The NRL has dropped leading referee Ashley Klein after he received criticism for two pivotal calls in Melbourne Storm’s semi-final defeat of the Sydney Roosters.
But the NRL chief executive, Andrew Abdo, insists the league has not lost faith in Klein, lashing the sport’s culture of blaming referees for defeats.
In the first half of the Storm’s 18-13 win on Friday, Klein missed a knock-on from Melbourne hooker Harry Grant while the Roosters were on the attack in the red zone.
Klein permitted Grant to play the ball and only minutes later, the Storm marched upfield to score through Marion Seve.
Later, Klein did not penalise Roosters halfback Sam Walker for a clear high tackle on Grant while Melbourne were in position to kick a potentially game-winning penalty goal.
The NRL is yet to determine whether Klein will referee the grand final after he did so last year.
He will not preside over either of the preliminary finals this week but has been listed as the bunker official for Brisbane’s match against the Warriors on Saturday.
Abdo launched an impassioned defence of Klein shortly before the NRL dropped him, claiming criticism of the 14-time State of Origin referee pointed to a broader issue in the sport.
“One of the things that we need to work on as a game is the culture that we have around blame and the culture that we have around sometimes personalising things,” he said.
“It’s not how I want to see our next generation growing up. In sport, sometimes you don’t always get the decisions go your way. That is just the nature of sport. Guess what? Business is like that and guess what? Life is like that.”
Abdo insisted dropping Klein did not indicate the NRL had lost faith in his abilities.
“These guys [the referees], like the players, love the game and are hugely committed to the game and they’re going to, like players, have form and form changes,” he said.
“It’s just the natural flow of high performance: ebbs and flows in form. No one is more devastated than they are when they review performance and they understand that they may have missed a forward pass, or they may have missed a penalty.
“A referee might have a bad game and they might not get elevated or they might not be selected. That doesn’t mean that we’re not supporting them.
“I’ve watched sport my entire life and I can say this objectively: our match officials are up there with the best in the world.”
Post-match, the Roosters coach, Trent Robinson, and Storm captain, Christian Welch, were both measured in their comments about the refereeing calls.
“That’s the level of professionalism and that is the example that we want to set for everyone,” Abdo said.
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