Matt Cecchin and other referees have been the subject of the unrelenting criticism from internet trolls. Picture: Joel Carrett/AAP
Matt Cecchin and other referees have been the subject of the unrelenting criticism from internet trolls. Picture: Joel Carrett/AAP

Troll abuse forces NRL to turn to psych specialist for refs

INTERNET trolls and abuse directed at referees has led the NRL to employ a sports psychologist to work with the game's whistleblowers.

NRL head of football and former referee Graham Annesley said the criticism directed at officials had reached a point where the game needed to address the issue.

Leading referee Matt Cecchin announced last year he was moving to the English Super League after being subjected to abuse following a tough, but correct, call in England's 2017 World Cup semi-final win over Tonga.

Cecchin is back in Australia after a visa hiccup resulted in his opportunity in the Super League falling through and will this weekend oversee a NSW Cup game.

He is likely to be back in first grade in the coming weeks.

"We have engaged a sports psychologist to work with the referees," Annesley said.

"That (abuse) received a bit of publicity last year and we've acted on that. We're very aware of the need to ensure their (referees) welfare is protected as much as possible.

"We all know it's a job that comes with a lot of criticism so no one is walking away from that fact so we need to do as much to support them."

The criticism of referees was amplified last year as they instituted head office's crackdown on the 10m rule and the play-the-ball.

On Tuesday, the NRL announced it reached a new enterprise agreement that increase the whistleblowers' pay over the course of the four-year cycle.

By 2022 they will be earning 25 per cent more than in 2018.

Annesley will also hold a weekly media briefing in which he will be questioned on any contentious refereeing decisions from the weekend's games.

In the past, club officials have complained that referees are not put under the same scrutiny as coaches and players.

"We want the general public to understand where the NRL stands on some of these matters and the best way to do that is to talk open and publicly," Annesley said.

"It's not going to be easy. I'm not living in a fool's paradise in terms of what we might need to confront in the year, and there will be lots of criticism, there will be people who don't agree with the position I take."

NRL senior referees manager Bernard Sutton said Belinda Sharpe and Kasey Badger were not far off making their NRL debuts, which would make them the first women to oversee a first-grade game.

"(Belinda) did a good job in the trials, we're edging closer to that moment," Sutton said.

News Corp Australia

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