Talking Rugby League: The RFL rejects NRL rule changes

Martyn Sadler
Martyn Sadler

The RFL will not follow the changes in the laws of the game announced last week in Australia by NRL bosses, even though the new rules in Australia will pull the two versions of Rugby League further apart.

The NRL has implemented a raft of new rules for the 2014 season, supposedly aimed at speeding up the game and improving player safety.

They seem to be aimed at what the NRL describes as blatant time-wasting by players, especially as full-time approaches, with Australian club captains often intervening near their own tryline by questioning referees to give their team time to set a defence.

The new rules were formulated after five months of discussions with leading Rugby League figures and more than 11,000 fans, who gave their opinions online.

For those who haven’t seen them, the NRL rule changes are:

● Zero tackle from 20 metre restart: The first tackle after a 20m optional kick will be called a zero tackle. The rule change provides an extra tackle to discourage the ball being kicked dead to slow down the game and deny wingers and fullbacks the chance to return kicks. That is surely a change that we should also consider adopting.

● 40/20 restarts: The team that performs a 40/20 kick will restart play with a tap kick 20 metres in from the touch at the point it crossed the line instead of a scrum being set. I can’t see the point of that. A scrum surely gives a bigger advantage to the team that kicks the 40/20.

● Restarts from kicks out on the full: A handover will be awarded when the ball is kicked out on the full on any tackle. Again, I would have thought a scrum gives a bigger advantage to the team that gets the benefit of the decision.

● Stop the clock: During the last five minutes of a match, the clock will stop following a conversion or penalty kick at goal until play restarts at halfway. It is intended to add excitement during close matches and reduce potential time-wasting, but in that case why not do the same thing after every penalty or conversion?

● Quick taps: A quick penalty restart will be permitted on any infringement except 10-metre penalties, or where the referee issues a caution or within 10 metres of the opposition goal line, in order to encourage more continuous play. That sounds to me like headless chicken rugby.

● Communication with referees: Captains will only be able to speak to referees during a stoppage in play (a try, injury break or when referee is issuing a caution). Penalties and scrums are not considered stoppages of play. Captains will be given an opportunity to speak to the referees as players leave the field for half-time. I will watch this with interest, and I’m sure captains will have trouble complying with it. It could simply lead to more penalties.

● Goal-kicking time limit: The referee will call time-off at approximately 1min 20sec following the scoring of a try. Fines will still apply to clubs when a player takes longer than 1min 40sec to make a conversion attempt. In this country we have a limit of one minute for kicks at goal, so this rule isn’t one that would affect us.

At the weekend I spoke to Blake Solly, the RFL’s Director of Standards & Licensing, and he confirmed that the RFL is unlikely to follow the NRL’s rule changes, at least in the short term.

“Those law changes are designed to overcome the concerns the NRL had about stoppages in play last year,” Solly told me.
“It’s to our credit that we haven’t had them to the same extent.

“Our game is more up-tempo and free flowing.

“Some of the issues they have had to confront haven’t been an issue for us.

“If they work, and are worthwhile, our Laws Committee will look at them.

“But as the moment we have no intention of bringing them in for the 2014 season.”

And Solly believes the RFL has already dealt with some of the issues covered by the NRL changes.

“We dealt with the issue of talking to the referee two years ago, when we introduced the referee signalling a team warning. And we have been stopping our clock at one minute for goal kicks for years.

“We have always believed in the referee having some discretion in this area. So we are comfortable with our own rules.”

For me, that is good to hear.