The RFL has announced that its Laws Committee has approved “a subtle change in the wording” that will change how play the balls are policed in 2020.

The tweak is intended to lead to “significant on-field improvements” in this area.

The RFL’s Match Officials Department had been asked to submit recommendations to the Laws Committee regarding the play-the-ball, following discussions through the 2019 season.

The proposal, which was unanimously accepted, stresses the responsibility of the tackled player “to maintain balance and control and make a genuine attempt to make contact on the ball with the foot”.

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It is also the tackled player’s responsibility to place the ball on the ground at their feet and not on a defender.

A failure to fulfil any of those requirements, including balance, control, placing the ball on the ground and making a genuine attempt to play it with the foot, will be ruled a lost ball – not a penalty – and result in a scrum.

The rule change also dictates the role of the defender and states that “no tackler should make an adjustment on the tackle or leave hands or body in the play-the-ball area after the tackle is complete. Referees should act on any interference once the tackle has been called”.

Tacklers who ‘clamp’ the ball and keep their hands or arm on the ball when the ball carrier is standing up will also be penalised.

Other significant changes approved by the Laws Committee for 2020 are:

  • Striking (defined as contact being made to the head which is deemed forceful by the Match Officials) will be included as an automatic sin bin in the updated sin bin section of the Match Officials’ Policy.
  • Teams will now have only 30 seconds to restart the match at a scrum, and 25 seconds for a drop-out.
  • Golden Point Extra Time will be introduced to the Betfred Championship and League 1 in 2020, with each team taking one competition point from a match that is drawn at full-time, and an additional point available to the first team to score a point in two five-minute periods of Extra Time.
  • Teams will now be required to name a 21-player squad at noon two days before each fixture (rather than a 19-player squad, as previously); and if they include any players from outside that 21 in their matchday 17, they will lose one of the eight interchanges permitted in each match.

Chief on-field officer Dave Rotheram said: “We start every season with the aim of ensuring the game is safe, entertaining and fair.

“In the first few rounds of 2019, it was widely agreed that gamesmanship at the play-the-ball was causing much angst amongst players, coaches and spectators.

“After consulting with head coaches mid-season, they and the match officials worked well to tidy up the ruck.

“This revised policy will hopefully ensure that we start 2020 with fewer grey areas – that is why we have waited until after the pre-season meeting to inform spectators and the media of the law interpretations that will be applied in 2020.”

Rotherham added: “Coaches and players are represented on the Laws Committee, as well as a number of distinguished former players who are now in administrative roles, and we thank them all for their contribution to the discussions.

“We hope that publishing the On-Field Policy and Video Referee Protocols for 2020 on the RFL’s digital channels, as well as a Fans Guide to the Video Referee, will be welcomed by supporters and the media.”