Rugby league: what is the new start date for Super League after delay - and new laws for 2021 explained

Super League, Championship and League 1 clubs are working towards different start dates ahead of delayed 2021 campaign

Thursday, 4th February 2021, 2:56 pm
Rugby league has taken a new approach to scrums during the Covid pandemic. (Pic: Getty Images)

Rugby league's governing body has announced six rule changes ahead of the delayed 2021 season kickoff.

The Rugby Football League (RFL) sought advice around the current Covid pandemic, head contact and its Australian counterpart organisation National Rugby League (NRL).

As a result of the meeting, there have been six changes to the rule book and confirmation that scrums would not be returning for the start of the season due to health concerns.

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The start of the Super League, Championship and League 1 seasons have been delayed due to the coronavirus situation across the country and the restrictions in place.

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When will the Super League season start?

The 2021 Super League season will start two weeks later than initially planned, with a revised launch on 25 March.

The decision was made after talks with broadcast partners Sky Sports to increase the chances of fans being in the ground for the start of the new season.

It seems unlikely that games will be played in front of full houses at the start, as the country tackles the Covid pandemic, but could see reduced capacities and socially distancing.

The season is scheduled to end on 9 October with the Super League Grand Final to be played at Old Trafford. Fixtures are yet to be released.

What does this mean for the Championship and League 1?

The clubs are working towards a 21 March start date for the resumption of professional Rugby League outside the Super League - more than a year since they were last in action.

The first round of the Challenge Cup is scheduled to be the first fixtures played across the weekend, with second round ties in the diary for the 28 March weekend.

The Championship season is scheduled to kick off over Easter weekend from 2-4 April and League 1 has been put back until the weekend of 8-9 May, due to Covid restrictions.

Why won't scrums return?

Scrums were replaced by a handover of possession when the 2020 Super League season resumed in July, following restrictions on sport participation due to the Covid pandemic.

And, having considered the current situation, the RFL has decided to retain that emergency ruling for the start of the 2021 season - though the shot clock has been removed.

The RFL hopes the law can be removed to allow scrums to return before the end of the season, with one eye on the Rugby League World Cup due to start on 23 October.

The tournament, to be held in England, will be played under the game's international laws which still permits scrums.

What has the RFL said about scrums returning?

Dave Rotheram, the RFL’s chief on-field officer, said that scrums could be reintroduced in different parts of the game and not others, depending on the public health situation.

"Regarding scrums, medical and scientific evidence was the key, as when the initial decision was made to suspend them for the restart of the 2020 season," he said.

"With Covid-19 remaining prevalent in society, their reintroduction could present additional risk to the health of the players, and would significantly increase the number of close contacts in a match which could lead to more postponements.

"Therefore the decision was made to maintain the position as at the end of 2020 for the start of the 2021 season.

"However the Laws Committee agreed that the public health situation should be kept under constant review, and that scrums should be reintroduced as soon as possible – with the expectation that scrums will remain in the International Laws and therefore feature in the Rugby League World Cup in the autumn."

What are the new rules for the 2021 season?

The new rules implemented for the 2021 season includes rewarding the attacking teams for 20/40 kicks, flexibility for the attacking team on lateral positioning of scrums, removal of scrums when the ball goes into touch and a handover of possession for an incorrect play-the-ball.

The rules will be applied to all levels of the game.

The RFL's laws committee considered awarding two points for drop goals kicked from outside the 40-metre line but thought it could discourage teams from seeking to score tries.

And were not persuaded on continuing with 'Six Again' - awarding the attacking team another six tackles for opposing ruck offences - to cover 10-metre offside infringements.

Super League Europe chairman and member of the laws committee Robert Elstone said: "Super League always welcomes changes that add excitement for our fans and showcase the unique qualities of our players.

"Also, we welcome alignment of rules across the two leading Rugby League competitions - so it was especially helpful to hear directly from Graham Annesley to understand the reasons for this season’s changes in the NRL, and to get closer to them on future potential changes."