How the NRL failed by ignoring ice hockey's dire warning

·3-min read
Pictured right, the NRL's bunker and an NHL match on the left.
The NRL has failed to heed the warnings from professional ice hockey around the use of its bunker system. Pic: Getty/Twitter

Around 15 years ago, Australian-based Canadian Rick Williams took NRL officials Nathan McGuirk and Tony Archer to National Hockey League headquarters in New York for a meeting that would change the way rugby league was officiated.

Williams, an international ice hockey referee, introduced Archer and McGuirk to leading NHL officials and had them talk the two NRL men through the video bunker process.

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It was then off to the New Jersey Devils v LA Kings game in Newark where the visiting Aussies were taken into the "war room" – or Video Review Room as it's formally known – to see how it all works in an actual match.

As they jumped off the plane back in Sydney, Williams left the NRL officials with one important message: The bunker's not intended to be a third official – it’s just a tool to help the on-field referee.

Somehow, that message has been lost along the way.

Seen here is an NHL 'war room' where video referees help officiate matches.
The NRL's controversial bunker was based on a similar system used in the NHL. Pic: Supplied

The bunker was originally meant to adjudicate on tries - not more, nothing less – but now sticks its bib in at every opportunity.

It rules on just about every aspect of the game, leading to a stop-start affair that impacts the natural rhythm of a game.

Williams, who loves his rugby league, is frustrated how far the NRL bunker has detoured from its original location.

Concerns bunker is being overused in the NRL

"Unfortunately, the NRL hasn't adopted the long-term successful use of the Video Review Room and you now have people in the bunker wanting to officiate," he told Yahoo Sports Australia.

"There is nothing wrong with the NRL bunker system; the problem are the people in it.

"The NRL needs to keep it simple and use the bunker as it was originally designed.

"If they don’t, we will end up like rugby union where it’s a bunker call-fest.

"The whole purpose of why I brought the bunker idea to the NRL was to improve consistency, which everyone from players, coaches and fans want.

"We are not getting that consistency."

Canberra coach Ricky Stuart is one of many in the game calling for the bunker to be banished or at least be restricted to try-scoring moments.

His plea will fall on deaf ears.

"I’ve heard people say we should get rid of the bunker or we should take the bunker out of general play and just have it rule on try-scoring," NRL's head of football, Graham Annesley, said.

"I don't think that reflects the reality of expectations these days.

"Could you imagine the drama we would have if referees were missing foul play?"

Maybe, but would it be any worse than what we're seeing now?

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