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Back to one ref: V'landys on board with Project Apollo proposal

ARL Commission chairman Peter V'landys is "totally supportive" of a proposal for the NRL to revert to one referee for the rest of 2020 based on fan feedback and cost-saving.

A meeting of the NRL's Project Apollo committee on Friday afternoon recommended the switch from two referees, with the move to be put to the Commission next week.

The refereeing overhaul still requires the Commission's approval but V'landys said his endorsement was based largely on an NRL.com survey of fans late last year.

"I'm totally supportive. No.1 is because when we did a fans' survey last year one of the biggest issues was they wanted was one referee," V'landys told NRL.com.

"But also in this new time and age of cost reductions in the organisation it just saves a lot of money."

The NRL introduced the two-referee system in 2009 in a bid to clean up ruck infringements.

International fixtures have still been officiated by one whistleblower over that period.

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Should the proposal be approved by the ARLC it would come under review again at the end of a rescheduled 2020 season. 

Proponents of the move have argued that with debate around wrestling continuing throughout over a decade of two referees, it is time to test whether one referee can improve the on-field aesthetic of the game once more.

And with the 2020 competition already being rescheduled and other innovations being considered, now is said to be as good a time as any to trial a return to one referee.

The NRL also introduced the captain's challenge initiative earlier this year before the COVID-19 forced postponement of the competition.

Meanwhile support is growing among NRL coaches for the introduction of an 18th man to be part of game-day squads as well.

Project Apollo has been considering several possible in-game rule changes in recent weeks to protect players from injury when games resume.

Most of those ideas are understood to have been deemed unnecessary by coaches, who are wary of additional interchanges, 20-minute quarters or a longer half-time period affecting the game's on-field integrity.

"As for the extra interchange I think as coaches we voted we don't need it," Titans mentor Justin Holbrook said on Friday before the one-referee proposal was revealed.

"For the sake of a couple of rounds, there's no point changing the rules to a competition because we've had six weeks off."

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The introduction of an extra interchange player to cover instances where players are ruled out of a match is however gaining traction.

"I think that would probably be a good thing," Storm coach Craig Bellamy said.

"I think the HIA is a big thing in our game now and if you get a head knock, with the testing it does make it harder for you to come back on.

"So I think that will probably stay in the game past this [coronavirus] crisis that we've been in."

The NSWRL introduced an 18th man concussion substitute to the Canterbury Cup earlier this year, though the COVID-19 shutdown meant only one round of games could be played with the new system in place.

A mandatory 14-day stand-down period for any player that failed a Head Injury Assessment was also introduced alongside the 18th man rule change.

This was done in a bid to deter possible abuse of the 18th man rule to gain a competitive advantage.

Holbrook pointed to the Titans' round-two loss to Parramatta as an example of where his side was disadvantaged by a Nathan Brown shot on Dale Copley, which led to the Gold Coast centre being forced off and Brown copping a two-game suspension.

"We got disadvantaged in that game, it was a great example of if we had an 18th man, they could come into the game."