AAP Rugby

NRL refs push communication on offside

By AAP Newswire

It was the NRL crackdown that had to happen but referees boss Bernard Sutton says his officials will change their method and start verbally warning offside players before penalising them.

Sutton, in his first year as referee's boss, has faced as challenging of rookie seasons as they come.

After he was tasked with having his officials clean up the play-the-ball, offsides and rucks, penalties have increased by about five per game during the first three months of the season.

That number finally took a dip in the last round before the representative weekend after chief executive Todd Greenberg admitted officials had been guilty of nitpicking at times.

Far fewer penalties were blown in the first two State of Origin matches, including just five in game one, but Sutton insists they weren't officiated any differently.

Instead, he said the battle on offsides was finally being won by the referees and the game would have a better product to show for it.

"The level of compliance was quite high in those games," Sutton told AAP.

"They came out and wanted to play football. They were compliant on the 10 metres.

"They are the 34 best players - but that's the product and the style of football we can achieve when we do have compliance in those core areas.

"We're seeing that in NRL games as well. When 10 metres is good and compliant, it allows teams to play football, which has always been the end goal."

But Sutton said referees wouldn't let the standard drop, even after Greenberg's admission in June.

Instead, there would be small alterations aimed at more communication on the run and fewer avoidable offside penalties being blown.

"What that really is asking referees to use their verbal work rate inside the 10 metres," Sutton said.

"If you identify a player is offside, if you can nominate that player and get a response from that player and allow the game to move on, that's good."

However, Sutton said had it not been for the initial crackdown, such threats to penalise might have appeared empty.

"What referees have been accused of in the past is they would do this for three or four weeks and they would drop off. And then there would be no real benefit," Sutton said.

"It's about adapting to another method."

Sutton also backed his officials over the two most contentious Origin calls, including the NSW penalty try and the decision to overturn Dane Gagai's effort in the early stages when he was tackled into touch.

"When we talk about simultaneous grounding being a try, that's when the attacking play and the defending player ground the ball at the same time," Sutton said.

"If a player puts his foot on the touchline at the same point he puts the ball on the ground, he is deemed to be out."