Real or Not? Fans are too quick to blame the referees

This week we consider whether fans should be so upset over crucial calls missed by match officials, bring up the old argument over what time the grand final should be played and wonder how vital Jarome Luai's shoulder is to Penrith's premiership hopes.

Read on as we tackle some of the big talking points in this week's NRL Real or Not.

Fans are too quick to blame the referees

NOT REAL: NRL boss Andrew Abdo in one breath announced the dropping of referee Ashley Klein for his ordinary performance during last week's Storm-Roosters clash and in the next bemoaned the culture of blaming the referees for losses.

Missing the Harry Grant knock-on was clearly a monumental error which had a very real impact on the game, one that arguably led to the end of the Roosters' 2023 season. Of course the fans are angry and quick to jump straight into the referee blame game.

"One of the things that we need to work on as a game is the culture that we have around blame and the culture that we have around sometimes personalising things," Abdo said.

"It's not how I want to see our next generation growing up.

"In sport, sometimes you don't always get the decisions go your way. That is just the nature of sport. Guess what? Business is like that and guess what? Life is like that."

What Mr. Abdo seems to be missing is that fans invest a lot of time and passion in supporting their clubs. Each year, until the very end, they dream that this might be their turn, their team might win the comp. To have that dream torn from their grasp by officiating errors is just about unbearable. Of course referees make mistakes, they are human, but with the increased scruitiny and assistance provide by video replays, it makes it even harder to put up with.

The blame game really only becomes a problem when the mindless few take it to the next level and threaten officials in any way or in any format. Those people need to be weeded out and firmly dealt with.

The afternoon grand final is better for everyone

REAL: There has been a bit of debate during the week over starting times for the big games, as Warriors fans back in New Zealand prepare to burn the midnight oil to watch their team play in Australia. Saturday's preliminary final in Brisbane kicks off at 7:50pm AEDT, which is 9:50pm in New Zealand. There had been some thought to moving the game to an earlier time slot to make it easier for the kiddies to watch. But, NRL boss Andrew Abdo was having none of it, explaining that the television broadcast ratings were more important than New Zealand children.

"We were fortunate enough to be able to ... get some changes made over the last couple of weeks when we were playing in New Zealand," Abdo said.

"(But) 7.50 on a Saturday is prime-time television and is going to give a lot of families and a lot of people an opportunity to enjoy a high-quality match."

And so we move to the Grand Final which has a slightly friendlier 7:30pm AEDT start for the Warriors fans, should they make it. The night kick-off has for years been subject to debate on many levels. There is the nostalgia of grand final BBQ days, when everyone remembers having lunch before kick-off, and then being able to head home at a respectable hour after the game. Then there is the perceived or very real handling and game quality improvements that come with a game played in sunlight.

Still, on this occasion, Abdo was only asked to consider the New Zealand children, and he again summarily dismissed them.

"There's no plans to move the kick-off, regardless of which teams are playing," Abdo said.

"It's a full day of football. We have three games of football, we have the state championship, we have the NRLW grand final and the NRL grand final.

"We have fans there from early and a 7.30 kick-off means that that goes all around Australia in prime time.

"7.30 is when the grand final kicks off. We're really comfortable with that."

Looks like we are all stuck with night grand finals, not just the kids in New Zealand.

Panthers hat trick rides on Luai's shoulder

NOT REAL: Jarome Luai makes his return for the Panthers against the Storm on Friday night, just four weeks after dislocating his left shoulder whilst attempting to score a try against the Eels. The difficulty in recovering from such an injury is to balance the amount of rest it requires, with the strengthening exercises needed to return the shoulder to a full range of movement and power.

"We've seen a lot of guys at this club do some pretty amazing things," coach Ivan Cleary said of Luai's recovery.

"From the moment we got the information the medical staff were very confident.

"He's just put his head down, worked very hard and ticked every box every week.

"We just had to get to the game, which we've been able to do. It's all systems go."

Penrith are not quite the same without Luai and Nathan Cleary in the halves, but we have plenty of evidence this year that the machine rolls on when either is out injured. Jack Cogger has done an enormous job of filling in when Luai or Cleary have been out injured, so much so that Ivan Cleay has him on the bench for the preliminary final.

Cogger is versatile enough to play a genuine No.14 role as well, sparking the Panthers attack with fresh legs from the dummy-half position, but he does provide coach Cleary with the ultimate insurance should anything go amiss with Luai's shoulder or Cleary's hamstring.