Cards, Bans and Refs – League Express Mailbag 26 February 2024

Would someone please appraise Rohan Smith, the Leeds Rhinos coach, of the reasoning behind the head-contact rules.
His complaints of dubious tackles encouraging histrionics in an attempt to gain an advantage are both ridiculous and probably quite offensive to the referees.
Whether a player is lying comatose on the ground, or jumps up and has to be restrained from exacting revenge on the player who has just tried to decapitate him, is completely irrelevant. The rule is there to try to prevent short- and long-term damage to the brain, which does not have to have any immediate symptoms whatsoever.
I have been a Rovers fan for many years and seen Donaldson play countless times. I would not count him in any way a “dirty” player, but the fact remains it was direct and “high force” contact with Oliver Gildart’s head, and as such he should have received a red card.
Maybe he should also have a word with the ref on the rules as the fact that the player was slightly falling is not a mitigating circumstance (ask Liam Watts after his red card and subsequent ban). Even the commentators on Sky knew mitigation could not be applied.
Let’s hope that these red and yellow cards and one- to five-match bans are just teething troubles because, when even the coach of a top Super League side is unaware of the rules or the reasoning behind them, the inconsistencies are obviously causing a great deal of confusion.
John Rushbrooke, Rotherham
Is the RFL trying to kill off the game of Rugby League, because it seems to be more about the officials and review panel than the game itself?
In addition, we saw many offences that were not even picked up in some games but the same offence picked up in others.
The standing-square rule was applied partly in some games but not at all in others, which again seemed to be relevant to only one of the two teams playing; this happened in more than one game. The same applied to the six-again rule and, in one particular game, one team was heavily penalised while the other, who were also lying on, little or none.
Rugby League players do not get paid a fortune and issuing fines, for me, is unhealthy for the game. Why on earth would you want to sign up to play, when a mistake is going to cost you between £250 and £750. The review panel seems to have become a cash cow.
I have deliberately not referred to teams by name and the same with the players because, in the main, I believe it is more about where the game is going.
But I make two exceptions, with Micky Mcllorum and Liam Watts, who have always been treated differently by the officials. If the first week is anything to go by, they might as well retire, because they will be suspended for most of the season.
Finally, the worst tackle of the round. The tip tackle where the player landed on his head. Protect the head, we were told, yet this tackle only received a yellow card and no follow-up ban.
The tip tackle has been outlawed for a very long time. In the past, if the other tacklers guided down the tackled player to land on his back, it generally resulted in a yellow card or, sometimes dependent on the official, a red. But in all instances when the tackled player’s head hit the ground, it was a definite red, followed by an excessive ban. But not in round one, even with the emphasis on protecting the head.
Viewers can draw their conclusions on why in this instance but I have already drawn mine.
Ron McGlone, Hull
At last, after many years banging on about the ridiculous idea of video-refereeing, I find someone who is on the same page.
Philip Haley’s letter (Mailbag, 19 February) regarding this complete farce hit the nail on the head.
Many fans of Rugby League, Football, Cricket and so on bemoan the use of technology by people sat in a portakabin miles from the action, but usually only when it goes against their team or their opinion. Thereby lies the reason why I, along, it would seem, with Philip Haley, have never seen the benefit of such interference. I even raised objections before it was actually used.
The reason given for its use was to eliminate mistakes and ensure that the correct outcome is achieved. Really? If that is the case, then why do we have ex-players and pundits disagreeing week in, week out about video-ref decisions?
The simple answer is because decision making is about opinion, not slow-motion TV. No matter how many times (and let’s face it, it’s usually plenty) an incident is replayed, the decision is given by a human being, not technology. We then have the situation whereby Bazza says “I think he got that wrong” and Tezza says, “Good decision, spot on”. This happens with the public as well. We all see things differently.
For the good of the game, scrap video-refs and allow the man in the middle to referee the game, warts and all. Gets it wrong? Get over it. Allow one slow-motion replay only.
