If there was any doubt as to who is rugby league’s top player, it can only be assumed now that Jonathon Thurston is the king. And certainly one with the Midas touch.
For how else could he get off a charge of detrimental conduct if he wasn’t of royal persuasion? After all the evidence was extremely damning. There it was for all to hear during last weekend’s match between North Queensland and Manly as the television viewer got to hear a foul mouthed tirade from Thurston aimed at referee Jason Robinson.
It was hard to miss, that’s to be sure. Incredibly, Thurston seemed to think that Robinson had wrongly ruled a pass to be forward when replays show clearly that the officials got the call right. Even if they hadn’t, there can be no excusing this kind of behaviour towards match officials.
That Thurston was let off by the judiciary says a lot for the quality of his lawyer and quite possibly just as much about the judiciary themselves. His lawyer argued of all things, that as the NRL had a video of the incident on their website until Wednesday, it therefore could not have been considered a serious offence if the NRL thought it okay to keep it on display. And the judiciary fell for it, which is simply unfathomable.
This argument is the equivalent of an accused bank robber who has left his visage exposed during the act of a robbery being found not guilty because his lawyer argued that it couldn’t possibly be a serious crime due to television networks showing footage of the crime each night for a week after the event. Never mind that there can be no arguing that an offence has been committed.
Sure, Thurston isn’t a criminal and his offence is certainly not on that scale, nor is he a particularly bad person, but the judiciary have now set a precedent by letting him off without penalty. Now they have simply opened the way for any player brought before the judiciary for a similar offence to argue that if it is good enough for Thurston to be allowed to abuse officials in this way, then it surely must be good enough for them too.
And, hey, what are a few F-bombs here and there between friends? Can’t do any harm can it? Well, yes it can. As much as there are many in society that just simply adore the use of the f word, not to mention quite a few others, the issue here is one of respect for match officials. And we are talking of a tirade towards a referee here, not just a random swear word after a player has made a mistake.
If a player of Thurston’s status in the game is seen to be able to get away with this type of tirade towards a referee, then the judiciary are sending a message to young players coming through the grades that this is an acceptable way to treat match officials. And that they too will escape punishment. And if referees are on the receiving end of these types of outbursts at a lower level of the game, then rugby league will soon start to lose good people who are no longer prepared to put up with this type of abuse.
Which in the end will affect the game at the professional level as there will not be the quantity of high quality referees coming through to officiate at the professional level. As it is this year, we have seen some of the younger referees struggle in first grade.
No one would suggest that referees get it right all the time. They are only human, after all, and mistakes are inevitable. With the lack of depth that is clearly missing from refereeing ranks at the top echelon of the game it can only get worse if acts such as Thurston’s are allowed to recur.
But, in this case they did make the correct call. If they had not made the right call? Of course that would not be ideal, but there is still no discernible justification for how Thurston behaved towards Robinson.
And let’s be clear about this: Thurston deserves to be sitting out a couple of matches, and yes, even if that had meant missing State of Origin two.