The NRL says it has no issue with referees checking figures with their match-day coaches, after leading official Matt Cecchin raised eyebrows asking for "numbers" during the Warriors' defeat of North Queensland.
Cecchin could be heard asking a number of questions via his on-field referee's microphone after a Warriors' first-half try during the telecast of Saturday night's double-header at Mt Smart Stadium.
An NRL spokesman confirmed the conversation was part of regular dialogue referees have with their match-day coach, and not with the bunker as had been widely thought.
It's also understood such communication is seen as important so to deliver accurate information to captains when warning for repeated offences or a number of infringements in a certain area.
It comes as the NRL's crackdown on offsides and play-the-balls appears to have paid dividends, with a significant reduction in penalties blown during round five compared to earlier rounds.
"What's the numbers mate?" Cecchin could be heard asking his match-day coach.
"Thanks mate, how does it look? ... Keep doing what I'm doing or do we need more action on the 10?"
Referees have been far more vocal in their contact with captains during this year's early-season crackdown, with a large increase in the number of players sin-binned.
However the audio raised the ire of NSW State of Origin coach Brad Fittler, who was concerned referees were being influenced by penalty counts on both sides.
"The key to great refereeing is not knowing the numbers and dealing with what's in front of them," Fittler told Channel Nine's Sunday Footy Show.
"I don't think the referee should ever know what the numbers are or ever cross their mind."