31 May 2015

GUEST BLOG - A Ref's Eye View

We're lucky to have some great listeners of SLP and we're always keen for your unique input on the greatest game. 

We're really lucky to have a former North West Counties Referee of the Year who frequently gets in touch with the show, and that man Paul O'Brien has got in touch with a view from the middle. 

From the pressure of the job, the highs and lows of a refereeing career that ran into three decades and a vision for the future, Paul gives his take on it all in this great little piece. 

We thank Paul for taking the time to share this with us and we hope that you enjoy his insight as we have done.


Why would anyone want to referee? You spend 80 minutes being abused by all sections of the community for what? Well the love of the game, that's why. No matter what anyone says the referee does not want to be the centre of attention, far from it. The best referees are never seen. Yes there will be decisions that are unpopular but you are not there to be liked. No matter what we all think referees are not biased. They don't hate your team or have a hidden agenda.  They are there to apply the laws of the game and do it in a professional manner. 

It's not easy being the referee. The top referees in our sport have put in many hours of training. Refereeing games all over the country and spending their weekends sacrificing time with friends and family to officiate at games. 

A referee on a Saturday in the local leagues will referee the game without the help of touch judges, in goal judges or video referee and will still want to perform as if they are refereeing a Super League game. Often this is done whilst being verbally abused or even threatened by fans of these team. It can be very intimidating especially if your there on your own (it's not like this at all clubs but even once is too many). I'm not saying it's easy at the top. The Super League referees are under enormous pressure. With replays and live feed onto big screens every decision is scrutinised and after several views the commentary team and the fans still argue about it. The referee gets a split decision to decide or a call from the touch judge.  

Refereeing needs to be invested in lower down the pyramid to help develop the future Super League Referees. Is is starting to happen but has a long way to go. With only a hand full of Super League referees this pool has to be bigger but it can't happen over night. They have to be the best and if they make mistakes they have to be accountable. Unfortunately at the moment this doesn't happen because there is not enough depth at the top. 

I started refereeing in 1989 aged 14. I had great support from the Widnes RLRS. Positives during my career was refereeing in Russia as part of a North West Counties Tour and North West Counties Referee of the Year. I only have one low point and that was retiring. But with a young family and a full time job that  I do shifts and weekends something had to give and unfortunately it was refereeing. 

So next time you're watching a game, take the rose tinted glasses off and remember the referee is not there to cheat or help the other team win. Yes they will make mistakes but at the end of the day if there's no referee there's no game 

For more information on becoming a referee visithttp://www.therfl.co.uk/more/match_officials/becoming_a_match_official


30 May 2015

Referees and Penalties

The men with the whistles are talked about far too often in our great game these days - so lets talk about them some more!

The officials make hundreds of decisions every game, and we at SLP haven't the time to go over them all. But there are a couple of things we can pull out from the numbers we already collate each week, and we've decided to do that.

Appointments of referees is one thing we can look at. Another is penalties - of all the easily available stats, this is the most controlled by the officials, as they have to give them (other than kick offs out on the full, which give themselves). The other one is cards handed out.

What follows will be a load of tables with a few comments. We hope you find them interesting.

Referee appointments
The above table shows the distribution of refereeing appointments across the first 15 rounds of Super League XX (minus the two missing games from round 11).

One clear take away from this is that experience isn't deemed necessary to take charge of Wakefield games, games which are obviously below our higher profile referees. Phil Bentham and Ben Thaler haven't looked after any Wakefield Super League games and Richard Silverwood has only done one. In contrast, Robert Hicks - the newest full time ref on the panel - and the part time refs elevated from the Championship have done 11 of the Wildcats 14 games so far. More than half the part time ref's games have featured Wakefield.

With Wakefield taking most of the part time ref games, it hasn't left any opportunity for them to control games featuring Warrington at all.

No one ref has had any side more than four times though, so there has been a fair bit of spreading them around. The teams and refs that see each other most are worth keeping an eye on - Silverwood having three sides he has seen four times in Hull FC, Leeds and Wigan.

The above shows how many penalties have been given against home teams and away teams.

