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The Roar



Time to update the NRL rule book to reflect the actual rules

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Roar Pro
27th October, 2020
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Throughout the season, it has struck me how many rules are assumed a part of rugby league despite not being found anywhere in the rule book. And, conversely, how many rules are in the rule book but not enforced.

Just from the grand final alone, we saw two Bunker calls that could be argued on the grounds of what everyone knows you can’t do compared to what the rule book actually says.

You can’t run behind a lead runner, yet the rule book says a defender must be impeded. You can’t use your foot to dislodge the ball, yet the rule book makes no mention of this.

There was a controversial decision to award a try to Brian To’o despite Isaah Yeo running behind a lead runner. Now, despite no Storm players being obstructed or even attempting to make a tackle, commentators and fans complained you can’t run behind a lead runner and gain an advantage – and rightly so.

We have been told this all year with every decision up to this point being interpreted that way. Yet on the biggest stage, the common interpretation was thrown out in favour of the rule book interpretation that says if no defender is impeded, then play on.

Now I can see the merits in the rule the way it is written but in the interest of simplicity, which should then lead to consistency, let’s rewrite the rule to the common understanding. This should eliminate the shock of a technically correct ruling replacing the assumed interpretation.

Brian To'o

Brian To’o celebrates with his Penrith teammates. (Photo by Jason McCawley/Getty Images)


A penalty try to Justin Olam was awarded despite Olam losing possession when Tyrone May deliberately contacted the ball with his foot in a desperate bid to stop the try being scored. That’s against the rules said the online ‘experts’ and, more importantly, the video ref.

However, there is no rule stating that a defender may not deliberately use his feet to hold up an opponent. I personally saw nothing wrong with the play, not just because there is no rule against it but also no reason why there should be. It certainly couldn’t be catergorised as dangerous like the foot-first slide attempted in the past.

However, if we are going to enforce a rule, then let’s put that rule into the book.

They’re the obvious (non)rules from the grand final. But what are some others?

How about when is a tackle completed?

We all know about when the ball-carrying arm touches the ground and they have been consistent on that all season. And we know momentum can carry a player over the tryline to score.

How about when driving a player backwards or out? The accepted interpretation is so long as the defence does not lift the attacking player off the ground and momentum doesn’t stop and the ball-carrying arm remains off the ground, defenders are permitted to continue their drive.


However, the rulebook says nothing of being allowed to drive endlessly in defence if momentum isn’t stopped. According to the rules, there are two different ways this tackle could be completed.

The first, according to section 11, 2 (b), is that a tackle is completed once forward progress is stopped and a player cannot part with the ball. However, Section 11, Notes, 2 (a), speaks of defenders’ push, pull or carrying opponents and the player in possession losing ground. This section says that ‘held’ should be called immediately once another attacking player lends weight to a tackle to avoid the loss of ground. It makes no mention of how effectively that player lends weight.

So, in the tackle Canberra made on Dale Finucane as the example, Storm players attempted to come to his aid and lend weight from the ten-metre mark, yet the push from the Raiders was too strong and these players found themselves barrelled out of the way as Finucane was continued to be pushed back.

An immediate call of held once a Melbourne player lends weight would suggest the tackle should have been complete at the ten metres. However, this made great entertainment, and the accepted rule is about attacking players’ momentum.

So, let’s rewrite the rule book to reflect the accepted rule. “Defenders may continue to push or pull the player in possession provided the tackle momentum is continued and the tackle hasn’t otherwise been completed by the ball carrying arm contacting the ground.”

How about some common not enforced rules? My pet hate is the voluntary tackle.

Time and again we see players diving to the ground as they return kicks out of their in-goal or near the sideline. Similarly, when players drop on a loose ball near their in-goal or a sideline they make no attempt to regain their feet. This voluntary tackle means they cannot be driven in-goal or out by tacklers. It is against the rules but never penalised.


If we have a rule, especially one that is so clear and free of interpretation, why isn’t it being enforced? If we’re not going to enforce it, just remove it. Leaving it there effectively allows referees to openly pick and choose which rules they want to enforce and which they do not, creating a precedent for criticism.

There is a whole list of rules surrounding the play the ball that aren’t enforced.

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We all know about using your foot, not just stepping over the ball. This became so bad that the NRL had to change the legal interpretation to attempt to use the foot, rather than must use the foot. Yet every set we see plays where there is not even an attempt. While I would like to see this enforced, we all remember the penalty-athon that resulted last time and we know the NRL won’t stand for that again.

Another rule ignored at the end of every game is ‘speed essential’, where “any player who intentionally delays the bringing of the ball into play shall be penalised”.

I would love to see this enforced when players are attempting to run out the clock at the end of close games. Alas, it never is.


So what do you think? Is it time the rule book is updated? Are there any other generally accepted (non)rules that are only found in the rule book and not enforced on the field?