Ref’s call over use of World Cup sin-bin for punching

Throw 'em: Sam Burgess lashes out at David Klemmer in the Four Nations. Picture: Channel Nine
Throw 'em: Sam Burgess lashes out at David Klemmer in the Four Nations. Picture: Channel Nine

Players won't automatically be sent to the sin bin for throwing a punch during the World Cup as they are in the NRL.

The one-punch-and-you're-off stance adopted by the NRL four years ago when Dave Smith was the code's chief executive does not feature in the rules for the tournament to begin later this month.

While punching comes under the banner of striking, which is deemed an act of misconduct, there is no hard and fast rule for how it should be punished. 

Instead, it will be left to the interpretation of World Cup match officials to determine if and how players will be sanctioned, whether by a penalty, sin bin or even a send-off.

Last year's Four Nations featured a punch thrown by a frustrated Sam Burgess at David Klemmer that resulted in a cut above the eye for the Australian forward but didn't land the Englishman on the sidelines.

The fact the rules for the World Cup are not black and white on the consequences of such conduct leaves open the possibility of flare-ups.

However, the tournament's head of officiating – NRL referees boss Tony Archer – said on Monday the 14 nations had been told that punching was highly frowned upon and warned that they risked being marched for it.

"Punching is one of the [offences] that you can put someone in the sin bin for in the World Cup. If we believe it's sufficient enough we'll deal with it," Archer said. 

"The boys will have a consistent approach to that. We don't want the games to be marred by that and I'm confident the referees will be able to handle it.

"All the teams and all the nations have been given the rules. They're aware of what the rules are, all the changes, and what our interpretations are in and around those rules."

The World Cup will be something of a trip back in time for Australian audiences, in particular, when it comes to officiating, with the absence of the NRL bunker and only one on-field referee, rather than two. 

Archer maintains that the use of two referees, as in the NRL, is superior to the international policy. He also predicts that the use of an in-goal video referral system, rather than the bunker, will mean contentious calls may take longer to resolve. However, he is confident the system will work throughout the five-week event.  

"For our blokes we've got a wealth of international experience here. They've refereed as one ref before," he said. "Obviously it brings its own challenges but I'm confident with the experience we've got around us that we'll be right."

Brisbane-based Belinda Sleeman is, meanwhile, set to be the first woman appointed to officiate in a World Cup match after being included in a group of 26 referees and touch judges.

Sleeman and Kasey Badger last month became the first female referees to be involved in the NRL semi-finals, with Sleeman running the line in Penrith's week one victory over Manly.

The Rockhampton-raised whistleblower has been a regular on-field referee in the Intrust Super Cup in Queensland and the now defunct Holden Cup under-20s competition.

"She officiated in the Pacific Test earlier this year. She maintained her form throughout the NRL season," Archer said.

"She did a semi-final on the line in the NRL. Belinda is a quality official. We're looking towards the future and she is part of that future."