Referees destroying our game By Ray Chesterton | August 22, 2008 http://www.news.com.au/dailytelegraph/sport/nrl/story/0,26799,24222049-5016307,00.html EVER noticed that referees awarding penalties throw their arm out with the same gusto as soldiers reaching back to throw grenades? It's appropriate. Penalties are blowing up premiership stability and introducing a referee-influenced unpredictiability. Lopsided penalty counts create an unwanted source of speculation - and they are happening far too often. The lucky dip approach of previous decades to referees' awarding penalties has been revisited upon us. And the game is the poorer. Wests Tigers were the latest victims. They were quickly down five-nil in the penalty count last week against Parramatta and never recovered. Given the way the Tigers played, their ill-sense of discipline and their inability to control their tempers, there is a case to be made that they would have been soundly beaten anyway and that the early penalties only accelerated the inevitable. Perhaps, but we will never know. It is not the first time this season penalties have become lopsided and exerted an out-of-proportion influence on a match. Sometimes teams rise above it. Cronulla were down 10-1 in penalties a few weeks back but still went on to beat Souths 28-14. Cronulla's resourcefulness still does not justify such an extraordinary penalty count. Not does it excuse the dozen or so lopsided penalty counts that have occurred this season. A couple of examples. North Queensland won the penalties 11-2 against Melbourne in round seven - but still lost 12-10 The Warriors won the penalties 12-3 in round 11 but lost to the Roosters 38-12. Parramatta got a 12-4 penalty count in losing to Penrith and there are a few 10-3 counts in the mix as well involving a variety of teams as well. Penalty counts are becoming almost a laughing matter. Are we really being asked to believe that at a time in the game's history when training - both physical and psychological - has never been more intense, coaches are unable to instil discipline in the ranks? And the team performances in regard to penalties vary so much. Cronulla were hammered in the penalties against Souths but in round 10 they enjoyed a 10-3 penalty count from Jared Maxwell at Shark Park while beating Brisbane 13-6. Are teams really so lacking in control they they deserve to be penalised two or even three to one? There is no real excuse for penalty counts being so erratic except the vagaries of referees. Sure, teams will wander offside from time to time and commit other odd breaches. That's part of the game. But coaches inoculate players with a mantra of "not doing anything stupid" in games. They are told to not talk back because it brings a secondary penalty and be especially careful not to give penalties when the oppositions' tackle count is four or five. Overall penalty counts on average have not risen much in a decade. It is the sequence to one team that is so destructive to the morale of the players. At times it looks like only one side is being refereed. The modern game, so denuded of real competitiveness in so many areas, is vulnerable to penalty counts. They are now the singular most potent force in the game. Competing for the ball in scrums and in the play-the-ball has ended. And it leaves referees with a lot of responsibility.