After Leeds’ defeat to Hull on Thursday night, Rhinos coach Brian McDermott addressed the media in relation to how he believes Super League games are being refereed at different stages of the year. Here, in full, is what the Leeds boss said.
McDermott: “I’ve got a little bit of a whinge going on. Too many possessions, whether someone is a team good or not, are decided by whether an opposition’s defence concedes a penalty. It’s like a big pantomime and I’m not saying it doesn’t happen at Headingley – it’s not just at Hull – because all the crowds bay for penalties.
“You never get to find out whether anyone is good in defence over three or four sets, and there’s never too much of an arm-wrestle in the games. You’re down there because of sometimes good offence, but a lot to do with penalties. When Hull get up and literally pick our defender up and throw him like they did with Richie Myler, I’m not sure what to tell him on Monday. And I thought we were on the end of some harsh calls which meant we were defending near our try-line for too long – but I thought we were outstanding near our try-line. We came in at half-time with more juice taken out of us than them.”
Question: What’s changed recently for this to happen, then?
McDermott: “I think it’s been in the game for a long time. I don’t have enough evidence and if you’re going to throw some numbers at me to contradict it then I’ll concede you’re right, but we just play a different game for the first two thirds of Super League than we do for the final third.
“When my team play in play-offs and finals, we get good at kicking the ball long and defending a set and having the ball kicked long to us. For the purists who love rugby league, it’s a great spectacle. Only the most unfit and mentally weak people break, but we never get to find that out now because referees blow a whistle for what is probably a penalty – if you’re going to look at the game with a microscope.
“If the opposition’s strategy is to throw them around while they’re attempting to play the ball, then I don’t have an answer for it.”
Question: What changes in the final third of the year?
McDermott: “Referees don’t award those penalties.”
McDermott: “Ask the referees. I’m presuming the memo comes down saying we want a more free-flowing game.
“I’m not wrong on this and I’ll challenge anyone; Challenge Cup finals don’t have as many penalties in them. Semi-finals for play-offs don’t have as many penalties in them.
“The argument is that players have cleaned their act up. No they haven’t. Players still throw themselves around to try and get penalties, but this is an explanation about why we came in tired at half-time, not why we lost the game.”
Question: Have you expressed your concerns to (head of referees) Steve Ganson about the way games are being refereed?
McDermott: It’s beyond Steve Ganson.
Question: Have you expressed your concerns to anyone at the RFL?
McDermott: “Yeah, for ten years. I’m not here to say anything about the RFL; it’s not about that. I just think there’s a conversation to be had without accusing anyone of anything but.. are we the only sport where 12,000 people can control the outcome of someone’s offence? Does it happen at Leeds? Of course it has – it’s happened at Leeds for a long time, but not right now, because we don’t have a stand.
“Can you imagine it happening in boxing? Can you imagine it happening in football? I know the crowds are vocal in football but I don’t know if they control the tempo of the game so much. When you’ve got referees shaking their heads to the crowd, gesturing.. I’m not just being critical of (Thursday’s referee) Ben Thaler; he’s only refereeing to the criteria he’s been given – but when people are calling for a penalty and he’s saying ‘no’ to the crowd, we must be the only sport that talks to the crowd like that.
“We have a certain attitude that we want to be regarded as tough, and when the game gets tired, we talk about those scenarios; about when the game is tired, you be there for your mate. When there’s been no break in the game, no penalties been given, that’s when we find out who the tough teams are. That’s the version we play at the end of the year and the version we play in the internationals – but we spend two thirds of the year answering 12,000 people. That’s my gripe. Does it mean we lost? No, but I don’t get a platform to speak too often and I’m using it now. Credit to Hull, though.”