Johns’ radical answer to ‘ridiculous’ Origin frenzy

Rugby league Immortal Andrew Johns has bemoaned the extreme involvement of referee Gerard Sutton in State of Origin III and floated a radical move.

Johns and former NSW coach Phil Gould were among the critics of Sutton’s refereeing on the night of the Gold Coast clash, in which the whistle-blower awarded 21 penalties during the Maroons’ 20-18 win over the Blues on Wednesday.

However, Johns is strong in his stance that Sutton isn’t to blame, instead insisting that the Bunker is over-instructing through the ear piece.

The legendary Blues halfback says referees both in Origin and the NRL should be given full reign over incidents during play, while he’s also suggested a second referee, who doesn’t have a whistle, is introduced to monitor the ruck.

“The referees are imposing themselves too much on the game. The six-to-go has got to the stage where it’s far too extreme,” Johns said on Wide World of Sports’ Immortal Behaviour.

“In the 80 minutes (in Origin III) there were 21 penalties, which I think is far too much … It’s just ridiculous at that level.

“The Bunker has to stop imposing itself on the game. Let the referee feel the game and referee. They should not be tipping to the referee about anything.”

Under the two-referee system used from 2009 until the 2020 competition restart, there was a ‘dominant official’ and a ‘sidekick’, but both carried a whistle.

“I think we should experiment with bringing the second referee back but they don’t have a whistle. And their primary job, or their whole job, is to control the ruck,” Johns said.

“It could be a young referee about to come into first grade. It’d be a great experience for them to get out there, which then frees up the dominant referee to be watching the markers and the off-sides and that sort of stuff.

“I just think we need another set of eyes on the field without a whistle controlling the ruck. At the moment the person doing that is the Bunker, who hasn’t got a feel for the game.”

Johns recalled the exceptional refereeing of Bill Harrigan, a whistle-blower from the 1980s, 1990s and early 2000s who’s widely regarded the greatest in history.

After officiating all three games of the 2021 series, Sutton is actually equal with Harrigan as the most-capped Origin referee ever.

Harrigan refereed 393 first-grade games, 25 Tests and 21 Origin matches, before calling time on his career in 2003.

“Origin for me was at its best in the early ’90s and mid-’90s and maybe the early 2000s. The referee was Bill Harrigan,” Johns said.

“He would referee the game, he would manage the game, he had a mindset where he would facilitate the game. He’d blow two, maybe three, maybe four penalties (in a game).

“Twenty-one penalties in an Origin game – it is just far too many.”

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