NRL rule modifications for 2023

THE NRL has tweaked the rules of the game for the 2023 season in a way that will limit the use of the bunker while also making it easier for teams to trigger the 18th-man substitute due to failed head-injury assessments (HIAs).

The ARL Commission announced last Thursday announced that there will be new rules for the new season, but it had formalised changes in the interpretation of a number of current laws, including changes to the bunker, grounding the football, concussion protocols, captain’s challenges and offside rules at the scrum.

The changes “are designed to enhance the existing Laws and Interpretations which have led to a faster, more free-flowing and unpredictable game” and they have been made after consultation with the Rugby League Players’ Association and the clubs.

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

The bunker has been criticised in recent seasons for interjecting itself into games too often, in the eyes of some critics. But that now should change.

“The bunker may only intervene for acts of foul play which it deems to be reportable,” the NRL said in a statement.

“The change will ensure fewer needless stoppages while also confirming a firmer process around foul play intervention.”

A full list of the new rule interpretations is as follows:

Grounding the Ball
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. The new interpretation will allow further clarity for officials when adjudicating grounding.

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. This will allow greater flexibility for clubs that lose multiple players to head injuries in a match.

Bunker intervention
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. Decisions which cannot be challenged will continue to include forward passes, roll balls and discretionary penalties including 10m offside, ruck infringements relating to play-the-ball speed, tackled into touch after held call and dissent.

A Challenge can be made following the final play in each half provided the referee has not already called half or full-time. The changes will add further clarity for fans, broadcasters, clubs and players around when a Captain’s Challenge can and cannot be initiated.

Offside at scrums
A full penalty will be awarded (rather than a set restart), for offside scrum infringements by the defensive team anywhere on the field. The non-infringing team will retain the option of repacking the scrum or taking the awarded penalty. Any team which deliberately locks the ball in the scrum to trap defenders in an offside position will also be penalised.

The 10m rule
Active defenders must have both feet in line or behind the referee when setting the 10-metre defensive line. Referees will have the option of awarding a full penalty for multiple 10m breaches without requiring the mandatory use of the sinbin. Referees can still use the sinbin if they consider breaches to be deliberate or cynical. The changes will give further clarity to officials and teams around what constitutes a breach of the rules.

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”. The change will address unnecessary slowing of the play-the-ball and improve game continuity.

The new rule interpretations will come into effect in time for the first weekend of trials, which kick off next month.

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

“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.

“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.”

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