Super League head contact rules to be relaxed in World Club Challenge

Aaron Bower
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

The tightening of rules regarding contact with the head which sparked a wave of controversy in the opening round will be relaxed for Saturday’s World Club Challenge after reigning NRL champions Penrith met with the Rugby Football League, Love Rugby League can confirm.

The first competitive round of matches in Super League since the Rugby Football League approved a wave of changes aimed at reducing incidents where contact is made with the head produced a plethora of talking points – and has even led to murmurings Super League players could be considering a strike due to continued uncertainty.

It had already been decided that international rules would be in place for the game at the DW Stadium on Saturday evening – but the Panthers had a sit-down with a senior RFL referee on Tuesday during their training session at Warrington Wolves. It was reiterated to Penrith that they will not be subjected to the new tightening of rules seen in this country, meaning that essentially, the rules will be relaxed for Wigan Warriors this week.

It means the Super League champions will play three successive games with three different sets of rules; last week at Castleford, they were under the new guidelines, while they will be relaxed this week for the World Club Challenge before reverting back to the newly-introduced guidelines for their next Super League game at home to Huddersfield Giants.

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Penrith superstar Nathan Cleary told earlier this week that they were keen to seek assurances on what set of rules they would be playing under when it came to head contact.

“There’s still a few [rules] we need to tidy up on, we were just asking about a couple today,” he said. “We obviously know it’s going to be different. Again, it’s difficult because at the end of the day it sort of comes down to the adjudication of the ref and how they’re going to ref it.”

But the Panthers will not be made to play under the new guidelines. The captain’s challenge concept Cleary and many of his team-mates experienced during the 2022 Rugby League World Cup will also not be in place, Love Rugby League has been told.

The international rules mean the same regulations relating to the use of the 18th player as have been introduced to RFL competitions this season, but the laws relating to stealing the ball in the tackle will be as in the NRL – allowing one-on-one ball stealing if additional tacklers have “dropped off”.

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