The RFL has issued several changes in the interpretation of the Laws of the Game as a response to concerns expressed by coaches about the issue of gamesmanship that has been creeping into games recently, with Castleford Tigers coach Daryl Powell shining a spotlight on what he felt was cheating by Catalans players to gain penalties during the game between the two sides on Easter Monday.
The changes, which have been introduced with immediate effect, are as follows.
Placing the ball on the defender lying on the ground
It is the responsibility of the player playing the ball to place the ball on the ground at their feet. If necessary the player should step backwards to ensure this can be done.
OUTCOME – If the ball is placed on the tackler, this will be ruled a knock-on.
Moving off the mark / stepping over to deliberately place the defender in the ruck
It is the responsibility of the player playing the ball to place the ball on the ground at their feet, and not to advance off the mark – if necessary the player should step backwards.
OUTCOME – The player in possession will be penalised for moving off the mark if deliberately stepping over a defender to place them in the ruck.
Playing the ball into a defender in the ruck
The player playing the ball should maintain balance and control when heeling the ball to the acting halfback.
OUTCOME – In this situation the player in the ruck will be penalised if hit by the ball – or if in the opinion of the referee the halfback is prevented from picking the ball up. EXCEPTION – A penalty will be awarded against the player playing the ball if the ball is forcibly heeled back with the intention of contacting the defending player with the ball.
Passing into an opposing player
Any ball passed into an opposing player in and around the ruck, in any direction, will be deemed to be acting against the spirit of the game.
OUTCOME – The passer will be immediately penalised.
Steve Ganson, the RFL’s Head of Match Officials, explained: “A number of high-profile incidents during and before the Easter weekend have shown certain teams or players acting contrary to the spirit of the game, in a manner that has infuriated fellow professionals, broadcasters and, crucially, supporters.
“After internal consultation, we have therefore decided to make these changes to referee policy with immediate effect, applying throughout the game. This is an unusual step, but not unprecedented, and we hope it will be welcomed by coaches, players and supporters.
“There is a meeting of head coaches next week, followed by the regular meeting of the RFL Laws Committee, at which these matters will be discussed, along with the situation regarding obstruction which has also been provoking a lot of discussion.”
Super League officials have also given their reaction to the proposed changes.
“Super League has been increasingly concerned by the increasing number of players taking advantage of the strict application of the laws around players lying in the ruck at the play-the-ball and has been working with the RFL to find a solution,” it said.
“Super League is keen to stop players using the rules to gain an unfair advantage and supports referees who penalise obvious gamesmanship. It also welcomes allowing Match Officials to apply a less strict, judgement-based interpretation of the rules based on the official’s observations at each ruck.”