JAMES FORD is optimistic a chat with chief referee assessor Steve Presley this week may lead to quicker play-the-balls, faster matches and ultimately far better spectacles for fans in rugby league's lower tiers.

York City Knights' head coach blasted man-in-the-middle Scott Mikalauskas after the Knights' 28-12 win over London Skolars in their League One opener last time out, over what he described as "pathetically slow" ruck speeds.

It was not the first time he had bemoaned the "pedestrian" nature of an encounter caused by lethargic ruck speed, having done so several times last year, especially after games against expansion clubs who seek to frustrate superior opposition.

"They (referees) know the rules but there's a lack of understanding of game management," he said after the Skolars match, arguing it was another case of a ref failing to clamp down on stalling tactics - something he believes ultimately damages the sport's appeal.

Whether his comments would have gone down well with Rugby Football League chiefs is debatable, but he has chatted to them about it - and hopes it will make a difference "for the good of the game as a whole".

"I can accept referees getting a few decisions wrong such as forward passes or high shots and that referees are doing their best," he explained. "I get that.

"My main concern is with their interpretation of what is and isn't an acceptable ruck speed.

"The referee against London suggested an eight or ten-second play-the-ball is fine. That to me is a massive worry, not just as coach of York but for the game's future.

"Some clubs are working hard on few resources to promote the game below Super League, and players are working hard trying to improve performances and entertain spectators.

"But ten-second rucks? Who's going to be entertained by that? Who's going to enjoy that over Super League?

"If we want to allow clubs like York, Hunslet, Doncaster and others to fulfil potential, we need to speed the game up at this level - make it quick and enjoyable.

"I stressed this to Steve Presley and I'm confident we'll see some quicker games from now on."

Ford said his concern regarded not just York or League One but the bigger picture of rugby in this country.

"We were all upset when we (British teams) lost 3-0 in the World Club Series. There are lots of good suggestions about how we can improve standards but most are expensive, such as increasing the salary cap by millions or improving training facilities at a cost of millions.

"A quick and cheap way is to speed up play over here. Let's make Super League faster, let's make the Championship and League One faster, make it quick and entertaining.

"That would immediately help to develop quicker game awareness and promote successful, faster, better skill levels - the opposite of some of the stuff we saw against London Skolars."

He added: "Rugby league should always be played fast - when it is it's a great spectacle and fantastic value, the best sport in the world by miles.

"When it's played slow, with ten-second rucks, it can be tedious.

"One man is responsible for that in each match.

"I'm all for teams getting extra time in the ruck by dominating it, but I wouldn't want ten seconds. I would be bored as a coach.

"I'm looking for around four seconds (when defending), six if you're physically dominant. If we win it (in possession), let's make it three seconds.

"It would help to increase viewing figures."

This, of course, may lead to a higher penalty count and more stop-start if a team continually offends at play-the-balls, but Ford countered: "If a team's going to give away that many penalties, they're not going to win a game. Nobody wants to defend that much. They'd have to speed up.

"Referees can also help players by talking to them through a match. The best refs are the ones that speak to the boys and tell them to speed things up.

"It's a simple improvement and it can be done - hopefully sooner rather than later."

THERE was some very sad news to report in the world of York rugby league this week.

Popular Knights supporter Alan "Are You Sure Referee" Moffatt passed away on Monday, aged 71, after a short battle with cancer.

Alan, a postman for many years before his retirement, had probably the most instantly recognisable voices in the old Pop Stand and at many an away game.

"Are you sure, referee? Are you sure?" was his biggest catchphrase, said so loudly in such a deep, booming voice that it would have shaken any match official in his boots.

A long-time York fan, he was also a Pot of Gold ticket seller at home matches, from which he earned another catchphrase - "I always sell the winner!"

Knights Independent Supporters' Society chairman Gary Hall recalled many an away trip, too, not least to the Challenge Cup final.

"Every time we went to a pub, you'd always hear this voice boom out 'How much!?' he smiled.

"We knew then Alan was at the bar.

"So many people in rugby league would have known him.

"Apparently he was a little deaf and he spoke loudly so he could hear himself!

"He was a great character, a huge fan and a lovely man. It's very sad.

"He's one of those people you always saw and knew would be at games. It'll be strange and sad not having him there."