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Referees: The Natural Enemy of Handicap Betting Markets?

 Most of the time when a team wins by 20 points, it is usually over the course of an otherwise unremarkable game. However, it is not easy to run up a big win like that at NRL level, where the professionalism and pride of the players dictate that they play hard across the full 80 minutes whenever possible.

Often, games that are won by 20 points or more can often be decided by one moment. It could be a moment of brilliance, a field-length try, or a monster hit on the defence that changes the flow of the game.

By the same token, such a turn of events can also be catalysed by a simple collapse from the opposition, and this can have a profound effect on elements such as outright markets within NRL betting odds. There certainly seems to be no coincidence when one measures the correlation between big wins and lofty finishes:


On other occasions though, there may simply be a decision from a referee that completely changes the flow and direction of a game. That is, for instance, what happened when Cronulla destroyed Parramatta on Saturday night.

There is never a good time for a ref to get everything wrong, but the absolute worst time for that mistake would be at the end of one of the halves. That is exactly what happened here, as referees David Munro and Chris Butler somehow messed up on a call that seemed obvious to everyone in the stands and everyone watching on TV at home.

A towering bomb off the boot of Chad Townsend fell through the sky and clearly was first touched by Sharks five-eighth Kyle Flanagan. The ball then contacted Parra fullback Will Smith. The call, inexplicably, was for six-again, with the Sharks taking full advantage of the situation by spreading the ball wide to the right-hand side of the ground and Josh Dugan monstering his way over the line.

Almost immediately, the siren sounded. The call made no sense live and even less sense on replay, and this was reflected with aplomb by Greg Alexander and Dan Ginnane of Fox League unable to make any sense of the call.

The subsequent play directly led to Cronulla (after a Flanagan conversion) going out to a 20-6 lead that was never really threatened, as they cruised to a 42-22 victory. The problem with the call wasn’t just that it was wrong, it was also that it came at a terrible point in the game for the Eels.

While Parra hadn’t started well, something they are all too familiar with this season. However, the call (and the resulting try) clearly stunned the Eels. After the flashpoint, they were practically on another planet for the first part of the second half.

By the time they had finally pulled themselves together, their late tries were never going to be enough to overcome an egregious refereeing decision. The knock-on effect on in-play handicap betting can also be profound, with a huge difference between a 14-6 scoreline and 20-6 at this level of the nation’s flagship League franchise.

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