Of course coaches and some fans will moan, but they (we) always did. Part of the day out always ended with a heated but fun discussion in the pub and for calls to sack the ref.
Sacking the refs is even more of a call now and half the decisions aren’t even his or hers.
Sack the video-refs by all means, but leave the real ones alone.
Tony Winstanley, Castleford
Re the red card for Fa’amanu Brown on Friday, ironically, heads should roll.
David Campbell, Hull
I have played and watched Rugby League for over 60 years and seen some strange decisions given by officials who have a difficult job to do.
But now, with the technology available to us, we are able to check that the decisions they give are correct.
After looking at the tackle by Liam Watts they decided that it warranted a red card although everyone could see it didn’t even warrant a penalty.
So when it came to the disciplinary tribunal you would have thought that the mistake would have been rectified. But to everyone’s amazement Liam Watts is given a four-match suspension, even though during the same match, which by the way was totally ruined by this decision, there were two other incidents that were far more likely to cause injury than the Watts tackle.
It makes you think that Liam’s previous disciplinary record had a bearing on the outcome
Michael Owens, Castleford
All we ask is for consistency!
Liam Watts makes contact to the head of a falling player with his shoulder and receives a red card with a four-game ban.
James Donaldson has a deliberate swinging arm making forceful contact with the head and it’s a yellow card.
I give up.
Jason Ridgway, Allerton Bywater
To be fair, it is usually well into the season before I consult the rule books to see if the RFL and its Disciplinary Panel can be cited for bringing the game into disrepute.
But this year they have really excelled themselves.
One round of Super League and a few Cup games and they are already walking the tightrope.
Stuart Lonsdale, Pontefract
The Leigh v Huddersfield and Castleford v Wigan games were both officiated by the same team of Tom Grant and Jack Smith.
The former sent off a player for nothing in terms of intent. And he gave a yellow for a much more serious tackle from Harry Smith.
Are these two referees the best that the RFL can offer?
James Unsworth, Leigh
I am a lifelong fan of Rugby League, but I will  not be watching any more games this season after witnessing the diabolical display of the new rules.
I  cannot believe the referees can’t determine what is and isn’t a malicious head high contact.
I’m all for safety in the game, but it’s like implementing a rule in Formula 1 that anyone breaching the national speed limit will have to sit in the pit for ten minutes or telling boxers they can’t hit each other!
There should be a national snub of the games until normal play returns. The players have for years known what they sign up for – a contact sport.
Why not make it tig and pass and have done with it.
Lee Brooksbank, Castleford
Last week referee Jack Smith was the video-referee who adjudicated on Liam Watts’ red card.
Tonight (22nd Feb) he is in the middle when he gives only a yellow card for the same attack on the head on a man falling to the ground as was Dupree.
Donaldson was over-forceful in attacking the head, regardless of where the tackled man was at the point of contact. Watts, clearly a targeted man, gets red, but Donaldson doesn’t.
Now, RFL, over to you!
Phil Haley, Topcliffe, North Yorkshire
I was eagerly looking forward to the new season and, having paid my extra subscription to Our League, I chose the Leigh v Huddersfield opener.
But after 20 minute of being subjected to the screaming rantings of Jack Smith, I was forced to switch off the sound.
“You’re not square”. “Get square”. Rarely on any of these occasions was anyone penalised, so what’s the point?
Then came the classic, “Leroy you were offside”.
I wonder what went through Leroy Cudjoe’s head? “Thanks ref; glad you noticed but as you did nothing about it, I’ll chance my arm again”.
We were told incessantly that referees had visited all the clubs and informed the players what would be required this season.
So surely they do not need to be constantly told to “Get square”
Let me make clear, Jack Smith is not alone in this; I think Chris Kendall may have been his mentor. In the Catalan game at an attempt at goal from a penalty he was advising the team to keep onside! Ridiculous – surely they know this! And if they don’t, they deserve to have any successful kick ruled out (our would he say, “You were offside” and allow the goal).
