The Armchair Pundit: In defence of rugby league’s referees

There is a famous scene towards the climax of the first Indiana Jones film where, having finally got their hands on the Ark of the Covenant and subsequently opening it, the assembled Nazis are consumed by angels of death.

A similar feeling washed over The Armchair Pundit this past Friday night when making the mistake of perusing the rugby league Twittersphere in the wake of the evening’s three Super League matches.

Amid the collective rage from Leeds Rhinos fans at their defeat to Huddersfield Giants and Zak Hardaker apparently offering out any keyboard warriors in a since-deleted tweet, there was plenty of bile being directed at referee Joe Cobb as well.

Having already been embroiled in controversy the previous week for how he was perceived to have handled the clash between Wigan Warriors and Huddersfield, Cobb, who has been a full-time referee for nearly a year, was this time being castigated for his display in the encounter between Widnes Vikings and Wakefield Trinity Wildcats.

Widnes head coach Denis Betts was among those who were left fuming about the Newton-Le-Willows official, describing it as “the worst refereeing performance I’ve seen in 30 years” following an 18-16 defeat for his side which saw both teams have a man sent off and three Vikings players despatched to the sin bin.

Some may sympathise with Betts’ view that Chris Houston’s try from a high kick was unfairly chalked off after he was deemed to have interfered illegally with a defender attempting to make a catch.

But the Vikings chief can have no complaints about any of the cards handed out to his players. Indeed, Patrick Ah Van’s careless tackle which lifted Ashley Gibson above the horizontal was deemed so bad he has subsequently been handed a five-match ban by The RFL disciplinary panel.

Stefan Marsh has also been suspended for two games after tripping an opponent, while Lloyd White saw yellow for a professional foul and Aaron Heremaia was sent off for his part in a brawl which also saw Wakefield’s Scott Moore dismissed.

Sky Sports pundit Brian Carney was quick to hit out at Betts’ post-match comments, saying: “He savaged a referee when perhaps the blame lies closer to home.

“Has he ever used comments like that in private to one of his players about their performance? I doubt it. Has he ever had one of his coaching performances described in such terms? I doubt it.

“While it is most unlike Denis, who is normally circumspect in his analysis of a referee, it is yet another tedious example of blame for defeat being slung unfairly at the feet of officials.”

Giants head Paul Anderson has already been fined £500 – £250 of which is suspended – for his criticism of Mr Cobb the previous week, so do not be surprised to find Betts in the dock at Red Hall for his outburst as well.

More importantly though, The RFL must be seen not to stand for what appears to be a growing trend of coaches blaming referees for their own team’s failings. Yes, coaches are always going to stick up for their players and no, the referees should not have any accountability.

But hanging officials out to dry in public in this manner benefits nobody and does not reflect well on the sport. If such vocal criticism continues to go unpunished, it will quickly filter down to the amateur levels, where refereeing is hard enough as it is.

A glance at the statistics also shows it should perhaps come as no surprise Mr Cobb has been a busy man with the cards and the whistle two weeks in a row.

For you see, dear reader, Widnes, Wakefield, Wigan and Huddersfield are four of the five sides who have given away the highest number of penalties in Super League so far this season.

As much as fans might be convinced referees have nothing better to do than sit around plotting against certain teams or that officiating standards – an abstract concept at best – are getting worse, there are plenty of times when players and coaches need to take responsibility for their own actions.

Thursday night attendance watch: The attendance of 11,724 at the Halliwell Jones Stadium for Warrington Wolves’ 40-10 demolition of Wigan Warriors was actually over 600 up on the corresponding fixture last season – a game also played on a Thursday night.
The victory puts Warrington two points clear at the top of the pile, but below them are Wigan, Hull and the Catalans Dragons all on 18 points.

The Black and Whites seem to be well and truly over their hiccup from a few weeks ago after edging out the Dragons 28-26 – the highlight of which was a superb flowing move that was finished by Curtis Naughton.

