Phil Gould campaigns for referee cost cuts and one referee model…what other changes does he want in the NRL?

Following two years of lobbying, NRL commentator Phil ‘Gus’ Gould has finally achieved his goal of NRL games being refereed by one referee, not two.

“Put me in charge of referees for 12 months, I’ll do it for nothing and fix the whole mess” — Phil Gould, then Penrith Panthers boss, speaking on TV show 100% Footy in 2018.

At the time, Phil Gould’s opinion about the one-referee model was at odds with then NRL CEO Todd Greenberg who was strong in his support for two referees.

NRL CEO Todd Greenberg endorses the two-referee model in 2018

Fast forward to 2020, and as soon as Todd Greenberg had been removed from the NRL’s CEO role, the Australian Rugby League Commission began re-negotiating a new TV deal with Channel Nine and Fox Sports. And while these negotiations were happening, Phil Gould began ramping-up his campaign for one-referee in NRL games and ‘significant’ cost cutting of the referees’ department.

Initially media were told that the shift to one-referee would save the NRL up to $3M a year in referee expenditure.

NRL reporter Andrew Webster revealed that the game would only save $500,000 if the game moved to moved to one-referee.

To put that cost saving into context, an NRL club could save $500,000 a year by axing one player. For the NRL to save $500,000 a year from their refereeing budget, they would need to axe more than half a dozen touch judges – and that’s exactly what ARLC Chairman and NRL football boss Graham Annesley announced last week.

To achieve Gus Gould’s recommendation of “significant” cost savings, the NRL would have to take drastic action like axing the NRL’s referee ‘Bunker’ operation. The Bunker is where important on-field decisions are referred to for review by the referee. The operation is centralised in Sydney, and reviews decisions for referees who might be officiating games in far-flung places like Auckland, Melbourne, Perth and Townsville.

The Bunker was created for referees and TV broadcasters in consultation with TV executives. The equipment used in the Bunker is modern and was established to meet TV industry standards — this means, it’s a costly operation.

The Bunker is a lot more costly to operate than sending a video referee to a stadium to review decisions on one TV screen.

The Australian Rugby League Commission and the NRL attempted to ‘sell’ the axing of touch judges as a cost cutting move, then later saying it came about after they surveyed fans. There were mixed messages about the reasoning for the change to one-referee. But, Phil Gould was solid — he just wanted the one-referee model. And he got it.

But, the “significant” savings will only come about if the NRL Bunker is made redundant.

Furthermore, axing every full time referee would not go anywhere near saving $3 million a year. Full time referees earn just over $100,000 a year – it’s only enough money to drag them away from their other professional careers ie teaching, accountants, sales reps, journalists, tradies, etc

For a referee to be employed by the NRL as a touch judge they need to put their professional career aspirations on ‘pause’ — this allows them to train, attend games, attend match reviews and catch flights to games. Based on the number of hours dedicated to the NRL each week, a touch judge is never adequately compensated for the high level of discipline required to perform the task at the top level.

The end result of the campaign to shift the game to one-referee is that the NRL is now paying about 4-times as much money to employ a person to touch judge a game. Full time referees earn a lot more than touch judges each week.

The NRL now has half a dozen referees with experience in State of Origins, NRL grand finals and International Test matches who are not able to touch judge games for the NRL in 2020.

When the NRL returns to our TV screens during this pandemic, expect to see the one-referee model receive a favourable reception from Phil Gould.

Last week it was revealed that NRL commentators Ray Hadley, Phil Rothfield & James Hooper were being lobbied to support the NRL’s move to one-referee. One thing I would like to know — were these three people ‘played’ by the NRL when they were asked to support Gus Gould’s one-referee model?

* Dramatic reduction in Bunker usage ie the Bunker should only be used for grounding the ball
* Remove 7-tackle sets
* Reduce the interchange to 6
* Five minute sin bins
* 10 minute sin bins for foul play

A good news story for the NRL in 2019 — Will we see Belinda Sharpe referee games in 2020?

#NRL #RugbyLeague

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