Where to start with Eamonn McManus’ comments regarding the performance of Robert Hicks at the Challenge Cup final?
The St Helens Chairman took criticism of Hicks to new lengths in his matchday programme notes on Friday by suggesting, “the perception of officiating impartially was destroyed even before kick-off” because the referee had been involved in a “publicity stunt” with Warrington CEO Karl Fitzpatrick before the game.
The incident McManus was alluding to was a meeting between Hicks, Fitzpatrick and a Warrington supporter who had sent Hicks a death threat to his family. This was a police matter, not a publicity stunt.
But for McManus – a senior official at one of the most historic, reputable clubs on the planet – to question a referee’s ability to be impartial is a new low in the sport’s treatment of its officials.
Many people believe that Robert Hicks made a mistake at Wembley. Even some ardent Warrington supporters would concede that the decision on whether to award the try should have gone to the video referee. Hicks himself would be the first to admit he made a key error by not referring the decision upstairs.
But to suggest he is biased is the most ultimate sign of disrespect to not only Hicks as an individual, but to all referees. After all, without them, we wouldn’t have a sport to play.
Referees have always been criticised. They’re a scapegoat for shortcomings, an excuse for failure. Journalists are among the more impartial people to attend Rugby League games and their opinion on the standard of refereeing is far, far different to the opinions of many supporters. You have to ask yourself why that is.
But what McManus’ comments re-emphasise is that Rugby League is cursed by a blame culture.
In his comments, McManus claims the standard of officials “continues to drive spectators away from the game”.
Similar excuses for failing attendances and other shortcomings have been made by his peers over recent years.
But there’s always one thing evidently lacking. Self-analysis or accountability. It’s never their fault, always someone else’s.
It’s a mentality deep-rooted in the sport, and seemingly starts at the top.