On the day the National Rugby League moved to give its premiership
referees full-time professional employment, the game lost it leading
whistleblower, Tim Mander.

The move to make referees full-time employees of the game, and to even
employ younger, up-and-coming referees full-time, is long overdue. But
it will take years for the benefits of having professional referees to take
full effect. In the meantime, the NRL is desperately short of referees
who perform consistently well enough to handle premiership matches.

The retirement of Mander is not unexpected. He has controlled the last
two grand finals, and Tri-Nations international matches. He has been
the best referee in the post-Bill Harrigan period.

It remains a blight on the game that he did not get to control a State
of Origin game. Overlooking Mander for Origin matches is a bit like
Racing Victoria telling Chief Steward Des Gleeson to “take Melbourne
Cup week off.” As the NRL moves to full-time professional referees, it ought to insist
that the process of selecting the man to control showcase matches such
as State of Origin gets a shake-up.

The real reason why Mander was overlooked was that the Origin referee
is chosen by NSW and Queensland. NSW nominated Mander (even though he
is a Queenslander) but Queensland always overruled him. Why? Something
to do with his refereeing “style” not suiting Queensland’s game.

The best tribute the game’s administrators can pay to Mander is to put
an end to this nonsense now and forever. The best man should get the
job every time.

Mander is not your usual official. This year he was named Queensland
Father of the Year and his post-football career will be devoted to his
work as President of the Scripture Union of Queensland.