Wests Tigers’ Ivan Cleary has joined other senior coaches in sticking up for the NRL referees.Wests Tigers’ Ivan Cleary has added his voice to the chorus of coaches to come out in support of the NRL’s under-fire referees.
In a week in which the whistleblowers have come under heavy scrutiny amid ballooning penalty counts brought on by a crackdown from head office, the game’s biggest coaches have leant their support to the men in the middle.
Cleary joined senior coaches Wayne Bennett, Craig Bellamy and Shane Flanagan in sticking up for the referees against a wave of backlash led by commentators and greats such as Andrew Johns and Phil Gould.
Importantly, Cleary is a member of the powerful NRL competition committee that identified the need to clean up several areas of the game.
NRL CEO Todd Greenberg has been fingered as the architect of the crackdown, but it was the competition committee that was instrumental.
Cleary said some areas of the game needed to be tidied up and the referees were reacting to the standards that had grown lax over the last several years.
“The play-the-ball definitely got away from us,” Cleary said.
“If you go back and watch some vision from last year, every play-the-ball was just rolling the ball. It became clear that something had to change there.
“It would have been better if it wasn’t allowed to get to that point but the fact is it was.
“To wind that back, it has spin-off effects. A part of it might be the referees are making a collective decision to say ‘we’re serious about this and we’re not going to stop’.”
Fans have been left frustrated as penalty counts ballooned by 50 per cent in the opening four rounds with the 33 penalties blown during Friday’s Cronulla-Melbourne match an all-time record for the NRL.
However NRL head of football Brian Canavan said the governing body was sticking to their guns and there would be long-term gain for some short-term pain.
“It is frustrating,” Cleary said of some recent high penalty counts.
“It’s probably frustrating for the referees in fairness.
“I hope they don’t want to go out there and blow a lot of penalties. You’d be worried if it was pre-conceived. There’s a bit of an argument to suggest there was in some cases.
“We think the game got away from us for a while there. A lot of it was around the ruck where there was no play-the-ball really.
“You just hope it can work itself out because it’s not great viewing.”