With the NRL facing a potential referee strike, the game’s greatest ever whistleblower has put up his hand to return to help get the footy back.
With the NRL facing a potential referee strike, the game’s greatest ever whistleblower has put up his hand to return to help get the footy back.

League’s greatest ref ready for ‘Hollywood’ comeback

Rugby league's greatest referee, Bill Harrigan, is ready for one of the game's most unimaginable comebacks to ensure the NRL restarts its competition next Thursday night.

Possible strike action by current referees has prompted Harrigan - who adjudicated a record ten first grade grand finals - to seek an incredible return at age 59.

Harrigan said he could control the opening one or two games while giving the NRL necessary time to devise a more permanent solution.

And another former top-line referee, Steve Lyons, also claimed he could assist over the opening six rounds.

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Bill Harrigan for Sunday Fit with Adam MacDougall, pictured at Brighton Le Sands.
Bill Harrigan for Sunday Fit with Adam MacDougall, pictured at Brighton Le Sands.

Harrigan, nicknamed Hollywood, gave the current referees a whack when telling The Daily Telegraph of his passion to assist rugby league should incumbent refs take industrial action.

"Each time they run onto the field they will get booed because they are refs. You'd never get respect back. It's just wrong," Harrigan said. "I am deadset disappointed that they are even discussing going on strike and holding up the competition."

The ugly standoff between referees and NRL will extend into the weekend where the NSW Fair Work Commission will be forced to decide whether rugby league has two referees, or one.

ARL Commission chairman Peter V'landys has already said the NRL has contingency plans in place if the dispute is not resolved, and that could mean replacement referees.

"If Peter V'landys rang me up and asked me to referee, I would ask him 'what field, what time?' All referees have egos and that would prevent us saying no. We'd say: "Let me back in, give me a go'," said Harrigan, who refereed 393 first grade games along with 21 State of Origin games and 25 Test matches.

"I could help get them through rounds one and two. I'd be there - put me in. Adrenaline would get me through if they wanted me back. I'd love to.

The infamous moment Harrigan sent off Gorden Tallis in State of Origin Game One, 2000. Picture: Gregg Porteous.
The infamous moment Harrigan sent off Gorden Tallis in State of Origin Game One, 2000. Picture: Gregg Porteous.

"I have been out of the game for 17 years but I am fitter than people 60 year olds. I'd give it a real good go. I have experience.

"I could get through the first and second rounds. After that they might have to get me on an oxygen reviver."

Lyons, 49, who refereed 166 NRL games between 2001 and 2013, was another busting to return.

"One-hundred per cent," Lyons said. "If it helps getting the footy back up and running then I am more than capable of holding my own.

"I am more than capable of doing half a dozen games, you know what I mean. It wouldn't be a problem. I have no injuries, am fit, still train, still run, all good. I run along the beach at Manly.

"I want to help the game and one referee is probably the way to go. I probably feel a bit sorry that they are doing it mid-year but the refs aren't running the game, the NRL does.

"The NRL makes the rules and you abide by them. The refs don't run the game."

Former referee Steve Lyons is also ready to return to the game if needed.
Former referee Steve Lyons is also ready to return to the game if needed.

Harrigan took aim at the current referees, who have been badly bruised in their PR war with the NRL.

"These blokes are kidding. Why are they talking about strike action when none of them will lose their jobs, and they are all still getting full pay," Harrigan said.

"They are going back to one ref. If they review it at the end of the year then some might lose their jobs but they are only one one-year contracts any way, no-one has ever been guaranteed anything longer.

"Even when I was refereeing, I had a one-year contract. I wasn't guaranteed year after year. In all my years refereeing, we never went down the path of saying 'We're not refereeing, we're going on strike'.

"You would lose the support of everybody. Each time you run onto the field you would get booed because you were the ref. You'd never get respect back. It's just wrong"

Harrigan suggested the NRL could also look at some younger retired referees including Lyons, Tony De Las Heras, Paul Simpkins and Sean Hampstead.

"They would be your first line of defence," Harrigan said.

Originally published as League's greatest ref ready for 'Hollywood' comeback


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