The Roar
The Roar


NRL's kick restart rule helps bring back another genuine contest but what about scrums, it isn't fair

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7th March, 2024

After many a season of rule changes that the ARL Commission has used to keep rugby league moving with the times and entertaining its audience, 2024 sees something of a pause.

As such, the game will look very much as it did in 2023, yet with one key change designed to increase the likelihood of teams winning back possession from restarts where they, more often than not, had been returning the ball willingly to the opposition by foot.

Kick-offs, as well as 20-metre and goal-line drop outs that leave the field of play on the full or fail to travel the required ten metres, will no longer be punished with a penalty. Instead, a scrum will pack down ten metres out from the line of the kick and ten metres in from touch.

The NRL’s intention is to insert more unpredictability into the game by encouraging teams to risk conceding ground to an opposition in the hope of claiming the ball back from a short kick.

“We undertook a thorough review of the 2023 season, including consultation with the NRL clubs, the RLPA and other stakeholders, and while there was a strong desire to keep changes to a minimum, this minor change will incentivise short kick-offs and drop-outs. 

“This will strongly accompany the Commission’s direction to enhance the existing rules, leading to a faster, more free-flowing and unpredictable game,” NRL head of football Graham Annesley said.

In real terms, kick-off situations could look very different. With teams usually intent on hoofing the ball as far and/or high as possible to restart play, there was always a sense of things being reset and a chance for a deep breath following the scoring of points or after a break in play.


Now, even at the opening kick-off of each half, teams could well attempt to win possession back from the kick, very much like what commonly takes place in rugby union.

The sense of jeopardy achieved as teams run onto the field and the chance that both could have possession for the opening set of six tackles has, theoretically, always been there, yet in reality, not something teams have tried to achieve outside kick-offs in the final minutes when possession is most desperately required.

Similarly, the 20-metre drop-out has traditionally been motivated by clearing the ball as far as possible from a team’s goal line. In 2024, the subsequent scrum from a misplaced kick will see teams take a slightly different approach.

A scrum feed to the opposition 30 metres out and ten metres from touch is relatively predictable and manageable for modern defences, and perhaps even preferred to a strong run that returns the kick to near that point.

BRISBANE, AUSTRALIA - FEBRUARY 07: Adam Reynolds catches the ball during a Brisbane Broncos NRL training session at Clive Berghofer Field on February 07, 2024 in Brisbane, Australia. (Photo by Bradley Kanaris/Getty Images)

Clever kickers like Adam Reynolds will be looking for ways to use the new rule to their advantage. (Photo by Bradley Kanaris/Getty Images)

It is in the area of goal-line drop-outs that fans will have most familiarity with the new rule. Never before had more short drop-outs been attempted than during 2023 and a few teams actually managed to get a handle on doing it more successfully than others.

It became a clear tactic, yet one with automatic point scoring consequences for poor execution.


The lesser evil of having to defend a full set of six right on the try-line will be something teams are prepared to risk depending on the context and situation within an individual game.

It does seem odd that the NRL, in an attempt to add more contest and unpredictability, has focused on kick restarts and not the most obvious, traditional and poetic method of contesting the ball, the scrum.

The predictability the law makers are now looking to address was lost when the battle for the ball in scrummage was turned into a farce decades ago and eventually given up on, as well as by the removal of the right of the marker to strike out in the play the ball and win it back.

What of the coaches? Another rule destined to be cynically used by the men at the helm?  (Photo by Jason McCawley/Getty Images)

Those moments of contest helped convert the game into one of possession and field position, something that many found a little predictable.

While going down the rabbit-hole of ‘fixing’ scrums is something we are all a little tired of after years of conjecture, it seems the NRL is thinking of everything else it can to re-institute more contest into rugby league, essentially conceding that what was lost in scrums has in fact hurt the spectacle and spontaneity of the game.

The kick restart rule will certainly not be as readable, with circumstances certain to see teams execute in the same way they have in the past, as well as using the rule to attempt to take advantage in key moments with the element of surprise.


Hopefully the planned jeopardy is a positivity in 2024 and the coaches don’t attempt to exploit the new rule in cynical ways, as they seemingly always do.