On-Field Changes for 2020

21st January 2020

The Rugby Football League’s Laws Committee has approved a subtle change in the wording surrounding the policing of play-the-balls in the 2020 season which it is hoped will lead to a significant on-field improvement in that area of the game.

The Laws Committee – which includes representatives of players and coaches, and from all three professional competitions, as well as match officials, the media, sports medicine and other administrators – held its regular pre-season meeting earlier this month.*

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”.

It is also the tackled player’s responsibility to place the ball on the ground at their feet and not on a defender – and a failure to fulfil any of those requirements (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), leading to a scrum.

The Laws Committee believe a scrum is a more appropriate punishment for this error than a penalty.

The responsibility of defenders is also detailed, in a number of ways, including as follows:

“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/arm on the ball when the ball carrier is standing up should be penalised”.

In turn the above has been ratified by the RFL Board.

Other significant changes which have been approved by the Laws Committee (and ratified by the RFL Board) for 2020 are:

Punches to the head/striking – After deliberation by the Laws Committee, striking (defined as contact being made to the head which is deemedforceful by the Match Officials) will be included as an automatic sin bin in the updated sin bin section of the Match Officials’ Policy.

Shot Clock – As previously announced (https://www.rugby-league.com/article/56064/shot-clock-adjustments-for–season), teams will now have only 30 seconds to restart the match at a scrum, and 25 seconds for a drop-out.

Golden Point – Again as previously announced, 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 (https://www.rugby-league.com/article/56050/-betfred-championship–league–fixtures-revealed).

Squad Declaration – As announced in December, 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 (https://www.rugby-league.com/article/56116/-operational-rules-include-changes-to-squad-declaration-system)

To assist supporters in understanding refereeing policy, the On-Field Policy for 2020 will be published in full on the RFL website for the first time.

In addition, the Video Referee Protocols will be published in full – and also a Fans’ Guide to the Video Referee.

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 (2019), 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.

“During their pre-season visits to Super League, Championship and League 1 clubs, match officials have provided support and guidance, emphasising a number of key areas, and especially the play-the-ball, which is a crucial area of the game, and a major focus for coaches and their players.

“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.”

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