IN CLOSE to half a century of watching rugby league - as both a fanatical fan and a working journalist - Bill Harrigan is the best referee I have seen.
His detractors will say he was a show pony, and others will accuse him of sometimes playing favourites.
There are those at the Broncos who still believe an 8-2 penalty count in the preliminary final against the Roosters in 2002 cost them a grand final berth.
But irrespective of what the punters thought, Harrigan could never be accused of shirking his responsibility.
He was a great referee because he backed his judgment.
When Bill Harrigan had the whistle, no-one doubted who was in charge.
To the detriment of the game, that philosophy has been lacking in even our best referees in recent years. They have resisted making the tough calls because they had the safety net of the video referee.
One now-retired leading referee made no secret of the fact that he was never going to be crucified for a wrong call when he had the man in the box to make the decision for him.
Under this system, modern-day referees had, in essence, become robotic. And so have cricket umpires, who now seem to refer almost every dismissal to the third umpire when they have not had the gumption to initially rule on a front-foot no ball.
But that indecision - in the NRL at least - is about to be nipped in the bud.
From next season, in relation to any try-scoring situation, referees have been directed to make on-field calls. If they have reservations they can refer their decision to the video referee, who may then overrule their verdict - but not until they have made their call first.
Under this direction, and with benefit of the doubt to the attacking team no longer part of the equation, referees are hopefully about to return to the pre-video ref days where they actually made a decision.
Effectively, the power of the video referee has been greatly diluted and fans in general will welcome that.
Referees are an integral party of rugby league. They are the key decision makers on the field and they need to reclaim the power that has gradually been eroded since the video referee came in to existence in the late 90s.
And hopefully the added confidence that comes with them making the crucial decision in try-scoring situations will flow on to other parts of the game. After all, this is their profession.
Sadly, Bill Harrigan won't be a part of the new refereeing regime, which is now under the control of former coach, Daniel Anderson. Harrigan was made the scapegoat for too many botched decisions last year - most by the video referee - and now his undoubted talents have been lost to the game.
With his feel for the game it's hoped Harrigan can still contribute somewhere, maybe in the video box or on the match review panel. In simple terms, rugby league cannot afford to lose Bill Harrigan.
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