How ‘pocket ref’ Smith finally stung NRL into action
The NRL referees have been given the licence to win back control this weekend.
Let's hope they do.
Because vision that emerged on Fox League's NRL 360 this week of Cameron Smith running roughshod over referee Ben Cummins during Melbourne's win over Newcastle last Saturday was an embarrassment to the game.
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In case you haven't seen it, Smith was standing in line with the play the ball like he was the pocket ref when his team was working off their line.
Instead of getting back into his dummy-half role, Smith barked instructions at Cummins while trying to milk a penalty.
Then it happened.
Cummins blew his whistle against Newcastle.
I was stunned when I first saw the vision.
It was best example I can remember that showed why so many NRL fans have grown frustrated with Smith's ever increasing grip over the refs.
Instead of blowing the penalty against Newcastle, what Cummins should have done was called up the game and given Smith a dressing down.
Smith should have been told that if he didn't pull his head in the next time he would be in the bin.
That's my view.
Ben Ikin had a completely different take.
"If Alfie Langer or Tommy Raudonikis do that we laugh and tell stories about it at the pub," Ikin said.
"But if it is Cameron Smith all of a sudden he becomes evil and rat cunning."
But here's my next question, why is that?
Why would we cheer Tommy and Alf yet there is so much animosity against Cameron?
Is Smith unfairly treated because he is from Queensland and plays for Melbourne?
Or is it more to do with Smith being a giant pain in the bum - and the majority of fans have had enough of seeing him get away with blue murder on the footy field?
Like what happened last weekend.
Let's not kid ourselves, we've had good guys and bad guys in every era.
But I'm not sure we've ever had a more polarising player than this bloke going back as far as the 1980s.
Maybe Wally Lewis in a photo-finish with a couple of New South Welshman in Benny Elias and Paul Gallen.
But that's an argument for another day.
What's important right now is that the refs do their job.
When I first wrote the story last Sunday pointing out that Smith and Melbourne were back to their go-slow ways, there were people who tried to make out it was just another agenda against the Storm and Smith personally.
The truth is I reckon I saw at least 10 blatant penalties that should have been blown and Smith literally had his hand in a few of them.
Instead Melbourne continued to get the rub of the green - and yet all anyone wanted to talk about after the game was how bloody wonderful Smith was.
Yes, tactics like slowing down the ruck, standing off-side and jumping the gun are happening in most games, more frequently.
After the first game back between Brisbane and Parramatta following the shutdown I couldn't believe how much faster and more exciting the new six-to-go rule had instantly made the game.
But almost game-by-game - certainly week-by-week - it has got progressively worse, to the point where what Melbourne got away with on the weekend just went too far.
Then on Tuesday the NRL agreed when head of football Graham Annesley sent out a message to all clubs telling them the refs this weekend were going to use the sin bin if players and coaches continued to flout the rules.
Now Annesley didn't mention the Storm or Smith by name but it was obvious to me Melbourne's tactics were why the line in the sand was drawn.
This is not a conspiracy against the Storm. This is not a personal agenda against Smith. This is about doing what is right for rugby league.
After 15 years of putting up with terrible and often dangerous wrestling tactics, and seeing the game slowly but deliberately ruined by it, finally we have a chance to clean it up - make the game resemble what it was supposed to look like.
Let's not blow it through a fear of walking on eggshells around Melbourne.
Annesley deserves credit for calling what he saw on the weekend, even though it seemed a lot of others would rather see it swept under the carpet.
I do feel sorry for the refs because under Todd Greenberg's administration they never seemed to get the necessary support, especially when controversy erupted.
Maybe that's why Cummins was so reluctant to stamp his authority on the weekend.
But now the refs have the backing they have no excuse.
In the past when crackdowns like this occurred you would wait to see the lesser-known player get sin binned while the big names went about their business as usual.
I really hope they don't do that this time.
Take on everyone they see doing the wrong thing.
That includes Cameron Smith.
Originally published as How 'pocket ref' Smith finally stung NRL into action