Rugby league’s “innovation agenda” is in full swing, with the NRL’s controversial ‘captain’s challenge’ system fast-tracked to roll out this season.
The Australian Rugby League Commission (ARLC) approved the concept for 2020 on Monday, meaning NRL captains on the field will now be able to challenge a referee’s decisions in a set of situations using the game’s existing video referee system.
With less than a fortnight to go until the season starts, only South Sydney and Illawarra have had the advantage of using the system – in the Charity Shield – while it was also tested in the NRL All Stars match last month.
NRL chief executive Todd Greenberg said teams would be briefed this week but expects there to be “plenty of debate” around the code’s latest rule tweak.
“We have moved pretty quickly since Christmas and there is very much an innovation agenda from the Commission to make sure we try new things,” he said.
The main concern with the introduction of captain’s challenge is adding extra stoppages to matches, which slows the game down and can frustrate fans.
Each team will get one unsuccessful challenge per game, and will have 10 seconds to alert the referee that they wish to contest a decision.
The only decisions that can be challenged are those involving a structured restart of play, such as a penalty or scrum.
The opportunity to contest a call is over once play resumes.
“We have done it very specifically so you can only use it when there is a stoppage in play,” Greenberg said when asked about the prospect of teams using the initiative strategically.
“If there is a decision that is wrong on the field and we want to correct it through technology then we will do it, but we want to make sure we don’t lose the continuity of the game, which is why you only get one (unsuccessful challenge).
“You get it wrong and you lose it.”
The system was first proposed by the ARLC in December after results of a fan survey indicated one of the biggest problems in the game is incorrect refereeing decisions.
“This is an exciting innovation for our game,” Greenberg said.
“It will add an additional layer of excitement, unpredictability and tactics to matches. Most importantly, though, it provides an opportunity for a wrong decision to be overturned.”