It doesn't come as a great surprise that away teams tend to be penalised more heavily than home sides, on average having one more penalty blown on visiting sides than on home sides. The conventional wisdom in much writing on the topic is that one of the main driving factors of home advantage is pressure on referees.

What is interesting to note is the more experienced refs that have more Super League games under their belts are more likely to favour the home side in the penalty count than the away side. Hicks is the only full time ref to give more penalties for the away side than against them. Matt Thomason is the only part time ref that doesn't average the away side being on the wrong end of the penalties.

Something to take from this is that there tends to be more home fans at games than away fans. When home fans are on the wrong end of the count they tend to be more critical of the referee, or make more accusations of some invented bias. The up and coming refs might be putting more pressure on themselves by getting the home fans against them. Then again, they might be showing the strength of their convictions. Of course, its also a smaller sample size from them to draw meaningful conclusions from.
The above table shows penalties each ref gives against each team, per game they've taken.

There are a few takeaways here. You can almost pick out one in each column and row.
  • What do Leeds know about James Child's interpretations that no one else appears to, and wouldn't St Helens love to know it too!
  • What are Salford getting so wrong when Bentham is in town? He averages 5.6 penalties per side, per game but blew 10 on Salford in one game - nearly double his average.
  • Silverwood is the games happiest whistle blower in 2015. He averages over 15 per game. But Warrington seem to have got the hang of him in their three games under his watch.
  • Hicks isn't afraid to get the whistle out, but Huddersfield must really not want to see him, whereas Leeds have the hang of him too.
  • Salford will be happiest to not have to see Tim Roby any more.
  • Catalan will be much happier to see Thaler in town than St Helens.
  • Thomason is pretty consitstent across all the teams he's reffed.
  • Catalan in general appear to have a better handle on their discipline this year, but especially so when Thaler is in the middle.
  • Huddersfield are the only team than get 11 penalties per game from two refs, but they seem to manage better when Child is in town.
  • Bentham must have a soft spot for (or fear of) Hull because both the city clubs do a bit better on the count when he is in charge than they generally do.
  • The average per team per game is 6.9 penalties, but Leeds are managing to avoid this from all refs but Silverwood - the ref they've had the most, but 7.5 is still below his per team per game average. They are the only team to have more than two refs blow under 5 penalties per game on them. They've got their discipline and understanding of the interpretations down better than most others.
  • Salford and St Helens are as consistent as Leeds but the other way round, both giving away generally above average penalties, no matter the ref.
  • Saints are the league's worst offenders for giving away penalties but it isn't helping that the three refs they've seen the most also have given the most penalties against them. Interestingly as they are second to Leeds but each have an entirely different penalty record.
  • Warrington, like Leeds, appear to have got it right no matter who the ref is, as the generally give away below average penalties.
  • What is Bentham seeing in Widnes and Wigan that the others aren't. His per game counts on them are the two lowest around for two teams that otherwise are very much average at conceding penalties in 2015. Maybe Bentham is trying to make up for the penalties he gave Brisbane in Wigan's World Club Series game eh?

The table above shows what cards have been handed out by each referee and the table below shows which teams have been on the end of their sin-binnings.

Just as with penalties, Silverwood, Hicks and Child are the dishing out the most punishments. The refs making the jump from the Championship ranks haven't handed out a single card in their Super League games - they must have worn them out on Leigh!

Wigan have been the worst offenders for yellow cards so far and they make up four of Silverwood's twelve. They need to sharpen up their discipline in games he refs as he's shown his willingness to dish out the punishments. Salford have upset the widest range of refs, with four different officials showing their players cards.
Of the 41 cards handed out in Super League XX, 13 came in the opening two rounds. 21 have been given in televised games.

We hope this has given you some insight into what has gone on around the referees. These guys do a difficult job and without them we wouldn't have a game.

Give them what you've got from the terraces, but stop and think before you resort to social media to have a go at them - they're all fairly consistent in what they're giving against all teams and I bet you they make less mistakes per involvement in the game than every single player in every single game.

As always, thanks for reading and feel free to leave your comments - and don''t forget, give our show a listen!