Radical NRL revamp labelled a ‘recipe for disaster’
THE Australian Rugby League Commission has approved a number of changes for the 2020 NRL season and recommended a general play challenge and a reduction in the time trainers spend on the field.
Two tactical changes have been made.
A 20/40 rule - whereby a kick from behind your own 20m line that goes out of touch inside the opposition's 40m zone results in another set of six - will be introduced, and teams will also be given an option to select the lateral scrum position either 10 or 20m from touch or in line with the black dot on the cross bar.
Rules around tackling players in midair have also been strengthened and the outdated mutual-infringement law has been updated to replay the previous play-the-ball, scrapping a scrum for the attacking team.
The archaic law was brought into the spotlight during the 2019 NRL grand final, where Canberra's Sia Soliola charged down a ball but it hit a trainer and the Sydney Roosters were given a scrum feed, changing momentum.
Under the new rule, referees will replay the previous play-the-ball instead of resetting with a scrum in favour of the attacking team.
Rules around tackling in midair have also been clarified in favour of player safety, banning it completely. Players can't be tackled while in the air - a defender will need to wait until the player reaches the ground.
However, there is still room for contesting the ball, which could complicate the decision for referees.
The 20/40 rule was trialled in Queensland Cup in 2019 but used successfully just once. The potential advantage is teams have to defend the play and could drop wingers back out of the defensive line, while adding another attacking option for teams looking to get out of their own end.
Predictability in scrums has also been targeted with teams able to nominate the lateral position of the scrum within about five seconds before a default scrum is set 20m from touch.
The idea is to add a tactical element to what is usually a predictable outcome.
The ARLC also endorsed a "challenge" system for teams where they will be given one opportunity to challenge an on-field decision, which will be retained if they are correct.
It could not apply to forward passes.
Angst over refereeing decisions has also led to the captain's challenge. But The Australian's rugby league writer, Brent Read, called the system a "recipe for disaster", predicting it would slow the game down and be used tactically by coaches.
The NRL will work through the operational details on how the challenge would be applied and a report will be put to the commission in February to introduce the rule in 2020.
My thoughts on challenge system - recipe for disaster. More stoppages, works agains fatigue, doesn’t necessarily remove clanger. Will be used tactically by coaches.— Brent Read (@brentread_7) December 6, 2019
Additionally, restrictions on trainers will be introduced to spend less time on the field. Limitations will be finalised at the next meeting.
Second-tier competitions will also trial packing six players into a scrum when only 12 players are on the field instead of five.
NRL CEO Todd Greenberg said it was crucial the league kept adapting to maintain fans' interest.
"We are constantly looking at ways to ensure the game is easier to officiate, and is also innovative and unpredictable," Greenberg said.
"We certainly feel these changes will have a positive impact on the sport."
Football boss Graham Annesley said the changes had been made in consultation with "key stakeholders" in the sport.
"There has been significant engagement with our fans, the Competition Committee as well as through the NRL coaches, the clubs, and the RLPA," Annesley said.
"Over 20,000 fans responded to an end-of-season survey, more than tripling the response to the 2018 online survey.
"We are constantly looking to evolve, and we believe these changes will lead to a more entertaining game for fans.
"The Competition Committee and the coaches all had the game as a spectacle at the heart of their discussions, along with other key considerations including player wellbeing and the impact on the sport at all levels, and that clearly aligns with the Commission's overall vision for the sport."
Re the challenge - team makes a line break and go close to scoring. Opposition team scrambling to get their defence in order. Call a challenge. Get the time out. Defensive line set again. Madness— Michael Carayannis (@MCarayannis) December 6, 2019