Rugby league has it wrong according to an ex- Super League referee. Will football get it right?

“It’s served its time now, it needs looking at.” SportExamined catches up ex-Super League referee to discuss the place of video referees in sport.

Jack Douglas 

“It’s served its time now, it needs looking at.” SportExamined catches up ex-Super League referee to discuss the place of video referees in sport.

Silverwood has extensive knowledge of video assistance ©barrau.gerard

Three Grand Finals, three Challenge Cup finals, three World Club Challenges and a World Cup final. These games are what most young rugby league players aspire to play in. But these honours make up the CV of one of the game’s most decorated referees.

And with these achievements in mind, it would be fair to say ex-Super League referee Richard Silverwood knows everything from his Salford Red Devils to surrendering in tackles.

Without doubt, the biggest talking point in sport right now is video assistance, particularly in football. Since the 1996 Super League World Nines, a video referee has been seen ever since within any TV broadcasted rugby league fixture. So for a sport where video officials run right through the modern identity of it, is the Super League using it correctly?

SportExamined caught up with Silverwood to discuss the matter.

“I think rugby league is getting a lot of grief for video refereeing at the minute because I don’t think they’ve got it right. When it was brought in I thought it was really good and helpful but I think it’s served its time now, it needs looking at.” Proposes Silverwood.

The 2006 Referee of the Year goes on to add: “You need to take it off the TV games or put it on every game because it’s inconsistent with some of the things that’s happening. Only the TV games and Catalan Dragons have the video referee so some weeks there’s two games or three games, if Catalan are at home, out of the six that have video refs which obviously gives an unfair advantage for certain teams because how many tries or wrong decisions are given or aren’t given on the other three, that’s not fair on the other teams.”

Only a third or sometimes half of the fixtures within the Super League weekly program feature a video official. Mistakes made in TV games are corrected; yet the games where no replays are available suffer from potential officiating errors leaving the game with a sense of unpredictability and unfairness.

The introduction of VAR into English football has been eventful to say the least, epitomised by the decision to book Chelsea winger Willian which came under fire from the football community. Video official Mike Jones did not see a ‘clear and obvious error’ in Graham Scott’s decision to book the Brazilian after being brought to ground against Norwich in the FA cup.

Blues boss Antonio Conte (1) went on to say: “If we want to use a new system, I can’t accept a big mistake. In this case, the Willian penalty was a big, big mistake. Not from the referee on the pitch, but from the person watching the game. If you’re watching the game and don’t see this situation … I hope the VAR wasn’t a referee because if you see that watching on television and don’t think that’s a penalty … He has to improve and must improve.”

(VAR failing on it’s big audition – ©Andy Hooper/ Daily Mail)

Apart from this however, Silverwood fears that rugby league’s use of video assistance will mirror football’s future adaptation.

“If football was to have it, every single team should have video referees and not just the big clubs in the race for the top 4 or in the Champions League. For the system to be successful and fair across the game every single club needs to have it but let’s be honest, is there going to be a video ref at Crawley Town on a Tuesday night?”

Sky Sports were quick to broadcast that the Premier League Clubs had voted against using VAR earlier this month; and for the football purists this came as a sigh of relief. The problem with the potential system is that only Premier League clubs, where the riches of the post 1992 era dominate, would in all likelihood see VAR present in all their fixtures. But surely results matter just as much for Macclesfield Town fans as much as their Manchester City counterparts.

“It’s not just tries, it’s people getting sent off on a TV game that probably wouldn’t get sent off on a normal fixture in Rugby.” Silverwood adds. “Imagine this in football. A League 2 club play a third round cup fixture at home, there’s no video assistance. They go on to win but have their star player wrongly dismissed for two yellows, they can’t appeal.

“Their opponents in the next round, a premier league team let’s say, just won and kept all their players on the field thanks to VAR intervention because their game was televised. So the clubs then go in to the next round at even more of a disadvantage, because video referees won’t be at every match, so that won’t be fair.”

Silverwood, with his plethora of Super League and international refereeing experience is certain rugby needs a mix up with how they use the technology, and football needs to follow suit. A 2010 fixture tarnished his reputation in the eyes of many Leeds Rhinos fans: “Leeds Rhinos v Melbourne Storm in the World Club Challenge.”

With Leeds players surrendering in the tackles, the crowd were on Silverwood’s back. “I don’t think the crowd and even some of the Leeds players understood the rule.”

“I remember Keith Senior dived straight to the floor and I called surrender. He then gets up shouting abuse at me. I penalised him and Melbourne kicked the goal. He then told the press how arrogant I was.”

Some decisions only the referee can see. This was evident in the game at Stamford Bridge, Alvaro Morata received his marching orders for dissent. Similar to Silverwood’s World Club Challenge, the crowd were potentially unaware of what went on, but video assistance can’t help the crowd in this process.

Despite the mishaps and failings of VAR in English football so far, FIFA have announced that video assistance will be used in Russia for this summer’s World Cup. The commercial use of the technology is seemingly what appears to be driving the introduction of VAR further, but is this what the game needs?

Liverpool’s victory over Manchester City drew further debate into the matter as Leroy Sane had an effort incorrectly ruled out which would have seen City only a goal behind on aggregate. What the future holds for video assistance within both football and rugby league remains to be seen, but Silverwood leaves by saying: “Like I said, I don’t think rugby has it right, let’s hope football can be different.”

Jack Douglas


1: ESPN (18th January 2018) Antonio Conte questions VAR: ‘The Willian penalty was a big, big mistake’ – retrieved from:


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