New referees union boss Matt Rodwell has urged the NRL to better consult match officials on rule changes, making it one of the priorities of his looming tenure.
Rodwell has taken over from Silvio Del Vecchio as chairman of Professional Rugby League Match Officials (PRLMO), after the inaugural figurehead stepped aside.
Former NRL halfback Rodwell joined the PRLMO board last year, after stints as CEO of the players’ union in the 2000s and a short period as an NRL video referee.
He joins at a crucial time, with the match officials’ enterprise bargaining agreement (EBA) with the NRL up next year at the same time as that of the players.
Rodwell is hopeful of locking in better security for his match officials as well as a clearer focus on career transition and wellbeing.
But on the field there are challenges too.
The league and match officials clashed last year over a lack of consultation on the switch from two referees to one.
The past 18 months has been a period of significant transition with rule changes through the set-restart era, as well as the infamous Magic Round crackdown on foul play.
While NRL bosses are adamant the faster game will benefit the sport in the long-term, it was a clear factor behind the most lopsided season since 1935.
“When they introduced those rule changes about the six-to-go did they take the time to ask those questions of senior referees what they think will happen?” Rodwell put to AAP in his first interview in the job.
“I’m not being critical, but it’s a voice that will provide great insight to the NRL if it is tapped into.
“They deserve it, they’re the ones putting in the effort and they’re out there every week.
“I really like when Peter V’landys and Andrew Abdo said a couple of years ago (that referees) are considered like an extra NRL team and key stakeholder.
“Rather than that just be words, really engage with this group and utilise their experience.”
Consultation on rules would not form part of the EBA but is something Rodwell wants to better foster with league bosses.
It’s believed referees have varying views on whether the game should return to two centre-field officials, as the league continues to consider next year’s policy.
“It’s just about engagement and stakeholder relationships,” Rodwell said.
“It’s almost like they are an untapped resource that should be opened up and utilised.
“At least they have (NRL referees boss) Jared Maxwell in there now and he was a strong referee in his former role.
“But how do we get to the executive of the NRL and the commission?
“They mentioned they want to consult with the players but in the same breath they also need to consult with the officiating group.”
Meanwhile, Rodwell is also hoping better protections for referees on social media can also be discussed.
“We have already gained support from the NRL on personal attacks,” he said.
“But how do we make sure that just as a game we look after this integral group of people so they are not harmed when they leave the sport?”