“All the full-time refs, none of them have lost their jobs, so what are they going on strike for?” V’landys said on Sunday. “But we’re prepared for all contingencies … always have been. I don’t want to telecast what we’d do but we’ve got plans in place.
“I don’t think they’d get any sympathy whatsoever if they were to sabotage the game with such an action. It would be risking the game’s future if they were to do something like that.
“At the end of the day any sporting organisation should have the right to [decide on] the rules and procedures it operates under. If the game is becoming less of an entertainment product, naturally we have to change the product to ensure that we get the revenue so we can pay the refs.”
V’landys would not elaborate on the contingency plans but former NRL referee and first-grade player Luke Phillips believes League Central would look to turn to match officials from the NSW Intrust Super Premiership and the Queensland Intrust Super Cup to take over games if it came to it. They do not fall under the umbrella of the referees union, which just represents the 22 match officials in the NRL’s full-time squad.
“From my experience being in there it’s the NRL’s last resort pulling [the referees] into line,” Phillips said. “These are guys that will ref Queensland Cup, NSW Cup, that sort of stuff. They’re pretty good refs. [The NRL’s] last resort is to threaten that and history has shown it has worked for them.”
Phillips argues such a development would be to the “detriment of the game”.
“The quality of refereeing outside the NRL squad … even though they’re good referees … the pace of the game is just a total different kettle of fish,” he said. “I’ve refereed both [levels] – to go to that jump straight off the bat, it would be quite hard for those guys week in, week out to do.”
Asked about the prospect of the NRL using lower-level referees in the event of a strike, Del Vecchio replied on Sunday: “Driving a car looks really easy until your 17-year-old son or daughter gets in a car for the first time.”
While V’landys and the NRL have signalled they won’t bend, the referees union has claimed the change to one referee is a breach of their enterprise agreement.
“There is a process. Our position is we do not want to go down that path [of industrial action] but we don’t know what’s going to happen. First and foremost it’s conciliation. If we can’t get through conciliation we go to arbitration,” Del Vecchio said.
“Arbitration is where the Fair Work commissioner makes a call and if the party that loses effectively doesn’t like that call then there are other options. But we don’t want to start thinking that far down the track. We want to get this resolved.”
Chris Barrett is Chief Sports Reporter of The Sydney Morning Herald.