RFL confirm new laws to come into play during pre-season games; Sanctions reduced during ‘soft launch’

Ben Olawumi
Chris Kendall, Leeds Rhinos, Liam Marshall, Wigan Warriors, Wakefield Trinity, High Tackle

Referee Chris Kendall signals a high tackle (main image); Wigan Warriors' Liam Marshall is hit with a high shot by Wakefield Trinity's Reece Lyne (circle) - Alamy

The Rugby Football League have today confirmed that their law changes for the 2024 season will come into force during pre-season fixtures, though during this ‘soft launch’, sanctions will be reduced.

Five major changes to the game’s laws were announced last month – how ‘Reckless Endangerment’ is perceived, the use of the Green Card, a new option for teams when they’re awarded a scrum penalty, how ‘Six Again’ calls are made and when 18th players can be called upon.

All of the above will come into play during pre-season, except from the last, with teams allowed to make an unlimited amount of interchanges during friendlies and accordingly never possibly needing an ’18th player’.

The RFL – via their website – say: “Pre-season games will be a first opportunity for players and coaches to experience the fresh emphasis from match officials on cleaning up the ruck area, which has also been flagged for 2024.

“Clubs have been advised that there will be ‘closer scrutiny on flops and hands on the ball’, with match officials also instructed to ‘ensure that ball carriers regain their feet on the mark and make a genuine attempt to play the ball with the foot’.

“Head coaches, players and match officials have been working hard in training to implement these key changes. That will continue during pre-season with the aim that everyone understands what is expected in these areas when the main competitions start in 2024.”

RFL confirm new laws to come into play during pre-season games, but sanctions will be reduced during ‘soft launch’

Earlier this month, the news that the RFL had approved 44 recommendations from the sport’s Brain Health Sub-Committee then came, with these including the framework around contact with the head and neck.

At senior level, from 2025, tackles and contact will have to be made below the armpit, a decision which has had widespread backlash.

Nonetheless, as the game continues to work towards what’s undeniably a new era – for better or for worse -, the RFL say they will ‘soft launch’ this to clubs during pre-season in the sense that sanctions won’t be as harsh.

They wrote: “Whilst the on-field framework will start immediately, the off-field sanctioning will not come into force fully until the start of the regular season.

“Clubs and players will be advised of what the new punishments would be, but the new sanctioning framework will not be reflected in actual suspensions (or appear on a player’s record) until the start of the season proper early in 2024.”

Notably, players will have to start wearing an instrumented mouthguard in all games to help measure and manage both player load and head contact.

RFL Chief: ‘There is a lot of change coming that will have long-term benefits for the sport and its spectacle’

Robert Hicks, the RFL’s Chief Regulatory Officer, spoke to Love Rugby League about the 44 recommendations earlier this month, insisting they hadn’t been accepted because of an ongoing legal threat against the RFL by past players.

Speaking to their website, Hicks reiterated that he believes all of the changes, including those to the law’s of the game, are being made with the future of the game in mind.

The former referee said: “The next few weeks and the pre-season matches are an important time for all those involved in the sport to fully understand what is needed when the season starts.

“There is a lot of change coming that will have long-term benefits for the sport and its spectacle. It is important everyone uses pre-season to understand the expectations of them before a competitive ball is kicked.

“That will require officials to sanction firmly and for players to adapt. We are confident by using these matches to set standards that this will ensure the season starts with everyone understanding what is needed.

“The changes to the head contact sanctioning are significant and so by allowing these to be introduced in a staged way, clubs and players can attempt to adapt their techniques without fear of sanction and missing the start of the season.”

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