The NRL’s referees have been under the same COVID-19 measures as the code’s players during the season reboot, preventing officials from working in both the bunker and at venues on gameday.
NRL head of football Graham Annesley said earlier this month bunker officials could not be dropped, even after making a high-profile mistake, because they only had three qualified senior review officials: Jared Maxwell, Steve Chiddy and Steve Clark.
All three have retired from on-field officiating.
But a relaxation in the biosecurity framework could allow the NRL to increase the number of available options to man the bunker.
Annesley swiftly released a statement on Saturday night confirming Clark and Ben Galea would be dropped for Sunday’s match between the Titans and Panthers after a bunker mistake, which left Dragons coach Paul McGregor fuming.
Cronulla’s Jack Williams was awarded a first-half try despite replays clearly showing St George Illawarra fullback Matt Dufty had grounded a deflected Chad Townsend kick first.
If it’s a very tight decision and they’ve got other camera angles and they need to look at them, of course they can take that time
Clark and Galea took only 35 seconds to announce their decision from when referee Grant Atkins referred the play.
McGregor claimed the mistake “wasn’t good enough” and Dufty said he definitely beat Williams to the ball.
The Dragons mounted a second-half fightback, but are now four points outside the top eight before matches against premiership heavyweights the Rabbitohs, Roosters and Eels in the next three weeks.
Annesley defended the decision to axe the pair from a scheduled game the following day.
“We needed to make sure we had the best possible chance of getting it right [on Sunday] and putting them back on games within 24 hours would have sent the wrong message and not had them in the right mindset,” Annesley said.
“They’re not under pressure to make tight decisions quickly. What I’ve objected to in the past is watching the same footage over and over and over again. If it’s a very tight decision and they’ve got other camera angles and they need to look at them, of course they can take that time.”
NSW’s State of Origin coach Brad Fittler argued bunker officials are trying to make decisions too quickly, a contrast to years of criticism they dwelt too long on calls.
“I reckon there so much pressure on the video refs – not only to get it right – but to do it quickly,” Fittler said on The Footy Show.
“It’s a bad miss. There’s pressure to do it quickly, there’s pressure to get it right and every now and then they’re going to collide.”
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Adam Pengilly is a Sports reporter for The Sydney Morning Herald.