RFL hopeful head contact drama will not be repeated following significant week of talks

Aaron Bower
Fa'amanu Brown, Ben Currie

The head-on-head collision between Fa'amanu Brown & Ben Currie in a tackle towards the end of the first half which saw Brown dismissed

Two of the Rugby Football League’s most senior officials at the centre of the drama surrounding the new law changes insist they are confident there will be far less drama and controversy moving forwards – and that the game’s match officials have confidence in how to officiate the laws accurately.

The first two weeks of the new Super League season have seen a plethora of stories emerge concerning new rules regarding contact with the head. Threats of player strikes, Nu Brown’s controversial red card and an admission from the RFL that they have amended their framework to allow more leniency on accidental head contact have all captured headlines so far in 2024.

New head of referees Phil Bentham admitted the team of officials who were involved in the Brown dismissal, led by on-field referee Marcus Griffiths and video referee Chris Kendall, were ‘very uncomfortable’ with that decision. But he and director of operations and legal Robert Hicks believe that with the framework now clearer, and a high-profile meeting with players on Wednesday proving to be “constructive”, the game can move forward confident there will not be a repeat.

Bentham said: “They were very uncomfortable with the decision. We were basically straight onto it with Rob to come to a solution that would suit everybody so we don’t have to go into it with that framework holding us back in terms of making sensible decisions.

“That’s been dealt with this week, and the referees are a lot more comfortable this weekend. They’re aware of how they can use the framework and the mitigations within that to come to a sensible outcome.”

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Hicks added: “To be really clear here, the governing body’s aim is to reduce the amount of contact with the head during tackles and the referees play a hugely important part in making sure that is done appropriately. All these discussions have to be had with match officials and I feel confident that this weekend, we won’t have the dramas of last.”

Hicks also offered much more clarification on why accidental head contact is now being punished more severely in 2024 – and insisted that now there is much more clarity surrounding the laws and incidents like the one concerning Brown will not be repeated, he is hopeful the furore can be avoided in the future.

He said: “The very big change in rugby league this year is what everyone used to describe as an accidental head clash is no longer just an accident, and it’s play on and an unfortunate event.

“The reason for that is the laws of the game and the risk head-on-head clashes cause to concussive and sub-concussive events for both players. That meant we had to try and produce a framework for something new.

“We’ve now got to the right place in understanding the mitigating factors and giving on-field referees the ability to take the sport with us while we try and reduce the amount of head-on-heads we have.

“There’s been over 7,000 tackle events in the first two rounds and we’ve had three charges for head-on-head collisions. That’s a minute percentage and then add the Nu Brown one, which we clarified. I don’t think this is as big an issue as first appeared, and we’ve now got clarity.”

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