Kent: NRL can’t have it both ways
One day rugby league will end up half-pregnant and we will all be happy.
It will be a magnificent time for the game, to say nothing of medical science.
Coaches will chirp like nightingales at press conferences, pleased at the outcome. Players will nod in embarrassed agreement when ordered to the sin bin, confessing their sins and wondering how they didn't get picked up earlier.
Even Geoff Toovey and Buzz Rothfield will embrace warmly on Controversy Corner, weeping that they never really meant all they said while telling each other they're both legends and that they, yes, love you man.
Big Blocker will wrap his big arms around both, wanting in.
There is a little work to be done first, though.
On Monday Graham Annesley made the tortured walk from his office to the League Central conference room for his weekly bloodletting, a walk that gets longer each week.
Last week Annesley spent much of the conference apologising for why Elliott Whitehead should have been sin-binned when he took out the support player, Ryan Papenhuyzen, in back play.
There was a great furore that the referee missed it.
On Monday Annesley spent much of the conference explaining why it was right for Jake Trbojevic to be sin-binned for grabbing the support player, Dane Gagai, in backplay.
There was a great furore that the referee sin-binned him. Brimstone and fire rained down, many predicting the game will soon be in ruins.
Rugby league wants what it wants until it gets it. Then it wants the opposite.
The argument for Trbojevic was that the referee should have used his discretion.
This overlooked the rule that says, in clear terms, players are not allowed to grab support players. And it overlooked the undeniable fact that Trbojevic grabbed a great slice of Gagai's jersey.
The grab was at the lighter end, say the discretionists, and had no significant impact on the play … so the referee should have used his discretion, they argue back.
Discretion according to whom, though?
Discretion differs in all of us.
It all works perfectly until somebody does not agree with the discretion applied because it does not suit their version.
So then they call for a black and white interpretation … until they see Jake grab on and believe it should be discretion again.
Rugby league keeps creating its own problem here.
Tripping used to be a send-off offence. It was in the rules.
Then somewhere along the line a discretionist referee deemed some trip not really worthy of a send-off so the player stayed on and, over time, the send-off eventually disappeared.
It has got to the point, though, where Jared Waerea-Hargreaves faced the judiciary last week for a trip that most agreed was not worth a suspension.
Then the judiciary was informed that they had to find Waerea-Hargreaves not only guilty of tripping, but "recklessly" guilty. "Careless" was not enough, they were told.
Isn't a trip an absolute, like being pregnant? How does a reckless trip look different to an accidental trip?
Either the foot comes out or it doesn't. If it does, it can't be accidental and, if it doesn't, then there is no trip.
Des Hasler had every right to be upset with how the rule was adjudicated last Friday _ not because the referees got it wrong but because we have allowed the rules to become so bastardised Trbojevic had no idea he was risking a sin bin when he tried to skip past Gagai.
Which is all he was doing.
"Were we dudded?" Hasler asked to himself after the game, before answering himself too. "Yes."
Discretion has a place in rugby league. The referee should decide, for instance, that a ball either went forward for a knock on or it went backwards. They make the call depending on what they see the ball do from where they are standing.
Only, every ball that hits the ground nowadays it tends to be called a knock on even if it clearly went backwards.
So where discretion should apply it no longer does.
Only in rugby league.
Everybody wants discretion until they don't agree with it, and then wonder why interpretations can't be black and white.
And the game encourages the confusion by swinging back and forth.
On Monday Annesley stood there defending the rules of the game, the Trbojevic sin-binning, saying the rules don't change for semi-finals.
Then Annesley was asked if the game was going to fine Hasler for his comments criticising the decision, which is also against the rules.
"Well, I know Des really well …" he began.
In other words, of course not.
Only in rugby league.
It is impossible to be half pregnant, of course, but rugby league keeps trying to find a way.
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