Faster, safer and more thrilling finishes.
They're the primary objectives of changes to rules and interpretations made by the National Rugby League ahead of the 2014 season with fans guaranteed more rugby league in the 80 minutes of game-time than ever before.
Quicker restarts of play, the preservation of time in the closing minutes of matches and player safety were the motivating forces in the changes announced by NRL Head of Football Todd Greenberg and made in consultation with the Competition Committee and more than 11,000 members and fans.
Following concerns that teams were more frequently engaging in time-wasting tactics in the latter stages of games, a five-minute window at the end of each match has been established where the clock will be stopped following a conversion or attempt at penalty goal until play restarts at halfway. Referees will also call time-off 80 seconds after the scoring of a try throughout matches with fines to still apply to clubs when a player takes longer than 100 seconds to take a conversion.
The practice of teams deliberately kicking the ball long and dead in-goal to negate the influence of the opposition fullback has been addressed, with the first tackle from the 20-metre restart to be counted as a 'zero tackle', effectively giving the team in possession seven tackles to make their way down field.
Conversely, teams who are able to execute successful 40/20 kicks into opposition territory will be rewarded with a tap restart 20m in from touch, rather than the traditional scrum.
“These changes will enhance entertainment for fans and increase safety for players,” said NRL Head of Football, Mr Todd Greenberg.
“It has involved an extensive review process that started with members and fans through the NRL Nation and has involved all NRL clubs and coaches and the game’s Competition Committee.”
The NRL has also moved to deter the incidence of three-man tackles with stricter guidelines aimed at eliminating the 'cannonball' tackle. From 2014, the third man into a tackle must make contact with the attacking player above the knee. Referees have also been given the power to call held earlier on upright tackles.
'Crusher' tackles will also receive a more severe grading by the Match Review Committee in order to act as a greater deterrent.
Rule and interpretation changes for Telstra Premiership, State of Origin, City-Country and NYC Cup:
Zero tackle from 20m restart: The first tackle after a 20m optional kick will be called a zero tackle. The rule change provides an extra tackle to discourage tactical kicks and negative play when the ball is kicked dead to slow down the game and deny wingers and fullbacks the chance to return kicks.
40/20 restarts: The team that performs a 40/20 kick will restart play with a tap kick 20m in from the touch at the point it crossed the line instead of at a scrum.
Restarts from kicks out on full: A handover will be awarded when the ball is kicked out on the full on any tackle.
Stop the clock: During the last five minutes of a match, the clock will stop following a conversion or penalty kick at goal until play restarts at halfway. The interpretation change will add excitement during close matches, provide consistency across matches and reduce potential time-wasting.
Quick taps: A quick penalty restart will be permitted on any infringement except 10m penalties, where the referee issues a caution or within 10m of the opposition goal line. The interpretation change encourages more continuous play.
Captain communication: Captains will only be able to speak to referees during a stoppage in play (tries, injury break or when referee is issuing a caution). Penalties and scrums are not considered stoppages of play. Captains will be given an opportunity to speak to the referees as players leave the field for half-time.
Goal-kicking time limit: The referee will call time-off at approximately 1min 20sec following the scoring of a try. Fines will still apply to clubs when a player takes longer than 1min 40sec to take a conversion.
Cannonball tackles: When a player is being held in an upright position by two defenders, any additional tackler must make initial contact to the player in possession above the knee. In addition, referees will be instructed to call held earlier on upright tackles to deter unnecessary third-man tackles.
Crusher tackles: The Match Review Committee will be directed to charge crusher tackles at the higher end of the scale to provide a greater deterrent.