Respect for referees is growing among Super League players, according to referee Robert Hicks, despite the recent incident that saw Leeds Rhinos fullback Zak Hardaker suspended for five matches for homophobic abuse.
Hicks, who first refereed in Super League in 2010, believes that Hardaker’s outburst, which the player denied was aimed at a referee, was in any case an aberration.
“In the last 18 months the respect shown to referees has got better, in my opinion,” Hicks told this week’s League Express.
“When you first come into Super League as a new kid on the block some players do try it on with you a little, and you have to settle in and they have to get used to you.
“But over the last 18 months Jon Sharp [RFL Match Officials Director] and the coaches have really encouraged us to open up debate with players, to talk to them and encourage them to get things right.”
And Hicks accepts that sometimes referees also need to learn how to handle players.
“There have been incidents where I haven’t handled players very well, and that have resulted in penalties or sinbins,” he added.
“I remember sinbinning Sam Tomkins at a goal-line drop-out during a game, and that was probably caused by a little bit of immaturity and naivety on the field on my part.
“Jon is trying to encourage us to be calm, to talk to players at the right level, to go out and meet them, to talk to them after games and in training sessions, when we are there.
“Basically we want to open up dialogue, which ultimately helps to reduce penalty counts, keeps the game flowing and produces the best spectacle.
“I was surprised to read an article saying that it had gone down this year, because I think respect has gone up,” said Hicks.
“And respect is a two-way thing. As referees we have to learn to talk to players correctly. They are what the game is all about. The spectacle on the field is about players, and good execution, good tries and good entertainment for the fans.”