THESE are interesting times in RFL Match Official Land, particularly given how the men in the middle have found themselves in the spotlight in the past week.
Perhaps most disconcerting was the respective suspensions of referees Richard Silverwood and Sam Ansell, with no reasons given except for the governing body stating it was as the result of both being under unspecified investigations.
This is the third time Silverwood, Super League’s longest-serving referee, has been suspended, while Ansell was only added to the list of full-time match officials back in January.
There has been much speculation as to whether or not Silverwood will ever been seen again, although his former refereeing colleague and current RFL match officials director Steve Ganson has been giving plenty of opportunities to up-and-coming whistlers in recent weeks.
One of those is Chris Campbell, who was added to the panel of full-time match officials last week.
Campbell is an interesting case not only because he is the son of former top flight official and 1994 Challenge Cup final referee Dave Campbell, but also because he has played at the highest level as well.
The 35-year-old played 12 Super League games for Warrington Wolves, going on to have a long career in the part-time ranks with Whitehaven, Rochdale Hornets, Blackpool Panthers and Oldham before retiring in 2011.
After a brief dalliance with coaching, he took up the whistle with encouragement from father Dave and last month was taking charge of a Super League game for the first time as his former team Warrington took on Wakefield Trinity at the Rapid Solicitors Stadium – or Belle Vue, as your dad still calls it.
Campbell is a rarity in the modern era as someone who has made the transition from playing in the professional game to refereeing it, although Jamie Bloem is another who did likewise.
Refereeing is perhaps not considered a viable post-playing career option for the vast majority – not least because of the fact the chances of making it onto the full-time list are slim.
Yet Campbell has shown it can be achieved in relatively short space of time and hopefully more can be encouraged to follow in his footsteps.
Refereeing and playing are, of course, two entirely separate skills. However, having a background such as Campbell’s can only benefit him in his officiating, as well as allowing the other referees to glean some insights from him.
It was a pity, therefore, that the Widnes-based official found himself under the spotlight in Wigan Warriors’ 26-6 win over Castleford Tigers in Saturday’s Challenge Cup quarter-final, which was broadcast live on the BBC.
It was his call to say Dom Manfredi had grounded the ball for a second-half try even though he appeared to miss it, with video referee Robert Hicks unable to find enough evidence to overturn the on-field decision.
Fortunately, the decision had little bearing on the match as Wigan ran out comfortable victors, having led 22-0 at half time and never really looking like being caught.
Hopefully then, it will praise rather than criticism Campbell is attracting for his displays in the future. Then again, conventional wisdom does say the best referee is the one you never notice.
Thursday night attendance watch: Given that Challenge Cup ties generally attract lower crowds than Super League games these days, it is difficult to draw any direct comparisons between such matches.
However, the fact only 3,289 turned up to the John Smiths Stadium for the first of last week’s quarter-finals between Huddersfield Giants and Wakefield Trinity Wildcats must have caused some concern for both the host club and The RFL.
This can perhaps be explained by the fact the Giants have endured a season of struggle in the league, while the game was also being televised live by Sky Sports in the unpopular Thursday night slot.
Nevertheless, that does not disguise the fact it was more than 1,000 lower than the previous lowest attendance at Huddersfield this season of 4,885 in the Super League fixture against Salford Red Devils.
At least those Wakefield fans who made the trip had something to cheer about, with the visitors winning 28-16 to book a first Challenge Cup semi-final appearance for eight years and keep coach Chris Chester on course for back-to-back Wembley finals.
Bennett gets his revolution underway: He may have shunned the spotlight during his flying visit to these shores recently, but Wayne Bennett has certainly been keeping himself busy in the build-up to England’s Four Nations campaign.
The 66-year-old Australian has already floated the idea of reviving a mid-season Test match for the national team in 2017 to aid the side’s preparation for next year’s World Cup.
Quite who that would be against or where it would fit in to an already overloaded domestic calendar remains to be decided, while Bennett’s demands of having players released for a two-week training camp prior to the global gathering may not go down well with the clubs either.
One intriguing decision by England’s new head coach was opting not to use the FA’s St George’s Park as a training base in the build-up to this year’s Four Nations, with the national team having done so ahead of last year’s series win over New Zealand.
If reports are to be believed, Bennett is turning to the NRL to strengthen the team too, with Newcastle Knights half-back Trent Hodkinson and Canterbury Bulldogs twins Josh and Brett Morris being considered for call-ups.
The trio qualify through either parents or grandparents, although such incidents make a further mockery of the international games eligibility rules – particularly as Brett Morris already has 18 caps for Australia.
Friday night lights: The BBC have, at times, been criticised for how they present rugby league to a wider audience, but last Friday’s Challenge Cup quarter-final was a perfect example of how well the Corporation can do it when they get things right.
Excellently helmed by Mark Chapman, with some fantastic insights from the panel of Brian Noble, Jon Wilkin and Jamie Peacock, plus superb commentary from Dave Woods, John Kear and even Jonathan Davies, it could hardly have been a better advert for the sport.
No doubt that was helped by the thrilling spectacle served up by Warrington Wolves and Widnes Vikings, with the Kurt Gidley-inspired hosts snatching a 20-18 win over their Cheshire rivals to seal their place in the semi-finals.
Elsewhere, Hull FC are still in with a chance of ending their so-called ‘Wembley curse’ after trouncing the Catalans Dragons 22-8. But although they lead the way in Super League, the bookies still only make them third favourites to lift the Cup.
Championship round-up: Arguably the game of the weekend in any of the competitions was the first-versus-second showdown in the Kingston Press Championship, with London Broncos hosting Leigh Centurions.
However, leaders Leigh won a somewhat one-sided contest, having stormed into a 28-point lead at the interval and eventually running out 38-12 victors to move five points clear of the chasing pack.
Batley Bulldogs moved back into the top four thanks to an 18-16 victory over Dewsbury Rams in the Heavy Woollen Derby to keep alive their hopes of making the Qualifiers against the odds.
Their cause was advanced by Halifax beating Bradford Bulls 32-24 as well, leaving Bulls head coach Rohan Smith to rue his side’s failure to build on taking an early lead and their growing list of injuries.
League One round-up: Toulouse Olympique might keep winning, this time seeing off North Wales Crusaders 32-14 on the road, but Rochdale Hornets and York City Knights are ensuring the fight for top spot goes to the wire.
The Hornets blew away strugglers Hemel Stags 60-6, while York trounced Gloucestershire All Golds 56-12. Doncaster, too, will still fancy their chances after staying in touch with a 30-10 win at London Skolars.
Amateur score of the week: Rutland Rabbitohs 52 Sherwood Wolf Hunt A 34, Midlands Rugby League. England’s smallest county hosted rugby league for the first time, with the recently-formed Rabbitohs emerging victorious.
Wearing an old London Skolars kit and featuring ten rugby league debutants, the Oakham-based outfit overcame the second team of the Wolf Hunt, who hail from Mansfield and were only formed two years ago themselves.
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