Please, referees, shut up and use your whistle. You are referees, not the refereeing coach that is so necessary with the under-8s.
I thought that one aspect of the referees being ‘wired’ would be when he has to deal with foul play and we viewers could listen in. So what happens? The Sky gang cannot shut up and drown out anything that we might hear.
Any chance of League Express passing on these thoughts to the authorities?
Having said all that, how great that the season has started and in amongst it all there has been some excellent, skilful rugby.
Graham Starkey, Rochdale
Firstly I would like to say the letter from Adam Fogerty (Mailbag, 19 February) was excellent and I agree with his point entirely.
To change the name of the current award is really an unintentional slight on the award’s history and previous winners.
Adam’s idea of phasing it out is fine, but wouldn’t it be better to create a new award altogether for either a standout player or team in another competition? I’m sure it would be more agreeable to all concerned, including Rob Burrow, to have a trophy named after him rather than taking the name and history away from an existing trophy.
Secondly, the obituary page in the same edition really saddened me when I saw Peter Glynn’s name. It saddened and shocked me as I quite clearly remember him playing for Widnes in their heyday.
I am a Bradford fan of many years standing and, in the days of the Premiership and other competitions he was a very graceful, sportsmanlike competitor who was always a threat along with Currier and the rest of that era’s team.
There were some humdinger battles, which both teams were capable of winning. He was the same age as my wife and 18 months younger than me, which along with the memory of him playing, caused my shock and sadness. R.I.P. Peter.
Finally, after going to the Keighley Cougars and Bradford Bulls match on Sunday in the 1895 Cup competition, I’d like to say that, despite actually only living one mile from the ground, on the walk to the ground with my son, getting into the ground, watching the game and returning home on foot to Riddlesden, we never once saw any animosity, arguments or any bad language.
There were many young kiddies there, some in Hunslet kits who, I assume, had been involved in a curtain-raiser, judging by all the muddy legs.
It was a real pleasure after the recent reports of bad behaviour at some games. I can highly commend Keighley for their safety, enjoyable atmosphere and even a big, half-time shout out for Inclusion in Rugby League.
Well done, Keighley, for giving the Bulls a real test, while just missing out by eight points.
Ian Oddy, Keighley
I am writing in support of Adam Fogerty (Mailbag, 19 February) because I also think the changing of the name of the Harry Sunderland Trophy is a mistake.
My view is that the Harry Sunderland Trophy should retain its name as a tribute, not only to Harry Sunderland and his family, but also to the past winners of this award.
I have massive respect for Rob Burrow and his gallant fight against MND, but I think a more suitable step would have been to add his name to an award that isn’t already named after a former Rugby League personality.
Why not give Rob’s name to the Man of Steel Young Player of the Year, in the same way that Steve Prescott’s name was given to the Man of Steel Award.
By doing this, Rob’s name would inspire young players to become the best they could be.
Everyone recognises the Man of Steel Award as a tribute to Steve Prescott and the same would apply to the Young Player of the Year if it was named in honour of Rob.
Phil Sephton, St Helens
I have every sympathy with Adam Fogerty’s viewpoint regarding the renaming of the trophy for the Grand Final man of the match.
To my mind, elbowing Harry Sunderland out of the way seems disrespectful.
I have great respect for both Rob Burrow and Kevin Sinfield and I am sure neither of them would wish to disrespect Harry Sunderland.
Alan Bradbury, Neston, South Wirral
Having read League Express from cover to cover and with nothing better to do, I broke the habit of a lifetime and took an interest in a few statistics from the weekend fixtures.
I don’t know what they prove exactly – whether it is different refereeing standards, player discipline or just the presence of the man in the Sky and VRs but anyway…
Six Super League matches produced four red cards, nine yellows and 89 penalties.
