RFL rule changes for 2020 include clamping down on gamesmanship and infringements at the play-the-ball

Wakefield Trinity coach, Chris Chester, is a member of the RFL laws panel. PIC: Jonathan Gawthorpe/JPIMediaWakefield Trinity coach, Chris Chester, is a member of the RFL laws panel. PIC: Jonathan Gawthorpe/JPIMedia
Wakefield Trinity coach, Chris Chester, is a member of the RFL laws panel. PIC: Jonathan Gawthorpe/JPIMedia
THE RUGBY Football League has announced a crack down on play-the-balls.

Referees will be instructed to ensure tackled players “maintain balance and control and make a genuine attempt to make contact on the ball with the foot”.

Players simply stepping over the ball, rather than attempting to play it, will be ruled to have knocked-on.

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The move comes from the RFL’s laws committee, which includes representatives of players and coaches, individuals involved in all three professional competitions, match officials, the media, sports medicine and other administrators.

Wakefield Trinity coach Chris Chester and Batley Bulldogs general manager Paul Harrison are both on the panel.

Other members include Doncaster chief executive Carl Hall, Hull KR’s doctor Gemma Phillips and head of youth John Bastian and ex-Leeds Rhinos player Garreth Carvell.

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.

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The proposal, which was accepted unanimously, also emphasises the tackled player’s responsibility to “place the ball on the ground at their feet and not on a defender”.

The RFL says 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.

In terms of defenders, wording from the laws committee states: “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.”

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It adds: “Tacklers who ‘clamp’ the ball and keep their hands/arm on the ball when the ball carrier is standing up should be penalised.”

In another change approved by the laws committee and ratified by the RFL Board, punching/striking – defined as forceful contact to the head – has become an automatic sin-bin offence. As already announced, shot clock timings have been reduced so 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 has been introduced to the Betfred Championship and League One, following on from its debut in Super League last year.

In the lower divisions, each team will take one competition point from a match that is drawn at full-time and an additional point will be available to the first team to score in two five-minute periods of extra-time.

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This year clubs will be required to announce a 21-player squad at noon two days before each fixture, rather than the previous 19-man squad.

If any players from outside that 21 are included in their matchday 17, they will lose one of the eight interchanges permitted in each match

RFL interim 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 among players, coaches and spectators. After consulting with head coaches in mid-season 2019, they and the match officials worked well to tidy up the ruck.

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“This revised policy will, hopefully, ensure we start 2020 with fewer grey areas.”

He added: “During their pre-season visits to Super League, Championship and League One 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.”