Leeds Rhinos: New laws welcomed by Leeds’ chief Hetherington

Phil Bentham
Phil Bentham
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ON-FIELD REFEREES will be encouraged to make big decisions themselves under law changes being introduced for next season.

Rhinos coach Brian McDermott and Bob Barker, chairman of Leeds amateur club Milford Marlins, were among members of the RFL Laws Committee which drew up the proposals.

Four changes were approved at a meeting of the Rugby League Council held earlier this month and the new rules will be in operation for the first time on Boxing Day, when Rhinos face Wakefield Trinity Wildcats and Batley Bulldogs take on Dewsbury Rams.

The headline change is a new application of the controversial obstruction law, enabling the referee to allow play to continue unless the defending team has been “materially disadvantaged”.

That has been welcomed by Rhinos chief executive Gary Hetherington, who felt the way the obstruction rule was being applied had become a “blight” on the game.

Players, coaches and fans had become increasingly concerned at the number of tries being disallowed, particularly by video referees, for alleged obstructions which seemed to have had no real impact on the defence.

“On the obstruction, the RFL ended up confusing everybody, including themselves,” Hetherington said. “It was a real blight on last season, how obstruction has evolved – the interpretation of it, the way it was refereed and decisions given.

“It frustrated everybody: fans, players, I am sure referees themselves, TV watchers and commentators. I am pleased they have made an attempt to put wrongs to right. They have simplified it.

“At the end of the day, if a defender has been impeded that’s an obstruction and if he hasn’t, it’s not an obstruction. Common sense does appear to have prevailed, though we have still got to see it administered and dealt with in games.”

Meanwhile, the RFL has agreed to adopt the Australian video referee system, which was used in the recent Four Nations tournament.

The referee will signal either “try” or “no try” before asking for clarification from his video-assistants.

The video referees will need “sufficient evidence” to overturn the original decision – and if they do not have a clear view, the ref’s call will stand. If the two video referees can’t agree, the on-field official’s decision will apply.

The RFL say the change effectively forces the man in the middle to make a decision and will ensure a level playing field for televised and non-broadcast matches.

The third change introduced for 2015 is aimed at reducing the number of incidents placed on report, which are studied after games by the match review panel. Referees will now be encouraged to make “real-time” decisions, which could potentially lead to more use of the 10-minute sin-bin.

The four main areas used for the sin-bin will be: Unsportsmanlike conduct (to include, but not limited to professional fouls, especially in try-scoring situations and delaying a quick 20m restart), dissent, repeated infringements and foul play/dangerous conduct (to include but not limited to man-to-man confrontations, tackles where player(s) are placed in a dangerous position, dangerous contact to include chicken wing-type tackles, an altercation between two players where only one player throws a punch and foul play which is not deemed severe enough to be a sending off, but is deserving of a sin bin).

The final laws committee recommendation will allow teams a free interchange if a player suffering suspected concussion needs to leave the field to be assessed by medical staff.

Of the other changes, Hetherington said: “There’s nothing revolutionary, but it has been interesting to see the way the video ref system has been administered in Australia. It definitely puts more onus on referees. We want correct decisions and I think it strikes the right balance.”

Other members of the laws committee were RFL chairman Nigel Wood, St Helens player Jon Wilkin and chief executive Mike Rush, Doncaster’s Carl Hall representing the lower divisions, match officials Jon Sharp and Ian Smith and administrator Jon Dutton.