In Seven 1895 Cup ties, there were no red cards, three yellows and 72 penalties, excluding Hurricanes-Sheffield.
A total of more than 87,000 turned out to watch Rugby League at the weekend (76,669 for Super League, 10,500-ish for 1895 Cup) plus hopefully a huge TV audience.
The figures are taken from League Express match reports.
So whatever your fancy, it looks like this is a sport for all tastes.
Peter Wilson, Walney, Cumbria
Who was the non-Rugby League person who created the illegible miniature block capital names on the backs of players shirts that we can’t read?
And who was the Rugby League person with 20-20 vision who approved the idea and presumably thought it would be a good joke to test the spectators’ eyesight and send us all to Specsavers?
It’s a new season, new names and new squad numbers that we want to be able to recognise.
It looks like they bought a job lot of those black and silver letters we use to stick on our dustbins to show which house they belong to. Bonkers!
Keep up the good work at League Express.
Peter Sephton, Sheffield
I am writing  to express my disgust at the new split-screen shots played to the crowd and presumably the video-referee at this year’s matches.
Whilst these shots may be “novel”, which Rugby League has always been keen on, they are utterly confusing and misleading.
We do not need nine different tiny shots of “action” all at once, especially when eight of them are of no relevance at all as to whether a try has been scored.
What we need are full-screen slow-motion replays of the specific incident so that we can clearly see the incident in dispute. This particularly so in the case of whether someone is offside.
The initial footage is often completely unhelpful. We then see the try given and when the action is shown again after the goal kick, but before the restart, a different angle of the offside incident is shown, which is often a totally new piece of footage which seems to have played no part in the video-referee’s original decision.
It would be much better to limit the footage to just the relevant and helpful pieces of action, and cut out the irrelevant razzmatazz shown in a rush.
John Dearden, Huddersfield
Jodie Cunningham deserves her place on the team at Sky Sports. 
It’s not a box-ticking exercise, she is there on merit for her understanding of sport at the highest level, backed up by relevant, current and credible playing experience for St Helens and England. On and off the field, she continues to inspire people in rugby and more importantly in life where it matters.
If Jon Wilkin and Kyle Amor can commentate on female matches without anyone batting an eyelid, then it should be the same the other way around. Jodie is a great pundit and shouldn’t be limited to the women’s game just because she is a female. A variety of views and different ways of interpreting a game should be welcomed, and I would argue even extended to wheelchair athletes to work on the running games and vice versa.
I’ve known Jodie for five years now. She is a great listener and gives me brilliant advice with my writing and delivery of the spoken word. Being able to tap into her knowledge and experiences within broadcasting has been invaluable and I’ve learned so much from her.
Jodie doesn’t see autism, she sees Josh. I have opened up to her about the challenges and struggles I sometimes face due to the condition, and she completely gets it in the way most people wouldn’t. At a women’s and men’s double header at Saints once, she came straight over after she’d finished playing and made time to watch some of the men’s game with me, despite having a long list of media commitments. I was visibly struggling that day but just small things like that are why she’s amazing.
Those who say ‘stick to your own game’ clearly haven’t realised that television coverage still hardly exists for the women’s game, and neither do regular opportunities to commentate on or analyse it.
Joshua Worrall, Widnes
I am concerned about how referees are allocated to Super League matches.
In my opinion there are two groups of referees – the senior ones who would be considered for the big games and the rest.
In the first category we would have Ben Thaler, Liam Moore and Chris Kendall. The rest would be Tom Grant, Marcus Griffiths, Aaron Moore and Jack Smith.
There are other occasional referees, such as James Vella, who get the odd Super League appointment. Overall that gives a total of seven referees who are considered for appointment to Super League games on a weekly basis.
As there are 27 weekly rounds in a season, you would expect to have each referee on average four times per season. Last season Castleford and I believe Wakefield seem to have predominantly the second group of referees allocated to their games.
