Dave Woods column: Time to pipe down and give referees a break
It's time to put a hold on the hysteria, pipe down the clamour, stop the wailing and give rugby league's referees a break.
The man in the middle is never far away from being the subject of terrace cat-calls and social media meltdowns. Long-faced coaches aren't shy of making subtle jibes in news conferences, side-stepping fines with careful words, but leaving no-one in any doubt about what they thought of an official.
But the shrill blasts of indignation are now coming from another level - the boardroom.
In the past few weeks a couple of owners have made their views public. Leigh boss Derek Beaumont took his coach's place in an after match conference to launch a volley at the standard of refereeing after his side had lost.
And using his programme notes this last weekend, Hull supremo Adam Pearson also had a go at officialdom.
But what purpose have those public declarations served?
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Such deliberately aired criticism from such senior figures has just made the job of each individual referee so much more difficult now. The licence for fans to abuse officials has been rubber stamped by people who should know better.
Hunting season for the man in the middle has, unwittingly or otherwise, been legitimised.
Of course referees make mistakes - some more than others. Of course some referees have bad games, or a bad run of games. But how does such a public stamping of feet help rectify that?
Rugby league has always prided itself on the complete respect it affords to the man who blows the whistle. Players call him 'sir' and try to bite their lip at even the most unjust of decisions.
But once club owners decide they can spit the dummy out, after their players have been doing such a grand job of keeping their discipline down the generations, the long, slow decline has begun.
Referees are a long way from being perfect - as are players, coaches, even owners for that matter.
There are always plenty of issues to be addressed, not the least of them the number of senior and experienced officials currently in the game.
But there are channels for concerns to be raised privately. Coaches can pick up the phone and speak to the head of referees Steve Ganson each week. Owners can raise their general concern at the regular Super League meetings they attend.
Making such a public display of hammering the referee - via an emotional outburst immediately after losing to the current best team in the country, or in a considered programme piece after a third successive Super League defeat - does nothing except erode the institution of the man in the middle.
We don't want that to happen.
"We haven't got enough of them, and they aren't good enough," said Derek Beaumont. It's not exactly a catchy buzz phrase for the recruitment posters.
There needs to be a private conversation between all concerned parties to improve performances that need improving.
Public attacks on named, or unnamed officials, just slows down the process of potential refs wanting to join the ranks of the maligned.
And more current refs - all of them honest and diligent, whatever else you might think of them - may prefer to hang up the whistle rather than be harangued from on high.