Wayne Bennett has taken aim at the referees.
Wayne Bennett has taken aim at the referees.

Bennett puts NRL referees back in the spotlight

SOUTH Sydney coach Wayne Bennett has put the NRL referees back in the spotlight, insisting their backdown on the penalty crackdown has resulted in the ruck descending into farce.

Bennett sent a strongly worded message to NRL boss Todd Greenberg and head of football Graham Annesley after his side's lacklustre 14-6 win over Canterbury on Good Friday.

Last year the referees were the focus of attention for all the wrong reasons - their attempt to crack down on play-the-ball infringements and the 10m rule resulted in a revolt by fans.

In response, the officials were told to relax their interpretations and penalties have fallen markedly this year.

Through the first 43 games this season, including Friday's fixtures, there have been 516 penalties blown - compared with 763 at the same point last year.

"I don't intend to get myself fined here today. But I've been a fan with what the refs have been trying to do, give us more football," Bennett said.

However, seven-time premiership-winner Bennett said sides were getting away with too much and the whistleblowers were being too lenient.

"You all saw today, that had a huge impact on the game, what was going on in the play-the-ball area," Bennett said.

"I've never been in an era of the game when the players are less compliant - they stretch everything they possibly can on the field.

"That puts more pressure on the referees. It's not a criticism, it's just a fact. Today was the worst I've seen."

Bennett said the referees should forget cracking down on certain areas and just blow the whistle if there was a penalty.

Graham Annesley has defended the performance of referees. Picture: Toby Zerna
Graham Annesley has defended the performance of referees. Picture: Toby Zerna

Annesley said he agreed with Bennett's take.

"I agree with Wayne because what Wayne was saying is that the referees should referee what's in front of them and that's exactly the instruction I've given them as a policy direction from the league since the start of the competition," he said on Triple M.

"I've made it very clear that of course I want the referees to stay out of the game when they're able to do that but that's in the hands of the players. If the players decide they want to push the limits of the rules then the referees have to get involved, as we saw yesterday."

As for the players getting away with murder because there were less penalties being blown, Annesley compared Friday's games to show why he didn't think this was the worst era he's seen for taking advantage.

"If you contrast the game we saw yesterday afternoon with the one we saw last night, it was pretty much chalk and cheese," he said.

"It changes from game to game, and teams will take different tactics into different games.

"Clearly yesterday, there was an attempt to slow the play the ball down. As a result there were 20 penalties in that game.

"We've seen a lot of games with less than 10, so the referees have to react to that and if teams go in with that sort of approach, then the referees have the responsibility to react to that."

- with AAP