Castleford had the following:- Tom Grant 3 times 0 wins; Aaron Moore 7 times 1 win; James Vella 1 time 0 wins; Marcus Griffiths 6 times 2 wins; Jack Smith 3 times 0 wins; Liam Moore 2 times 0 wins; Chris Kendall 3 times 1 win; Ben Thaler 2 times 2 wins
Hopefully this season we will see the appointment of referees averaged across all clubs.
I have my doubts though, as we are only in week 2 and Castleford have already had Tom Grant and James Vella.
Alwyn Varley, Castleford
Semantics is a word seldom heard in Rugby League circles but it can be applied in the context of the newly launched Super League Plus, for which I signed up from Day One and regard as a great innovation.
To test it, I joined initially for a one-month subscription as I cannot justify the annual option at this time.
The subscription details on the website say “All live matches” for monthly subscriptions and “Every live match” for the annual.
On first reading, one might assume that ‘All’ means All, but apparently it doesn’t and I’d erroneously assumed that on a night when two or more games are shown simultaneously that the one not seen live would be available on a sort of catch-up basis later for all Super League Plus users.
To see ‘Every’ game in this manner rather than ‘All’ games it’s necessary to have the annual subscription, which I agree is the better option for season long viewing, if you can justify the initial cost.
No doubt the new marketeers will say it’s obvious what they mean, but it isn’t on first reading.
An aside, has anyone else discovered that the RFL websites including this require some VPNs to be switched to gain access to the site? As indeed does League Express…
It’s going to be a great season!
Robin Chilton, Huddersfield
Some weeks ago I wrote a letter to League Express saying that I couldn’t understand why Championship clubs had voted for the IMG grading plan , which would result in Super League becoming a closed shop.
That is exactly what has happened and I can’t believe how stupid and naive these clubs have been.
I can no longer stomach what is happening in Rugby League and I suspect that a lot more Rugby League fans feel the same way.
The RFL needs to be very careful, because they are driving fans like me away from the game.
Joseph Hammel, Widnes
If Salford think they will win by playing as they did against Leeds every week, then it’s going to be a long season for them.
They took every opportunity to slow the game down and used spoiling tactics every time they tackled a Leeds player. The referee was at fault for not penalising them.
The best game in the world is being spoiled by stupid decisions and a lack of control.
Barry Sheard, Tingley, West Yorkshire
We have a combined age of 160 years and held season tickets at Central Park.
Six months ago Wigan Warriors deducted the cost of two senior season-tickets. Our first home game is in less than a week and after five visits to the ticket office we still have no season tickets.
The club recognises the value of the fans, but on this occasion their sub-contractor has badly failed those fans.
Initially all such tickets were to be on smart phones; what an arrogant attitude towards those on limited incomes and the senior citizens who do not wish to use this technology!
Every week I have been told the tickets will arrive ‘next week’- a blatant untruth, for which I place no blame on the ticket-office staff.
One of the first rules in developing sports people is that they should retain humility, whatever heights they scale. I want my tickets, not on my phone, and some apology might be appropriate.
I was told today: ‘If they do not arrive, come here on match day and collect a paper copy.’
Michael Carolan, Standish, Wigan
It would seem that at the beginning of every season Warrington fans are reminded that the Wire have not won the Championship since 1955.
Whilst that is true, it ignores the fact that between seasons 1972-73 and 1973-74, they would have won the trophy if the powers-that-be had not flip-flopped between deciding the Championship by topping the league table and deciding the championship by winning the play-offs.
In 1972-73 Wire topped the table but lost to Dewsbury in the play-off semi-final, who then beat Leeds in the final to become champions.
In 1973-74 Wire finished fifth, with Salford becoming champions by topping the league table. Wire beat St Helens 13-12 in the play-off final.
So, obviously in one of those seasons they would have been champions if the way of calculating the winners had been consistent.
Geoff Teece, Exeter