NRL to introduce “challenge” system to curb refereeing blunders

The details of how the challenge system will work will be bedded down in a final report that will be put before the commission in February. It is yet to be determined how long players or coaches will be given to contest an on-field call, with teams to retain their one challenge if it is used successfully.

An example of how the challenge could be used is when Storm winger Suliasi Vunivalu was ruled to have been put into touch during a finals game, with replays suggested the touch judge incorrectly raised his flag. Administrators hope the move eliminates the ‘clanger’ refereeing blunder and puts the onus on teams to help police them.

Sam Burgess remonstrates with referee Adam Gee during an NRL season characterised by controversial decisions.Credit:Getty

NRL CEO Todd Greenberg said the commission was determined to ensure the quality of rugby league as a spectacle was paramount.

“We are constantly looking at ways to ensure the game is easier to officiate, and is also innovative and unpredictable,” Greenberg said.

“We certainly feel these changes will have a positive impact on the sport.”

Other operational changes include:

  • the “mutual infringement” law being amended to allow the referee to replay the previous play the-ball in the event of play being irregularly affected by circumstances out of the players’ control, such as a ball being passed into a referee;
  • the team with the loose head and feed will be able to nominate to pack a scrum from three lateral positions (the nearest 10-metre line, the 20-metre line, or in line with the block dot on the crossbar). Teams will be given five seconds to inform the referee of their choice of scrum position; the act of tackling a player in mid-air will be banned whether the player initiating contact is the attacking player or the defending player, in line with the current International laws of the game.

Additionally, the commission recommended a trial be undertaken in the second-tier competitions to assess the impact of teams being required to use six players in a scrum even when down to 12 players.

The 20-40 rule was trialled in the Queensland Cup last season, where it was only successfully used on one occasion. The idea is to give teams more options get out of their quarter and could potentially result in more attacking play if defending teams drop their wingers back earlier for kicks.


“We have taken advice and feedback from the key stakeholders of the game in order to make these decisions,” head of football Graham Annesley said.

“There has been significant engagement with our fans, the competition committee as well as through the NRL coaches, the clubs, and the RLPA.

“Over 20,000 fans responded to an end-of-season survey, more than tripling the response to the 2018 online survey.”

The biggest bugbear for fans was the seemingly constant presence of trainers on the field. While the new parameters have yet to be signed off, they will be sighted less in 2020.

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