Rule changes, amendments to the laws of the game, RLPA, The Bunker, clubs, RLPA, Andrew Abdo, Peter V’landys, news

The NRL has announced key amendments to the existing laws of the game with the changes to result in more 18th man involvement and the Bunker’s influence being reduced.

Following a review of the 2022 season in consultation with the RLPA and clubs, NRL stakeholders “requested clarification on existing interpretations” of rules which led to a raft of changes.

The Bunker will now only be able to intervene for “acts of foul play which it deems reportable” in an attempt to reduce “needless stoppages” and allow the game to flow.

The video referee’s constant involvement consistently frustrated rugby league fans, but now the Bunker official will have less of an impact on the contest.

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NRL teams will now also be able to activate their 18th man after only two failed head injury assessments — a reduction from three last season.

Meanwhile, tries will now be awarded “if the ball rotates from the hand to the wrist or forearm provided there is no obvious separation between the ball and the hand or arm” according to an NRL statement.

“While relatively minor, these changes will improve three elements of the game – player safety, the game presentation for fans and off-side compliance,” NRL football manager Graham Annesley said.

“We undertook a thorough review of the 2022 season, including consultation with the NRL Clubs, the RLPA and other stakeholders.

“The overriding feedback was the current interpretations are creating a faster and more free-flowing game, but there was a need to address some minor issues which have emerged.

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“These changes will allow Clubs and players clarity on certain issues while also giving fans more entertainment and transparency as the game evolves in 2023.”

Clarification has also been announced regarding the Captain’s Challenge and now players can call for a challenge after the referee blows his whistle to stop play as well as following a “structured restart”.

Captain’s can also challenge “following the final play in each half provided the referee has not already called half or full-time”.

Last season Cowboys captain Chad Townsend was able to call for a challenge on the last play of the game which saw the North Queensland side steal an unlikely victory.

On-field referee Chris Butler allowed the Cowboys’ challenge despite no clear stoppage in play which saw Bunker referee Ashley Klein award an escort penalty from kick-off.

Valentine Holmes kicked the penalty goal to seal victory and rugby league fans erupted before the NRL conceded the Captain’s Challenge ruling needed to be reviewed.

The NRL has also cracked down on offside infringements during a scrum and if any defensive player is offside their opponents are awarded a full penalty.

Teams are still able to decide between repacking the scrum or taking the awarded penalty.

In 2023, less sin bins will be awarded for continual offsides, with referees now having the option of awarding a “full penalty for multiple 10 meters breaches”.

Players must also have both feet in line or behind the referee during their defensive set, while a tackle is now complete once a “held/release” call is made by the on-field referee.


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Grounding the ball: Tries will be awarded if the ball rotates from the hand to the wrist or forearm, provided there is no obvious separation between the ball and the hand or arm.

Operation of the 18th player rule: The number of failed head injury assessments will be reduced from three to two to trigger the activation of the 18th player.

Intervention of bunkers in foul play: The Bunker may only intervene for acts of foul play which it deems to be reportable. The change will ensure fewer needless stoppages while also confirming a firmer process around foul play intervention.

Captain’s Challenge: A challenge may be initiated after the referee blows his whistle to stop play, rather than only after a decision resulting in a structured restart. A Challenge can also be made following the final play in each half if the referee has not already blown the whistle for half or full-time.

Offside infringements at scrums: A full penalty will be awarded for off-side scrum infringements by the defensive team anywhere on the field. Teams can still decide between repacking the scrum or taking the penalty.

10m compliance in general play: Active defenders must have both feet in line or behind the referee when setting the 10-metre defensive line. Referees can also award a full penalty for multiple offsides, as opposed to a sin bin.

Adjudication of completed tackles: Referees will issue a single call of “held/release” when a tackle is complete, rather than the separate calls of “held” and “release”.


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