Sports Gazette

by sports journalism students at St Mary's University, London

Rule Changes Implemented for RLWC 2021

Posted on 30 April 2021 by Marcus Hockey

The International Rugby League (IRL) Board have approved a number of rule changes that will be introduced into competitions across the world in the run up to this year’s Rugby League World Cup.

The Laws Advisory Group (LAG) proposed these changes in an attempt to bring the rules of international rugby league more in line with the sport’s top two domestic competitions, which are the Super League in the northern hemisphere, and the NRL in the southern hemisphere.

The IRL match official manager, and chair of the LAG, Stuart Cummings spoke about the importance of looking to implement the new laws introduced by these two leagues.

He said: “If you have got your two major professional leagues, that are seen by people all around the world, making changes then it is important that we look to that as well

I think it is positive that the game now right across the world has a set of laws that are almost identical.”


What are the laws, and will they be good for the game?


There is a whole raft of new regulations that have been introduced by the IRL, but here are a few that could have a big impact in this year’s world cup.

One rule that has been a great addition to the NRL, but may not be familiar to English fans, however, is the Captain’s Challenge, which was introduced at the start of the season.

The Captain’s Challenge allows for a team to review a decision made by the match officials during the game. Each team will get one challenge, which will be retained if they are successful in having a decision overturned, similar to the decision review system in cricket. The TMO in Rugby Union is often criticised for the effect it can have on the flow of the game. With the Captain’s Challenge system, decisions aren’t constantly being watched and overturned, eliminating the risk of the match becoming too stop-start.

Another law being implemented is the 20/40 kick; a team will retain possession if they kick the ball in general play, and it goes into touch behind the opponents 40-metre line. Much like the 40/20 rule that is already part of rugby league, this new introduction should tempt players to go for bigger, riskier kicks, and also generate more space for teams to run with the ball, as defences will have to drop players out of the defensive line in order to deal with the threat of the kick.

The rule which will arguably have the biggest effect on the game is the set restart. Whereas previously, minor infringements around the ruck area, which would often result in the play of the ball being slowed down, would have been given as a penalty, this year in the Super League and the NRL, the referee has been calling “Six Again”, which means that the tackle count would reset to zero for that set.

While this may not sound like a huge problem for a side, defending in rugby league is incredibly physically difficult, so having to defend another set of six tackles is a big ask. With tiring defenders, comes more space for the attacking side, and a chance to make big meters. This often leads to more set restarts as the defending team is on the backfoot, and on many occasions will result in a try if the attacking team gets on a roll.

This rule has undoubtedly been an incredibly exciting addition to the domestic game, with a fast paced, exciting game often being the result. However, there is a worry that the bigger teams in the world cup, such as England, Australia and New Zealand, who field entirely professional teams, will massively benefit from the law change, at the expense of other teams in the world cup who have semi-professional, and sometimes amateur players, like Greece and Jamaica.

This rule is being introduced at all levels of the game in England and Australia, where many of the players are based, so hopefully, by the time the World Cup comes around in October, those involved will have got used to these new demands of the game.

Regardless of this, the higher fitness levels of the top teams coupled with the set restarts could see huge scores racked up in games early on in the competition.

The question that must now be considered is  – Is the synergy between rules at international and domestic level worth the potential widening of the gap between the emerging Rugby League Nations, and those at upper echelons of the game?