Group 2 grand final referee brawl

However, when the final list was handed in by the Referees Appointments Board (RAB) to be rubber-stamped, a meeting involving four of the seven management members decided on the switch.

Ironically, a similar situation occurred in 1998 and 1999 when Cooper was elevated ahead of Rick Purton on the first occasion before he was replaced a year later by Steve Mannix at Bellingen Park for what became one of the most controversial matches of all time.

At the height of the dispute, the normally publicity-shy Group 2 Referees Association released a statement claiming it will be difficult to get persons to stand for the RAB in 2009 following this action.

“The Group 2 Referees Association deplores the action... in changing the appointments as given to them by the democratically elected RAB,” the statement issued by secretary Bill Gibbons read in part.

“The reasons (given in writing to the chairman of the Group 2 RAB) for the change of appointments were subjective in nature e.g. clash of personalities between a board member and a nominated referee, a referee being asked to keep refereeing during the final series after he indicated he wished to retire.”

While rarely used, the management committee are granted powers by the constitution of the Country Rugby League to vary or overturn any decision made by a subsidiary board or tribunal.

Outgoing chairman of the RAB Kerry Hales said while he was not happy with the way the matter was handled, the outstanding performance by the three referees in their grand finals was some vindication of management's actions.

“In the run to the semis I felt Colin Cooper had the number-one ranking and in hindsight, it may have been appropriate to give him a Sunday appointment in the early weeks to judge his performance alongside Nathan (Grace),” he said.

“Yes, I was happy to see him do the game but didn't like the way the matter was handled.”

Sources indicate the decision to change the appointments was not unanimous within management but support for Cooper hardened when claims were made a member of the RAB was using a personal dislike for the veteran referee to discredit him.

In correspondence issued by management to justify their actions, this 'personality clash' figured prominently as it did in the statement issued from Mr Gibbons.

Prior to the controversy, Kerry Hales announced he was retiring from his role at the annual meeting and insists the format of appointments has to change so that accusations of personal bias can no longer be made.

“Whether it's due to club ties or because the board member has known the referee since he was a kid and doesn't like him, that sort of stuff has to be kept out of it,” he said.

Hales is pushing for the introduction of a director of referees who will be solely responsible for appointments.

“He's going to take the flak anyway so he may as well have the confidence and proper authority to do the job,” he added.

“The director will have a network of trusted contacts throughout the Group watching the games and they'll get together on a conference call each Sunday night to discuss what they've seen.

“After summing up the information, the director would issue his selections and also have a formal ranking for each referee.

“The game continues to develop and we must move with the times so there's no need for the unusual action that took place last week.”

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