NRL Playoffs: How expected refereeing changes could hurt the Warriors

Author
David Skipwith, NZ Herald,
Section
League,
Publish Date
Saturday, 8 September 2018, 2:57PM
Roger Tuivasa-Sheck of the Warriors in discussion with a referee. (Photo / Getty)
Roger Tuivasa-Sheck of the Warriors in discussion with a referee. (Photo / Getty)

The Warriors are prepared for a loosening of the rules during the NRL finals with referees expected to let play flow throughout the business end of the season.

Reports earlier this week suggested referees had been given similar instructions to those they received before State of Origin, to allow games to flow during the playoffs.

The change is expected with the NRL hoping the biggest games of the year entertain the masses, and see them avoid further criticism after the controversial refereeing crack-down earlier this year.

Penalty counts soared throughout the opening half of the season when referees made good on warnings they would pay extra scrutiny to areas of the game that had gone unpoliced in recent years.

The Warriors were penalised for an incorrect play the ball in the first minute of their first trial game against Melbourne in February, which set the tone for a controversial opening to the premiership.

Players not being square at marker and attempts by defending teams to slow the play the ball through wrestling tactics were among other pet peeves for the men in charge.

Match officials lightened their stance towards the midway point of the competition but the refereeing clampdown resumed in recent weeks with players again penalised for not rolling their foot over the ball.

Reigning premiers Melbourne appeared to struggle during the early season penalty blitz before gaining momentum as rulings relaxed throughout the middle part of the year.

There is also a school of thought that the Warriors were among those teams to benefit from the crack-down, with their up-tempo play aided by the tighter controlling of the tackle area and 10 metres, while the added stoppages helped them re-set their focus and defensive line.

Word referees might keep their whistles in their pocket in the coming weeks has raised fresh concerns that stifling defensive sides such as the Storm and Sharks might get away with murder in the ruck area.

Canberra coach Ricky Stuart highlighted the issue following his side's final round loss to the Warriors last week, saying different rule interpretations will be just one hurdle Stephen Kearney's side will need to overcome in their first finals appearance in seven years.

"It's a completely new ball game," stressed Stuart. "Interpretations are different next week, some are playing sudden death and the pressure is enormous."

However, Kearney is relaxed about what might occur in tomorrow night's elimination final against Penrith at ANZ Stadium, and says his side will continue to do everything they can to stay on the right side of the law.

"Ricky's been involved in a number of finals series, and I heard him mention the interpretations of the referees may change now that it's the finals," said Kearney.

"We've prepared that way all year. We actually prepared that way during the pre-season.

"What will happen I'm not 100 per cent sure, but if it does then we feel we're in a good position to cope with it so we'll just see how it unfolds."

Veteran forward Adam Blair hopes games are allowed to flow, but is confident the Warriors' close attention to detail would ensure they avoid getting hammered in the penalty count.

"Those are things we've worked on really hard over the last couple of months, simple things in the game and the little things that get you to these positions," he said.

"It's most important and we still do it now and we did it today – a simple play the ball and getting your foot on ball, and just getting up to play the ball and having control in your hands."

When asked if he was concerned teams might capitalise on any opportunity to slow the ruck or creep up offside, Blair hoped referees would be quick to respond.

"They'll adjudicate in the way they think is right. If there's tactics where teams try to slow other sides down I'm sure they'll pick up on those.

"I just hope we can see a good brand of football over the next month."

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