Last week, after St Helens’ shock defeat to Wakefield, Mike Rush made a few comments that have since landed him in trouble. His actual words were a personal criticism of Thierry Alibert.
"He kills us," Rush told the press afterwards, "Every time we’ve had Thierry Alibert in a game this year we’ve ended up in situations like that. I appreciate I’m going to get in trouble for it, but every single time we have this guy, he hammers the game."
For these comments he faces a £500 fine, and in the same press release there was news of fines for Featherstone Rovers coach Daryl Powell for an offence at the end of July and Catalan Dragons' Trent Robinson. The latter two offences, though, were reported as offences towards the official rather than about him.
These fines were issues in line with rugby league’s Respect Policy, whereby coaches must demonstrate leadership, respect for rugby league and those involved with the sport.
If you don’t know what that is – I didn’t - a quick Google search will highlight its core principles. It’s short and sweet and looks something like this:
All participants in the game of Rugby League including players, parents, spectators, coaches, match officials, volunteers and administrators should:
- Discourage all instances of unsporting behaviour, foul or illegal play, or acts of violence, both on and off the field.
- Respect the rights, dignity and worth of every person regardless of their age, ethnic origin, gender, special needs, including learning and physical disabilities, class or social background, religion, sexual orientation, marital status, pregnancy, colour or political persuasion.
- Condemn the use of recreational and performance- enhancing drugs and doping practices; their use endangers the health of players and is contrary to the concept of fair play.
- Every person who attends a Rugby League match does so with the permission and license of the home club &/or league. Breaches of this Code of Conduct may result in penalties up to and including a fine, loss of team match points and suspension.
So, I understand that giving the referee abuse is pretty bad, especially whilst he’s on the job. It’s completely unprofessional and you’d have problems in any sport for committing the offence, fair enough.
However, and it is a big however, I really believe Mike Rush had a point in his post-match rant after the Wakefield game.
In the same weekend, Shaun Wane also complained about refereeing in the sport saying, "It was unbelievable. I get a phone call every week apologising and I’m sick of apologies." He went on to say, in an albeit less insulting statement than Rush’s, "It’s upsetting and demoralising for me as a coach, but I’m just saying what every Super League coach is going through. The inconsistency is absolutely blowing my mind."
Wane is more experienced than Rush, he made his point in a more controlled manner, he allowed himself a ‘that wasn’t the reason why we lost’ clause and, to be fair, it wasn’t. If I were Mike Rush and the game hinged on tries that should have been disallowed, I’d be livid too. Maybe it was the targeting of one single coach that got him into trouble but the fact of the matter is that I, like every other rugby league fan, have sat through thousands of bad decisions.
What Rush and Wane want, I think, is not every decision to go their way but mere consistency. I’ve sat in the stands at matches where there have been video refs and they’ve gone unused, the try is given and, in the painful replay agonisingly shown on the big screen, the pass is a mile forward, or someone’s been tackled off the ball, or it’s a knock on.
It’s totally unrealistic to expect the referee to see everything on the pitch and that’s exactly what the video ref is for. For me, it’s an all or nothing issue. The NRL have video refs at every game and if not for anything else it would bring some consistency. Otherwise, strip the technology altogether so that it doesn’t feel like a disadvantage and everyone’s back on the same playing field, if you’ll excuse the pun. Another option that could be explored is having two referees on the pitch so that there’s actually someone in line with play all the time.
There are a lot of things that the powers that be could do to improve decision making, and none of them involve fining coaches for saying something at a post-match press conference. I genuinely believe that if Mike Rush thinks that his team have been given a hard time from a referee, he should be able to say something in the press conference afterwards. I cannot even count the amount of times this season that I’ve sat in a press conference bored stiff because of all of the clichés that come out of coaches' mouths. And those clichés are fuelled by the fact that should the coaches make criticism, they face punishment like Rush did. I think respect in this case includes respecting opinions.
I hope the sheer volume of referee criticism – including John Stankevich’s stand against a fine he believes to be wrongly issued which has seen him banned from all involvement in rugby league – will send out a strong signal that improvements in this area must be addressed and that consistency is required in some way or another.