It’s been a rough old ride for Super League referee’s in 2017, with many of the current group of full-time officials coming under fire for lacklustre performances and inconsistent decisions. The men in the middle haven’t been helped by their employers however, with those in charge at the RFL overcomplicating the most basic of rules. There are now so many different interpretations on the laws of the game, that it is almost impossible for referees to get every, or even a majority, of decisions correct.
The biggest example of this, in my opinion, is the ‘loose carry’. Imagine sitting down with a potential new supporter of the game, and cringing every time you had to explain why one call was given as a knock on and an almost identical situation was penalised as a ball steal. It’s an over complication of what should be a straightforward law, and the game suffers as a consequence.
Defending teams are now changing their tackling technique to target the ball and the ball carrying arm even more. Before, defenders would attempt to stop momentum of an attacker by tackling the body and any focus on the ball was simply to wrap it up and prevent an offload. Now, teams are identifying and targeting that area as a potential way of forcing a turnover. This not only means more knock on/ball steal debates, slowing the game down and affecting the quality, but the ball carrying arm has now become more vulnerable to poor and unlawful attention.
Whilst in attack, the player in possession of the ball should be able to carry it whichever way they see fit. If they want to spin the ball on their index finger while they take on the defensive line then that should be their prerogative. We don’t see footballers give a free kick away because they controlled the ball too far away from their feet, do we? The ‘loose carry’ restricts an attacker in what they can do. For supporters of the game who want to watch free flowing, attacking footy, it’s frustrating to watch.
The RFL really need to start going back to basics, not just on this rule, but on several issues within our game at the moment. A simplified rule where any deliberate attempt on the ball is penalised, no matter how the attacker carries the ball, would make life for a referee that little bit easier. It would also force defenders to revert to focusing on tackling legs and body, rather than ball and arm, which should lead to a game with less stoppages and more offloads, the type of product we as paying supporters want to see!
It’s about time the RFL sent the loose carry to join Phil Clarke’s margin meter in rugby league’s ‘Room 101’.