SADDLEWORTH-RAISED Super League referee Robert Hicks admits taking charge of Super League matches behind closed doors makes little difference.
Even if it means he does not get abuse from fans in the stand.
However, he does believe having attendances would improve the spectacle even more.
Scrums were removed for the rest of the year because of health concerns and players contacting others, while the ‘six again’ rule, which sees some infringements penalised with the tackle count being reset rather than a penalty, is here for good.
The official, who originates from Scouthead, has officiated two top-flight clashes at Leeds Rhinos’ Headingley Stadium, the thriller between Leeds and Huddersfield Giants and Catalans Dragons’ emphatic win over Castleford Tigers.
And he insists that once the first whistle goes, there is little difference from when stands are occupied.
The only differences come from rule changes introduced to make matches even quicker.
He told the Independent: “That’s more down to them and the fact that players maybe didn’t have as log a run in to get started again.
“When I blow the whistle, there’s not much difference. You’d think there would be because there’s no crowd there but you get mentally prepared and end up blocking any noise out.
“You notice it more when there are breaks in play or when a try has been scored but I must admit, I’ve quite enjoyed it so far.
“And the games have benefitted from the changes in rules. No-one has missed the scrums, have they?”
Super League’s matches will remain behind closed doors, with entire rounds of fixtures taking place at St Helens and Warrington, with Challenge Cup ties at Huddersfield sandwiched in-between.
While television viewers hear synthetic crowd noise, those inside stadia do not, making players’ cries more audible.
That could make any dissent more noticeable but not to Hicks, whose ears were trained anyway.
He added: “It was reported I sin-binned Leeds’ Ash Handley for dissent, but it was in fact for repeated infringements by his side.
“I hear what the players say anyway and it’s interesting when you’re in the ground but what hear is the players anyway as they are what I listen to, not people in the stand.
“But it would be great to have fans back in the stand. Matt Busby once said, ‘Football is nothing without fans,’ and the same could apply to rugby league.
“Take the Huddersfield v Leeds game – which went to golden point extra time. Imagine that in front of 15,000-16,000 people.”
People may think it is just a case of turning up to referee a match behind closed doors, but there is far more goes into it than that.
Even before anyone sets off to the venue, they must complete a wellbeing survey and when they turn up, temperatures are taken and strict protocols are followed.
“Just to get in, there are a lot of protocols,” Robert said. “There are forms to fill in every day too.
“But it’s all about making sure everything is done right. There’s a lot to go through and that’s even before you get into your own game day routine.”