The Roar
The Roar



Is an 18th man the answer in the NRL?

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Roar Pro
28th March, 2021

Three rounds in and the war of attrition has seen an immediate demand for an 18th man added to squads to ensure that there is a back-up for teams if they are short on players due to concussion.

The advantage of an 18th man is that it is seen as a way to ensure teams are not disadvantaged by losing a player by having a player they can insert into the game at any time.

The problem with this is what sort of player is best as the 18th player? Could some players become specialist 18th men? Will teams abuse the rule to gain an advantage?

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Obviously, teams will be looking for a player that covers the most positions, so most likely it will be a second-rower with enough pace to play at centre, who could also cover in the middle if needed.


There could be the option of selecting a team based on moving a player from the match-day squad to another position and the 18th player covers their former position.

It would be unlikely as you can’t guarantee who will go down with concussion, hence the former plan of covering 80 per cent of positions.

Analytics could also assist, as more injuries are in the middle forwards. Teams could base the 18th man on the position that is most likely to get a concussion.

Luciano Leilua is attended to by a trainer

(Photo by Mark Kolbe/Getty Images)

As we saw on the weekend, however, there were wingers like Maika Sivo and friendly fire in the Raiders game, so there is no guarantee.

The risk of teams abusing the rule is also a worry. Last week there was the wink from Clint Gutherson while getting treated on the try line, buying his team valuable breathing space.

An independent doctor would no doubt help, but it still stands as a risk of being used by teams to inject a new player.

Another option for the end-of-season review could be expanding the interchange bench to five or six. With eight interchanges available now, effectively interchanging everyone twice, why not make the bench five or six players deep, and teams can use them as they see fit, but they can only use eight.


Teams could opt for a four-two forwards-backs split or even five-one but it could lead to some interesting strategies.

It would ensure that it couldn’t be abused as every team would be in the same position. It could also allow teams to carry a more balanced bench. They often go all forwards, and then lose an outside back in the first few minutes.

With squads of 30 players there would be enough players per squad, and it could be a handy way to blood players at the end of game if you have a rookie on the bench if the game is already decided.

It’s a hypothetical example, but during the Roosters versus Rabbitohs game, with a six-man bench and the game decided, the Roosters may have chosen to blood Sam Walker in the last ten to 15 minutes, and rest Luke Keary, who then doesn’t get injured.

Yes, it’s not a true example, but if you compare it to other sports such as the NBA, star players are rarely on the court when a game is effectively decided.


The pressure is coming for an 18th man but maybe the NRL could look at a way to turn this crisis into something more than just a reaction.