NRL gives in to penalty crackdown anger

Steve Zemek

The NRL has backed down in the face of criticism, announcing the refereeing crackdown will be eased.

NRL CEO Todd Greenberg said on Tuesday referees have now been instructed to find a better balance and not to nitpick.

Greenberg and NRL referees boss Bernard Sutton have come in for heavy criticism this season after referees were instructed to clean up the play-the-ball and more strictly police the 10 metres while teams are defending on their own goalline.

The crackdown resulted in a substantial increase in penalties and sin bins, drawing the ire of fans and influential media figures as games became stop-start.

"There has been a tendency for the referees to continue to nitpick," Greenberg said.

"So we've got to be really careful that we find the balance. We want to see the flow of the game continue.

"There has been a lot of penalties in the first half of the year. I am desperately keen to find that balance.

"I don't want referees looking for penalties.

"What we want is for referees to police those areas we've tasked them to do and allow the game to flow."

The NRL was accused of double standards after just five penalties were blown during last week's showpiece State of Origin series opener yet Canberra and Penrith were penalised 15 times during their match just two days later.

The NRL will relax the penalty crackdown in the wake of widespread criticism. Pic: Getty

"I'm not sure I can answer that question other than we've got the 34 best players of the game playing (in Origin)," Greenberg said when asked about that disparity.

He said he didn't want the game to lose it free-flowing nature and referees had been told not to over-police the areas they had been asked to clean up.

"Don't over-referee, don't look for things," Greenberg said.

"Referee what's in front of you. That's a balance.

"I watched every game on the weekend and I thought some of the games were fantastic and others less so."

He also announced the sin bin could be used for late cheap shots, in a move to better protect playmakers.

That follows a recommendation from the game's competition committee.

NRL great Andrew Johns has been among those who have long sought a crackdown on those illegally targeting playmakers after they have passed or kicked the ball.

A fortnight ago North Queensland star Jonathan Thurston was cut down heavily by Manly's Jack Goswieski with a late shoulder charge, resulting in the most recent outcry.

"If a player is hit late and in a way that is detrimental, we want to give the power to the referees to put them in the sin-bin," Greenberg said.

"The rules previously didn't allow that to happen."