Tis the season for rule changes!

We learnt this week of the NRL’s radical new ideas for changing the game down under, including the introduction of the 20/40 and a new player appeal system.

So far in Super League we’ve learned that the shot clock will be sharpened following its introduction last year, and that the golden point will be introduced outside the top tier, but there’s been little else in the way of major changes for 2020.

Perhaps this is a good thing, although of course there’s still plenty of time for announcements, and for any innovations to be trialed during the pre-season programme.

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And while there’s no particular rule I’d like to see changed – and I am certainly not an advocate of writing separate rule books for Super League and Australia – I do think there’s scope for us to re-evaluate the action we take against rule infringements.

Specifically, we should consider reducing the advantage given to a team that wins a penalty for offences like offside.

Too often we see games dictated by the territory, repeat sets and attacking opportunities gained from penalties, and it’s not unusual for the team that wins the most penalties to win the match.

And so often those penalties are for technical offences that can be unintentional.

So, I propose that for offside, holding down, markers not square, obstruction and any other minor offences not considered ‘foul play’, the referee simply restarts the tackle count for the opposing team, instead of stopping play and awarding the opportunity of a kick to touch.

The ball steal would also be punished in the same way because, if we’re honest with ourselves, referees are mostly having to guess whether the ball has been played at or if it was just a loose carry anyway.

And, that a team is offered 40 metres down field on the basis of a guess, surely needs looking at.

But under this system, for these kinds of offences, the referee would restart the tackle count the same way they do now and the active play would become the zero tackle.

This would mean fewer stoppages, allowing the team in possession to build momentum, while also ensuring that the punishment fits the crime.

High tackles, fighting, dangerous play or any other sort of violent conduct would still be punished in the same way – a tap penalty, a kick to touch or an attempt at goal.

And play would also be stopped as it is now if a team makes any kind of infringement more than once in a single possession, which would stop teams exploiting the system by persistently holding down or standing offside.

But seeing a team blast the ball 40 or 50 metres into touch and gain excellent field position for an offside or markers not being square, or a very dodgy ball steal, seems disproportionate, and it’s crazy that it’s the same outcome for a high tackle or punch thrown.

Moreover, one of the huge strengths of Rugby League over Rugby Union is that unlike the 15-a-side code, our 80 minutes are not totally dictated by the referee’s whistle.

But we’re far from perfect and it isn’t rare for supporters to come away from matches feeling as though they’ve spent most of the afternoon or evening watching the referee rather than the players.

By introducing these changes and reducing the stoppages imposed by the referee, you would reduce the attention on the man in the middle – and let the players play, and fans cheer for them!


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