NRL confirms ‘bizarre’ rule changes
NRL games will be controlled by one referee for the remainder of the 2020 season after the Australian Rugby League Commission chose to revert back to the one-referee system on Wednesday evening.
The NRL's Project Apollo team discussed several changes for the rest of the season, the one-referee model mentioned as a cost-saving initiative.
Full-time referees will not be stood down, but instead be utilised as touch judges, ensuring three experienced officials will be on the field.
The much-debated "six-again rule" will also be introduced when the competition resumes on May 28th, allowing referees to call six-again instead of stopping play when there is a ruck infringement. The changes are hoped to encourage a more free-flowing style of rugby league.
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The two-referee system was scrapped in 2009, and fans remain uncertain which method is the most reliable. The NRL is the only rugby league competition in the world to use two referees.
ARLC chairman Peter V'landys is convinced the one-referee system and newly-introduced 'six-again' rule will work.
"The decision shouldn't been seen as taking one referee out, it should be that we are using three full-time experienced referees controlling the game, which will ensure greater surveillance of the ruck and the wrestle," V'landys said.
"This decision will significantly reduce the number of stoppages in games and showcase more open unstructured play for the benefit of fans.
"These decisions address the issue of wrestling and slowing the ruck down which has been the biggest issue in the game.
"It's clear the current system hasn't effectively addressed the issue of wrestling in the game. Reverting to one referee together with the new six again rule gives us a chance to speed up the ruck and create more free flowing rugby league.
"Giving the attacking team six more tackles for a ruck infringement will be a significant deterrent to slowing the ruck.
"No team is going to want to defend multiple sets of tackles without a stoppage in play. This is the greatest disincentive for what has become habitual ruck infringements."
However, not everyone was on board with the decision. Last week, former NRL star Cooper Cronk considered reverting back to the one-referee system a backwards step for the competition.
"I don't like going back from two refs to one ref because when I played international football when they had the one ref running, I saw things that would have previously been blown up under two referees that they missed," Cronk said.
"I think it's a PR mistake to say the model going from two refs to one ref is because of cost cutting. Had it been because the system is flawed or they needed to make changes for the better of the game, then I'd be open to it.
"But they're opening these refs up for more criticism because is there is a coach that loses a game with a one ref system, and that coach gets into his press conference and says the NRL removed two referees and that would have been picked up because of cost cutting and money, that's not going to fit well."
Manly Sea Eagles coach Des Hasler was also shocked by the decision.
"It's a dangerous one to change mid-season. It's a huge gamble. Maybe it can work long term but we need to test it out," Hasler said.
"It will slow the game dramatically. You'd think there will be no 10 metres. And if they concentrate on the 10 metres it will then effect the ruck. One ref can't do both.
"We don't play international football. Coaches work hours on getting an advantage in the ruck."
New Zealand Warriors coach Stephen Kearney was also not convinced the changes would be beneficial for the NRL.
"My personal opinion on the one ref is that I just don't think at this particular time - on the back of being out for seven weeks - that it's too big a change to our game. It's the same with the six-again rule. I think they're just too big adjustments to make," Kearney said.
"We just started team training on Monday. So to get any sort of awareness around it all I just think it's a bit too early to bring that in."
Meanwhile, NRL 360 host Paul Kent savaged the decision, arguing it was "ridiculous" to change the rules after two rounds had already been completed.
"In a year that we are trying to make this shortened competition as authentic as we can so there's no asterisk next to the premier, why would you start bringing in mickey mouse rules?" Kent said on Triple M's Saturday Sin-Bin.
"It's been amazing going through this period where all these people go it's a real good chance to try a few things this year and they come up with the stupidest suggestions and I'm not just talking about the Apollo committee and people who have a genuine connection to the game, it's everywhere.
"Some of these ideas are just ridiculous and all they do is undermine the integrity of the competition. This is the year more than ever that they need to make it as close to every previous season."
Originally published as NRL confirms 'bizarre' rule changes