The days of NRL thrillers being decided by contentious forward passes may thankfully be numbered.
The Daily Telegraph can reveal the NRL wants to fast-track the introduction of Hawk-Eye technology to adjudicate on the exact direction the ball leaves a player’s hands in a try-scoring movement.
It is the same equipment used in world tennis for close line calls, in cricket internationals for lbw decisions and in the English Premier League for offside play.
The issue came to a head over the weekend when three thrillers – the Eels v Warriors, Rabbitohs v Dragons and Sea Eagles v Storm – were decided by forward pass calls that could have gone either way.
“The only way we can be 100 per cent certain and consistent with forward passes is with this Hawk-Eye technology,” NRL head of football Graham Annesley said.
“The company’s engineers have told us they can develop a system where it can identify even in the closest margins if the ball has been thrown backwards or forwards from a player’s hands.
“It doesn’t exist yet but we are pursuing it with them.”
Fan frustration and outrage reached boiling point on the weekend. The New Zealand Warriors were robbed of a last-gasp victory over the Parramatta Eels when referee Chris Sutton incorrectly ruled champion fullback Roger Tuivasa-Sheck had thrown a forward pass in the dying moments for what would have been a matchwinning try.
The golden-point thriller in Melbourne was determined by a tight call against Melbourne Storm when centre Justin Olam was pulled up for a pass to Josh Addo-Carr. Daly Cherry-Evans kicked the matchwinning field goal in the next set.
And on Friday night, the Rabbitohs pulled off a miraculous last-minute win from a Braidon Burns pass to winger Campbell Graham that looked awfully close to forward.
After the most thrilling yet controversial weekend of the season, Annesley said he had been in talks with the UK-based Hawk-Eye product developers for several months.
Officials have previously been in negotiations with the company for offside technology in the bunker.
Yet moves to take the guesswork out of forward pass adjudication is the most significant technological advancement in the game for years.
“This would solve our problems and get rid of the controversy,” Annesley said, “Sometimes you can watch a video 100 times and not be 100 per cent certain.
“Importantly, it would only be used in try-scoring situations so it doesn’t slow the game down.”
Annesley said the technology was likely to be introduced next year to check offside play from tries and as soon as 2021 for forward passes.
Hawk-Eye works by using six high-performance cameras which track the ball movement then almost instantly create a three-dimensional representation of the trajectory of the ball. Support from the television networks is crucial for the funding in an era when both Fox Sports and Nine are always looking for cutting-edge advancements in their coverage.
This is a huge development for the game that will finally give fans reliability and consistency.
The quality and excitement of the football over the weekend was the best for years. Yet teams are still getting dudded.
The Warriors went 70 minutes without a penalty. Chris Sutton refereed only one team and has to be sacked. Identical passes to Tuivasa-Sheck that cost the Warriors victory have been deemed fair all season.
The New Zealand TAB even refunded all bets on the Warriors.
Hawk-Eye will be a great innovation. At the same time, we can’t ignore the fact that the refereeing standards need to improve.
Take nothing away from the Eels but no team should have to cop what the Warriors did on Saturday.