The NRL last year began sourcing tech solutions to rule on forward passes when a spate of contentious decisions proved crucial in the results of several games.
The video referee has not ruled on forward passes since 2001, when often contentious calls about whether a player’s hands passed the ball backwards was made by the naked eye.
The NRL were willing to foot the bill for an expensive technology development but with the game’s finances crippled by the pandemic, that is no longer a luxury League Central can afford.
“We had a number of companies come out of the woodwork who told us they could solve the problem,” NRL head of football Graham Annesley said on Sunday.
“We sent them away to come back and show us technology that would measure the hands. It’s all about the hands rather than the flight of the ball. If they could do that, we would have been interested in looking at it.
“Then, of course, COVID-19 hit and all the cards got thrown up in the air again.”
Annesley said there is still a desire to pursue a conclusive way to determine forward passes, via technology.
“We’re not close at the moment but we still are very open to the idea if someone can convince us that they have the technology which can solve the problem,” Annesley said.
In the interim, the absence of such technology has Annesley considering other options. Fox Sports’ sideline camera – which runs along a track on the right sideline of Bankwest Stadium – clearly showed Tom Trbojevic’s hands moving backwards.
Whether Manly would have won via a Reuben Garrick try or not is up for debate – the Eels believe some of their players dropped off defensively when they heard the forward pass call – but the accuracy of the call is not.
“It was right in line and you could clearly see that his hands moved backwards,” Annesley said. “But that’s not available all the time and you can’t do it in just some games and some parts of the field and not in others.
“Until we can get better technology that helps address this particular issue of forward passes then we are probably stuck with errors from time to time.”
The other option available to the NRL – which would require ARLC approval – is going back to the future and empowering the bunker to make decisions on forward passes.
Annesley wouldn’t rule that option out but did highlight why it could prove problematic.
“It’s not under consideration at the moment but I don’t have a closed mind on it,” he said.
“It’s just that for every one of those that you see last night where it’s quite obvious that the hands go backwards, there are probably another half a dozen or more in a game where you look at it and you think gosh, I don’t know if that went forward or backwards.
“Then you get these decisions where the video ref is put in a situation where they have to make a judgement call and half the world thinks they got it right but the other half thinks they got it wrong.
“Last night’s was a different situation because the camera was right in line with it and allowed everyone to see the hands went backwards. That’s not the case in most instances.”
Sam is a sports reporter for The Sydney Morning Herald.