So the NRL has officially decreed that for next season there will be two referees on the field for NRL matches. The plan is to have one patrolling the ten metre retreat and one in charge of examining the play-the-ball. Or as it sounds to me, one in charge of defence and one in charge of attack (a gross over-simplification, admittedly).
I have mixed feelings on this. On the one hand it should mean that players have even more scrutiny and that the game will be officiated to a higher standard since there will be more coverage of the field by officials. On the other hand, too many cooks have been known to spoil the odd broth or two. I guess it’s to take some burden from the main referee over the issue of ball control, as trying to watch and ajudicate the grappling match of the tackle area whilst simultaneously trying to keep a neat defensive line back ten metres can stretch the talents of even the best referees. It comes across as Rugby League once again stealing from American Football which already has seven different officials (the NRL at this point already has a main ref, two touch judges and occasional in-goal judges, not to mention a video ref).
My biggest worries over this endeavour are threefold. The first is the matter of interpretation. The codes of Rugby are perhaps the sports most affected by how the referee interprets certain aspects of the rules, like how long to hold someone down for. If two referees have two different interpretations, couldn’t that lead to confusion for the players on the field? They already have enough to worry about. Secondly, there are going to be internationals at the end of the season and we already have enough interpretive differences between northern and southern hemisphere Rugby League without having to debate the number of referees that will be on the field. Thirdly, this will almost certainly result in a further split between the game played at professional and recreational level, certainly if it ever gets implemented in the UK as there are simply not enough referees to go around in this country (want to become an RFL accredited referee? Go here).
Anyways, if it is deemed a success in Australia then look for the RFL to introduce a second referee into Super League (and probably the Championships) next season. And then Rugby Union will adopt it a few years after that.