OPINION: No one is above the game

In my time as a rugby league referee in the Penrith Junior Rugby League it was common for top level rugby league players to head out to a local ground and support the game.

I vividly remember being at Ched Towns Reserve, Glenmore Park in the early 2000’s when then local Preston Campbell turned up to the ground with his skateboard.  Presto was more than happy to spend time talking to the kids, the future of our game.  He acted professionally even though he wasn’t representing his Penrith Panthers club.

Over the weekend we witnessed the other end of the spectrum.  Three National Rugby League players were involved in a match where it has been alleged a rugby league referee was abused; their professional conduct being put into question.  

Matt Lodge, Andrew and David Fifita all came under the watchful eye of the Penrith Panthers Junior League and in the process been swiftly dealt suspensions.  We also found out the Fifita brothers were suspended a few years back by the same junior league.

Were Lodge and the Fifita brothers not aware of the work Penrith Panthers General Manager Phil Gould was doing to ensure better safety at junior league games?  Or did they simply ignore this in the heat of the moment?

Were they aware as of mid-July that if you abused a referee in the Penrith District Junior Rugby League that teams would lose six point or face removal from the finals series?  These were measures taken after police were called out to two incidents on the same weekend.

Or do these individuals think they are above the game because of their profile?

The debate about the actions of the Fifita brothers has raged on social media early this week, Sharks fans being the most vocal with the catch-cry that there is no evidence to suggest any wrongdoing.

Reality is that Junior League matches whether they are in the Penrith or Cronulla Sutherland Shire District aren’t professionally videotaped and often rely on written evidence when incidents are presented to a committee.  Unlike the National Rugby League hierarchy they don’t ‘ah’ or ‘um’ over decisions.  They are decisive no matter the type of person bought forward to the judicial hearing.

For referee Tim Hannon it took a lot of guts to proceed with reporting this incident.  Over the years I have been, or seen others subjected, to verbal abuse or physical abuse and kept silent about the issue.  Rest assure referee Hannon will be getting the support he needs from his ref colleagues as he deals with this traumatic experience.

To hear that a couple of referees out of this incident will either consider quitting or walk away from the game is sad.  We as a rugby league community should be doing more to protect referees to ensure good referee’s like Tim Hannon stay in the system.

No one is above the game.

Now the pressure is on the National Rugby League duo of David Smith and Todd Greenberg to show some leadership on this issue and take appropriate action if necessary.



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