NRL announce controversial rule tweak ahead of 2023 season

Players will have more leniency when it comes to grounding the ball.

Charlie Staines (pictured left) scores a try during the 2022 NRL Grand Final and (pictured right) Nathan Cleary celebrating.
The biggest change to the NRL ruleset this year will see an amendment on the grounding interpretation, which will be more lenient towards tries. (Getty Images)

The NRL has announced a change to the controversial rule surrounding the grounding of the ball, which will see referees allow more leniency when it comes to tries. While there are no 'new' rules, the NRL announced the amendments on Thursday morning with the aim to keep the game flowing.

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"While relatively minor, these changes will improve three elements of the game - player safety, the game presentation for fans and off-side compliance," NRL head of football Graham Annesley said. "We undertook a thorough review of the 2022 season, including consultation with the NRL clubs, the RLPA and other stakeholders.

"The overriding feedback was the current interpretations are creating a faster and more free-flowing game, but there was a need to address some minor issues which have emerged."

The biggest change to this year's rule, which will help The Bunker, is the interpretation around control of the ball when grounding it for a try. If the ball leaves the hand, but rolls down to the wrist and forearm area and is still grounded - without separation - then it will be awarded a try.

Under previous rules, such a movement was deemed a loss of control and would not have resulted in a try. The other rule that has changed is allowing a captain's challenge after the final play.

Regardless if there is a stoppage before the full-time whistle, a captain will have the right to use a challenge after the final play.

Chad Townsend (pictured) talks to referee Grant Atkins.
Chad Townsend (pictured) talks to referee Grant Atkins. (Photo by Ian Hitchcock/Getty Images)

This rule caused havoc during the Wests Tigers and North Queensland Cowboys game when Chad Townsend used a captain's challenge at the final whistle, despite no stoppage in play.

The challenge allowed the bunker to find a penalty in back-play that gave the Cowboys a chance to kick for goal and win the game. Such challenges will continue to be permitted but forward passes, discretionary penalties including offside in the 10 metres and ruck infringements relating to play-the-ball speed are still unable to be challenged.

The Bunker interference limited

There have also been a number of tweaks to exisiting rules.

If a defensive player is called offside at a scrum, the attacking team will now have the option to take a penalty or repack the scrum. The NRL is hoping this will discourage defensive players from illegally disrupting an attacking team's set plays.

Teams will now be able to activate their 18th man concussion substitute if two of their players have failed a head injury assessment, rather than three as has been the case since the rule was introduced in the 2021 season. The bunker will only intervene in acts of foul play that are reportable, while the referee will be able to penalise multiple 10-metre breaches without enacting the sin bin, as has usually been the case after repeated six-again calls.

with AAP

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