Comparing how new rugby league laws affected Super League’s penalty count in Round 1

Ben Olawumi
Liam Moore, Franklin Pele sending off, Liam Watts sending off

Main Image: Liam Moore awards a penalty in the Hull derby; Top left circle: Liam Moore sends Hull FC's Franklin Pele off; Bottom right circle: Tom Grant sends Castleford Tigers' Liam Watts off - Alamy

So much has been made of the game’s newly-introduced laws. Players and fans alike have expressed their distaste. But these adaptations for the rulebooks aren’t going away, so what do the statistics say? How is rugby league being affected?

Over the weekend as Super League‘s 2024 season kicked off, we saw an eye-watering 14 cards shown by match officials, nine yellows and four reds.

If referees have to keep dipping into their pockets at the same rate, we’re on course for an almost unbelievable 378 cards being brandished by the time the 27 rounds of the regular season have been played out, 243 of those yellows and 108 immediate dismissals.

That’s not even including the Challenge Cup or any play-off games, and of course not every infringement results in a card, even with these new laws.

So we casted our minds back 12 months – and used the record books – to create a fair and honest comparison: Just how many penalties were awarded in Round 1 last year compared to this.

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New club, an extra game & a derby, but not many differing factors

Before we get into the actual numbers, it’s only fair to examine the differences between the two years and their Round 1 games.

Franklin Pele sending off
Liam Moore sends Hull FC’s Franklin Pele off during their Round 1 derby against Hull KR – Alamy

Hint, there aren’t many.

Wakefield Trinity and London Broncos have obviously swapped places between Super League and the Championship.

In 2023, St Helens didn’t play out their Round 1 game against Huddersfield Giants until mid-August due to the scheduling of their historic World Club Challenge triumph against Penrith Panthers Down Under.

Accordingly, we haven’t included that Huddersfield game in these calculations, but as we’ll show further down the line, it doesn’t make much difference.

The same can be said for the actual fixtures themselves. You’ll typically see more penalties, or at least more infringements, in a derby where both teams do give that extra percent, regardless of how cliche it is.

And this year, we saw the Hull derby open up the season, but that was the only real derby of any kind, with none last year.

That is unless you include the ‘Vantage bus route’ derby between North West counterparts Leigh Leopards and Salford Red Devils, which we – very obviously – don’t!

Accordingly, the only real factor in any difference is the changes to the game’s rulebook with amendments to laws surrounding contact with the head (among others) having a huge impact upon how we’re asking referees to officiate games and make decisions.

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The numbers: Comparing how new rugby league laws affected Super League’s penalty count in Round 1

So, onto the numbers and what they show – which doesn’t come as a huge surprise.

This time last year, none of the 10 clubs in action conceded more than six penalties in their opening game – Then-newly-promoted Leigh, Hull KR & Hull FC were the three teams tied on that number.

Tom Amone, Jack Smith
Leigh Leopards forward Tom Amone is spoken to by referee Jack Smith during their Round 1 clash with Huddersfield Giants – Alamy

Over the weekend just gone meanwhile, there were just two of the 12 clubs that kept their penalty count under that figure of six – Hull FC (4) & newly-promoted London (5).

Three clubs – Leigh, Leeds Rhinos & Catalans Dragons – all saw their penalty count in double figures.

Only one game in 2023 had a double-figure penalty tally overall, that being Hull FC (6) v Castleford Tigers (5) – 11. Every single one of the opening six Super League games this year ended with that tally in double figures.

Given all of the above, it will come as no surprise to anyone reading this that this year’s Round 1 penalty count was vastly higher than the one from this time last year, in every aspect.

2023’s five Round 1 games saw a total tally of 41, averaging out at a lowly 8.2 per game.

In stark comparison, this year’s six Round 1 clashes had a total of 89 penalties in them, working out at an average of 14.8 per game.

That’s an increase of 44.59% in the average amount of penalties awarded per game.

Our game – at least where these new laws and application are concerned – could do with some positives, so we wanted to bring you one. The more penalties awarded, the more chance teams have to put points on the board. Make of that what you will!

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Game-by-game breakdown: Penalty counts in Round 1 this year and last

A full rundown of the penalty counts from the Round 1 games over the last two years can be found below.

Tom Grant, Castleford Tigers
Referee Tom Grant speaks to Castleford Tigers duo Joe Westerman & Danny Richardson during their Round 1 clash with Wigan Warriors – Alamy

Super League 2023 Round 1 Penalty Counts 

Warrington Wolves 5-3 Leeds Rhinos (8)

Wakefield Trinity 3-3 Catalans Dragons (6)

Leigh Leopards 6-2 Salford Red Devils (8)

Hull KR 6-2 Wigan Warriors (8)

Hull FC 6-5 Castleford Tigers (11)

Total: 41 across five games = Average of 8.2

Super League 2024 Round 1 Penalty Counts 

Hull FC 4-8 Hull KR (12)

Leigh Leopards 10-6 Huddersfield Giants (16)

Leeds Rhinos 11-7 Salford Red Devils (18)

St Helens 7-5 London Broncos (12)

Castleford Tigers 6-6 Wigan Warriors (12)

Catalans Dragons 11-8 Warrington Wolves (19)

Total: 89 across six games = Average of 14.8

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