NRL reverts to one referee as cost-cutting measure

The NRL will revert to a one referee model in an effort to cut costs ahead of the season resumption on May 28.

The Australian Rugby League Commission voted to approve the measure on Wednesday night after debate raged as to whether or not the league should make rule changes midway through a season.

Full time referees who will not be on the ground will be instead used as touch judges, and ARLC Chairman Peter V'landys said the change "shouldn't be seen as taking one referee out" as they will be "using three full time experienced referees" to control the game and "ensure greater surveillance of the ruck and the wrestle".

"This decision will significantly reduce the number of stoppages in games and showcase more open unstructured play for the benefit of fans," he said in a statement.

The league switched to its two-referee system in 2009 and stuck by it for over a decade, despite mixed appraisals of its effectiveness.

International rugby league continued to be officiated by one referee, but State of Origin, as an NRL property, has also used two referees since 2009.

The switch will also bring about changes to the six-again rule, with the single ref allowed to call six-again rather than stop play when they spot an infringement in the ruck.

V'landys said the changes would address ongoing issues around wrestling and slow play-the-balls.

"The decision shouldn't been seen as taking one referee out it should be that we are using three full time experienced referees controlling the game which will ensure greater surveillance of the ruck and the wrestle,'' he said.

"These decisions address the issue of wrestling and slowing the ruck down which has been the biggest issue in the game.

"It's clear the current system hasn't effectively addressed the issue of wrestling in the game. Reverting to one referee together with the new six again rule gives us a chance to speed up the ruck and create more free flowing rugby league."

"Giving the attacking team six more tackles for a ruck infringement will be a significant deterrent to slowing the ruck."

"No team is going to want to defend multiple sets of tackles without a stoppage in play. This is the greatest disincentive for what has become habitual ruck infringements."

Previously, leading NRL coaches warned of the dangers of reverting to one referee citing difficulties in seeing what happens in the ruck as a major reason to not change.

"The positives of it are definitely a financial one, possibly, people have talked about the purity of the game coming back with one referee," Roosters coach Trent Robinson said.

"The reason not to do it will be the ruck will have less eyes on it, more exploitation of the wrestle in the ruck."

V'landys argued that it was the fans who demanded change and he was keeping his promise to listen to them.

"When I became Chairman, I said I would listen to the fans. Last year we conducted a fan survey and the overwhelming majority of fans said they wanted to go back to one referee and their views should be taken on board."

Manly coach Des Hasler said he was against changing anything major after two rounds were played before the competition was suspended due to the coronavirus pandemic.

"I don't think we should do anything which changes the structure of the season so far," Hasler said.

"We've been very respectful of not going to two conferences and making these changes.

"Let's liken it to a couple of years ago where they were giving two or three penalties on the tryline and then someone goes to the bin.

"That didn't work, I thought that was disastrous.

"Decisions like that need to be really thought out and they need to be systemised, and they need to be not made on the run; let's call it making policy on the run."