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Opinion

The NRL’s rule changes are a mixed bag

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Roar Guru
8th December, 2019
23

NRL CEO Todd Greenberg and head of football Graham Annesley have announced some major rule changes ahead of the upcoming 2020 NRL season.

These changes include the introduction of the 20/40 kick, designed to operate in the same fashion as the 40/20 has for many years, the captain’s challenge, the ability for teams to choose to pack a scrum when the ball goes into touch either ten metres in from touch, 20 metres in from touch, or in the centre of the field.

There are also changes to the mutual infringement rule with regards to when the ball hits a referee or trainer, when previously the team with the attacking/territorial advantage was awarded the scrum feed, now the team that had the ball will have the chance to replay the previous play-the-ball.

Many of these changes have been introduced with the aim of improving the game as an attacking spectacle.

The changes to the scrum rule will hopefully encourage teams to use more set plays from scrums. We might see some teams who place more emphasis on wide-open side plays choose to pack scrums from ten metres in from touch all the time, while others will gravitate towards using short side plays, packing scrums more often 20 metres in from touch.

It will be intriguing to see what teams decide to do with the centre-field scrum. With attacking formations on either side of the scrum, it’s a great way to put the defence in two minds. It’s a great addition to the game and I’m excited to see how teams make use of it.

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The jury is still out on the introduction of captain’s challenge. The brains trust at NRL HQ are yet to articulate exactly how it will be implemented. Making sure that captains aren’t able to use the challenge to interrupt play when it suits them – as well as other potential abuses of the rule – is paramount to ensuring its success as a concept.

The 20/40 kick is a fantastic innovation, too. While the kick itself won’t be too much of a factor – it will probably be seen less frequently than the 40/20, which already happens fairly infrequently – the threat of the kick will create some interesting mind games between playmakers and opposition wingers.

Wingers opting to drop back early to defend the possibility of a 20/40 will create more space for teams coming out of their own end. The flow-on effect of this could be that we see more attacking footy from teams coming out of their own end, and potentially more long-range tries.

This leaves us with the new mutual infringement rule. This is where the game’s administrators have missed the mark.

The issue with the new rule is that it treats a trainer interfering with play and a referee interfering with play as equal, when in fact it’s anything but.

If a referee interferes with the play through their necessary presence on the field at all times, I fully accept that the only fair thing to do is to go back and restart that particular play.

Gerard Sutton

(Photo by Mark Kolbe/Getty Images)

Sometimes it may cost a team an attacking opportunity, for example if a team has numbers out wide but can’t get the ball there because it’s touched an official. The play would then be restarted, and the defence would likely have time to get itself in order and cover the gaps out wide.

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It’s unfortunate when this happens. However, the officials have a job to do, and it’s inevitable that one may get in the way from time to time. Restarting the play is the best thing that can be done in a bad situation.

The trainer touching the ball, on the other hand, is completely different.

A trainer is not a neutral third party like a referee, nor is their presence on the field an absolute necessity. In fact, the only reason trainers are able to spend such a long time on the field during play is because those who run the game have allowed this issue to spiral out of control over many years, to the point where a trainer’s presence on the field while their team is in possession is now considered the norm.

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If the newly introduced mutual infringement rule had been in place for this year’s grand final, the outcome still would have given the Roosters a massive advantage they shouldn’t have been entitled to.

Sure, instead of the whole extra set they actually received, they would have only received one extra play, giving Luke Keary another chance to get his kick away properly. But why does Keary deserve that chance? How is it fair to reward him with a second opportunity to kick when he stuffed up his first?

If a trainer interferes with the play by touching the ball, it should be at the very least an immediate handover to the other team, if not a penalty against the offending team.

The NRL was always going to change this rule after the debacle that was the 2019 grand final.

Unfortunately, the change they’ve come up with does nothing to ensure a fair outcome when a trainer interferes with the play, which given the present state of the game, is something that will inevitably happen again.