Explosive new allegation in NRL's war with referees

Referee Gerard Sutton (pictured left) and ARL Chairman Peter V'landys (pictured right). (Getty Images)

The referees' war with the NRL has grown uglier, with their union accusing the NRL of overlooking player safety in the decision to go back to one whistleblower.

As both sides prepared for the weekend's arbitration hearing, the referees on Friday labelled the NRL "arrogant" and like a "bull in a china shop" rushing to make changes.

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The comments infuriated ARL Commission chairman Peter V'landys, who immediately said the referees had lost all credibility with the claims.

He also shot back at the group's willingness to take a pay cut to stick with two officials, arguing that the union are pushing to still receive 100 per cent of their pay.

The comments leave both sides bitter, just six days out from the league's resumption.

"It's simple: Today's game is safer with two refs," the Professional Rugby League Match Officials said in a statement on Friday.

"On numerous occasions, the second referee has picked up potential causes of harm to players which were not detected at the same time by the other three match officials, nor the bunker.

"This includes tackles, holds and throws that can cause significant injury.

"Identifying and responding to these incidents promptly is crucial in ensuring player safety, and in complying with concussion protocols where a head injury is suspected.

"But this does not appear to concern the league's bosses."

The union claims that 80 per cent of ruck penalties are spotted by the pocket referee, who has been eliminated in the NRL's new model.

They also said the NRL had ignored the pleas of coaches of players during a May 11 Apollo meeting in moving to the one-referee system.

"The league bosses were simply arrogant with this one ref decision," the statement said.

"They were like a 'bull in a china shop'.

V’landys hits back at referees’ union

But V'landys rubbished the argument.

He believes under his plan there will be extra qualified eyes on the ruck, with officials who have previously been pocket referees now acting as touch judges.

Both they and the bunker will be given license to communicate with the central referee on the ruck as part of the changes approved by the commission.

"For them to use that it's about the safety of players destroys their credibility," V'landys told AAP.

"They should speak on the facts.

"The unfortunate thing about having part-time casuals is that is not their full-time job.

ARLC Chairman Peter V’landys speaks to the media during a NRL press conference at Rugby League Central on March 19, 2020 in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by Mark Metcalfe/Getty Images)

"So when they are relaying advice to the referee in the centre sometimes they get it wrong.

"In this way the officiating is going to get substantially better, because you have two of those full-time referees with a roving commission on the sidelines."

V'landys also criticised the union's claims the change would not save the game significant money.

The ARL Commission boss has valued the move at around $2 million over a full season.

"I think the NRL knows what the cost savings are more than an association would," V'landys said.

"The commission should be allowed to change its rules and policies to maximise its revenues."

Referees have so far had their pay cut 20 per cent in line with players during the virus and are working four days a week in line with that change.

They have offered a further reduction to stick with the two-referee model, but V'landys insists part of their claim to Fair Work is a return to 100 per cent wages.

"The players are copping 20 per cent decrease, yet the referees want 100 per cent," V'landys said.