Referees, rules and keeping it simple

It’s interesting what you learn from watching a game back in full.

The game in question was Widnes’ win over Castleford. Having been to the match live, I was able to watch the match back in full, albeit with the Sky commentary.

There were two incidents that struck me as being notable.

The first was the, some would say, controversial try that Joe Mellor scored for Widnes when Castleford went for a short kick-off and failed (or not, as it goes).

For those who didn’t see it, Luke Gale’s kick-off travelled the 10 metres in the air but was blown back and bounced within the 10 metres.

Cue confusion as Castleford players daren’t touch it and concede what would have been a critical penalty, while the Widnes players didn’t want to touch it either for the same reason.

That was until Mellor pounced, kept his balance under an attempted ankle tap and then raced away 50 metres unopposed for a fine opportunist score.

What wasn’t clear from being at the match live, was that referee Jack Smith clearly shouted to all players that the ball had travelled 10 metres, and it was just that the excellent Mellor was the first to react, and clearly got his rewards.

On the Sky Sports coverage, you could clearly hear Smith shout. Yet as Mellor ran round to go in behind the posts, commentator Eddie Hemmings exclaimed that “surely this will go to the video referee.”

Why?

The referee clearly made an on-field call, and then had the assertiveness not to succumb to this apparent need to check everything on a replay.

It’s no wonder referees confidence is at an all-time low, when we have TV commentators questioning a clear and assertive call on the field.

As an odd quirk, it would have been interesting had the referee been wrong (which he wasn’t) and had referred it to the video referee.

In theory, that would have meant a penalty against Widnes. But given that Widnes only touched the ball after the referee had clearly called play-on, it would surely have been impossible to penalise them.

Later on in the match, Castleford threatened the most unlikeliest of comebacks from 26 points down in the final 11 minutes.

Having scored a quick-fire double, Widnes were well and truly on the back foot and desperately defending on their line.

Up went a kick to the corner which was claimed by Corey Thompson, who was then felled from the air by a challenge from Denny Solomona, a similar tackle to which Thompson had been punished in the first half.

Everyone apparently stopped, expecting a penalty, and the referee waved play on.

Thompson then seemed to have a brain explosion, taking an unnecessary and risky play to take on his opposite number down the Vikings’ right flank.

He ended up being pushed in to touch, and Castleford had a fresh set of six on the Widnes line; whereas if Thompson had simply retained possession, Widnes would have run down the clock and surely made the game safe.

Now it may have simply been a terrible call by Thompson, one of Super League’s leading try scorers and one of the signings of the season, but part of me wondered whether it might be something else.

Confusion over the free play rule.

Perhaps Thompson thought that the same process applied to the awarding of penalties, as what happens with knock-ons or lost ball.

You couldn’t blame him for thinking that as an overseas player new to Super League.

It’s another cute example of why it’s absolutely outrageous that there are different rules of the game on each side of the world.

There was, of course, a perfect example of this on this very ground – when Luke Walsh tried a kick chase following a knock-on against Sydney Roosters, without realising the free-play rule wasn’t enforced in the World Club Series.

It’s long time that was sorted out.

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