 is the introduction of a six again call instead of a penalty for ruck infringements. The referees’ union is opposing the reforms, with the matter scheduled for conciliation at the Fair Work Commision on Tuesday.
Cook said the NRL was receptive to fan and player feedback in a bid to make the game more appealing.
“That’s one thing Peter [V’landys] has done well, he’s asked the fans and the players for their opinion,” Cook said.
“I know they did that survey to get the thoughts of fans and this shows they are putting things in place as a game. They want to give back to the people who make the game, the fans.”
Adrian Proszenko is the Chief Rugby League Reporter for the Sydney Morning Herald.