The referees have been told to strictly police certain areas of the game.
The referees have been told to strictly police certain areas of the game.

NRL penalty count hits staggering 14-year high

THE sound of the referee's whistle has been ever present during the opening of the 2018 NRL season, and after Thursday night's 19 penalty contest the game has hit a 14-year high. Or should that be a low?

According to the Fox Sports Lab, the average penalty count for the first 17 games of the season has been a whopping 17.82, more than five penalties per game more than the 2017 season average.

Not since Canterbury's last premiership year in 2004 has a stronger message been sent by the officials, with the opening three rounds of that campaign marred by an average of 18.14 penalties per game.

Mitchell Moses has been sin binned twice in two games.
Mitchell Moses has been sin binned twice in two games.

The Fox Sports Lab data shows a clear trend of penalty counts dropping significantly after the standard is set early in the season, but 2018 is still tracking to be an anomaly.

The stunning increase in penalties, up by four per game on this time last year, comes after NRL boss Todd Greenberg gave a strong directive to the referees to strictly police the play-the-ball and the 10m offside line in particular.

It's a stance he backed once again in an interview with Triple M's The Grill Team, on Friday morning, with Greenberg determined to change the habits of the players to open the game up for a better viewing experience once teams have adapted.

"They're going to keep blowing penalties and I'm going to keep giving them that direction," Greenberg said.

"That might upset a few people but we are absolutely on the right track.

"If people want to come out this weekend and start ripping into the referees, I've got some advice for them: they'd better start ripping into me first because all the referees are doing is following instruction.

"We've been very strong over the off season of making sure of two things; that the play the ball was cleaned up, and they've done exactly what I've asked; and to make sure the players are staying back onside, and they're doing exactly what I've asked.

"The referees are doing exactly what they've been asked to do and the real challenge for the referees is to continue to do this for the entire year.

"I've asked the referees to make sure that it doesn't just happen in Round 1 and 2 and 3, that it happens all year because ultimately it will make sure that the fans have a much greater game to watch."

That warning came after Andrew Johns ripped into the officials for "ruining" the grand final rematch on Thursday night and Storm coach Craig Bellamy said he was no fan of the way games were playing out to start the season.

"I know the referees are in a difficult position, they certainly are, they want to clean that area of the game up and I can understand that point," Bellamy said.

"But it's a real stop-start game at the moment. I suppose we've got to buy in or keep getting penalised like that.

"I just think the stop-start nature of the game ain't great, but in saying that if they think they need to clean that area up, well they're doing a good job of it and they'll probably keep doing it, so I guess all teams need to be a bit more disciplined in that area."