Marwan Koukash Twitter watch: Amid his seemingly never-ending one-man war with The RFL, Salford’s most prolific tweeter still managed to find time to make light of hostilities.

The Good Doctor’s other sporting love is horse racing, with this week’s meeting at Chester being one which has been particularly fruitful for a man who owns a string of thoroughbreds.

So given his regular clashes with the game’s authorities, he seemed quite surprised to find RFL chief executive Nigel Wood trying to tap him up for some tips for Chester.

“I do not know whether to laugh or cry,” tweeted Koukash. “Nigel Wood is asking me for a tip on who is going to win the Chester cup. I said try Hetherington.”

Koukash was no doubt cheered further by the response of Salford Red Devils following their six-point deduction for salary cap breaches, with them storming to a 44-26 victory at home to Hull Kingston Rovers on Saturday.

And in the battle of Super League’s two most inconsistent teams, St Helens pulled off a comeback win to triumph 30-20 over injury-stricken Castleford Tigers having been 10-6 down at half time.

Defence wins the Championship?: London Broncos keep on winning games and are now six points clear of third-placed Bradford Bulls following a 30-16 win over their Kingston Press Championship promotion rivals.

Head coach Andrew Henderson was quick to praise the defensive efforts of his side in the wake of that win, with the Broncos having only conceded 195 points in the league up to this point.

“We put a big emphasis in pre-season on defence,” said Henderson. “I think we’ve built our season on our good defence and we worked extremely hard in pre-season, did a lot of contact work, and a lot of defensive systems and structures.

“We work great with the ball, but it’s off the back of strong defence and that attitude defensively is what got us over some of those games earlier in the season.”

However, he will have been less than pleased with the fact his side had to come from 14-8 down at half time to get the win.
Leigh Centurions are just a point ahead of London after triumphing 37-30 against early-season surprise package Batley Bulldogs.
Meanwhile, a second-half fightback was not enough for Workington Town, who went down 36-32 at Halifax, despite outscoring the hosts 22-6 in the second half.

The road to Blackpool: Rather than just being a company which exists to sponsor a minor rugby league cup competition, The Armchair Pundit was surprised to learn this week that iPro Sport is, in fact, a type of drink which Alan Partridge would probably describe as “yellow stuff in tins” consumed by “narcissistic sports pimps.”

The finalists for said cup competition are now known, with York City Knights and Keighley Cougars booking their place in the final at Blackpool’s Bloomfield Road on the same weekend as the Summer Bash.

For both teams, it represents a chance to get their hands on some rare knockout competition silverware because although both have won divisional titles, cup success has tended to elude them.

Keighley have no major cup honours to their name, while York’s last notable triumph was when their previous incarnation lifted the old Yorkshire Cup way back in the 1936-37 season.

In a reduced League One programme, Rochdale Hornets and Doncaster ensured they remained out in front with wins over Barrow and Hunslet Hawks respectively, while Toulouse Olympique returned to their free-scoring ways with a 54-8 win over Oxford.
League One received plenty of attention last week following confirmation Toronto Wolfpack will be adding a Canadian dimension to the competition from next year.

Perhaps the only concern is that the money men behind the project are somewhat reticent to reveal themselves. Indeed, Canada Rugby League CEO Eric Perez would only go as far as to say they “all made their money in mining and resources – some Canadian, a couple Australians, mostly Canadians though.”

There is no reason to be sceptical of those claims at present, although one would hope The RFL have done their due diligence on the people involved in the club – even if they do not want to reveal themselves publicly.

Amateur score of the week: Coventry Dragons 28 Leamington Royals 12, Midlands Rugby League South. The Dragons came from 12-10 down at half time to beat one of their local rivals and avenge their defeat to Leamington in the play-offs last season.

Comments? Questions? Complaints? Email [email protected] with the subject line ‘The Armchair Pundit’, tweet @gamethatgotaway or leave a comment below.

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