Captain's challenge and on-field call changes being considered for Super League

Super League's controversial 'on-field call' could be refined next season as part of plans that could also see the captain's challenge introduced.

Currently, when a match official sends a decision to the video referee, they must inform their colleague whether they believe the incident is a try or not, with the video referee then tasked with making a final decision. However, they must have conclusive evidence that the on-field decision is incorrect to reverse the decision.

Stakeholders in rugby league have regularly debated the merits of having a referee provide their opinion when seeking clarification on the incident. Over the years, there have been countless instances where major decisions have been determined by the match official's decision due to inconclusive evidence. However, it's claimed that on-field officials are essentially determining games on a gut feeling without the line of vision to make an educated judgement.

Phil Bentham is the RFL's new head of match officials, and he is keen to change the process, which would allow the official on the video to communicate with the one with the replays to help come to a conclusion.

"I've worked in both scenarios," said Bentham, who was a Super League match official for 15 seasons. "So when I was on the field in the early part of my career, it was basically just send everything up to the video referee. I think there's some merit in us not necessarily having a fixed live call but having a conversation between the guy on the field and the guy in the video ref booth, which is very similar to rugby union, to make sure they work together as two experts to make the right decision. Rather than 'I've got this live call, I've probably not seen it very well but that's what I'm going to go with, now you go and disprove it.'

"Why do we cut the conversation at that point? Why can't we have a conversation between two people who are experts, one on the ground and one with the replays? Obviously, it's quite difficult in some of our stadia where the screen might be at the far end as a referee. But it's the conversation between the two professionals that makes the difference. It's something I'm already looking at in preparation for next season."

He added: "What we need to make sure is the conversation and communication between those two people is efficient and effective. We might only be talking two out of ten calls where we need that conversation because the picture provides enough evidence; if it's a grounding you don't need the referee to give his input on that unless it's in margins.

"The only thing now is people have gotten used to it, and there's a little bit of drama in the ground, will it be try or no try? That drama would be lost and having come from football, when they use the VAR in football, the people in the ground aren't involved at all. So for us to try and change our model - I was at the Salford and Warrington game Saturday waiting for the live call in anticipation. But there's no reason why we can't add on to the conversation."

Bentham has returned to the RFL after working as a VAR coach for the FA. Among the complaints within football is the lack of communication that is delivered to supporters inside the stadium while decisions are being reviewed. That is expected to change moving forward, with communication to be aired through the tannoy systems, similar to American Football. It's something Bentham would like to introduce in rugby league too.

"It's something we've discussed," he confirmed. "It would probably be cost-prohibitive, that's probably the problem. But it's something we're looking at and if it's the way rugby union are going, and I know it's the way football are heading, we might have to find a way of doing that. Otherwise, we'll have gone from getting a video ref at every game which has brought us in line with other sports, to falling back again. It's something we might have to find a way of doing."

Also on the agenda is the captain's challenge, which has been used in the NRL for a number of years. The ruling allows a team captain to contest a decision themselves if they feel an incorrect one has been made.

"Lots of players and coaches think it's a great idea," Bentham said. "We could never do it because, with two video refs and four without one, it wouldn't be a fair playing field. We're not in that situation anymore. It's certainly something I'm working with the NRL on, and getting their feel for it because there are a few critics over there. We don't want to bring something in that suddenly they drop, because internationally, it looks foolish. So we need to work with them and come to an agreement so the international game looks like both elite competitions."