Penalty blitz to end as NRL overhauls sin-bin system

The NRL has instructed referees to stop awarding “nitpicking” penalties as its officiating crackdown finally ends to ensure free-flowing footy returns.

NRL CEO Todd Greenberg and ARLC chairman Peter Beattie announced on Tuesday that players can be sin-binned for foul play – regardless of whether the victim is injured or not – under a change to the games laws and interpretations.

Added deterrent: Referees will have greater discretion to send players to the sin bin.

Photo: AAP

The amendment is the result of a spate of late hits on playmakers such as Charlie Gubbs tackle on Nathan Cleary or Jack Gosiewskis shot on Johnathan Thurston in the back and without the football.

However, the biggest change will result from officials being told to stop looking for penalties, believing the edicts around the play-the-ball and the 10 metres have done their job.

Rugby League Central has come under heavy criticism after several games in round 14 were stop-start affairs due to big penalty counts, just days after the opening State of Origin encounter was deemed a quality spectacle due to the lack of penalties awarded.


Greenberg said the whistleblowers will be told to let the games flow more freely, beginning with Thursday nights Parramatta-South Sydney encounter.

“There has been a tendency for the referees to continue to nitpick,” Greenberg said.

“We have to be really careful that we find the balance. We want to see the flow of the game continue. There has been a lot of penalties in the first half of the year.

“I am desperately keen to find that balance. I dont want referees looking for penalties, what I want referees is to police those areas we have tasked them to do and allow the game to flow.

“They are not going to be perfect, but thats a strong directive that will continue to come.”

The number of penalties and penalty goals has increased this year, much to the frustration of fans. Greenberg said it was about finding the balance between applying the rules and using discretion to ensure the spectacle wasnt ruined.

“At the meeting of the competition committee, it was a very strong directive from them – dont over-referee, don't look for things. Simply referee the play thats in front of you,” Greenberg said.

“Again, thats a balance every weekend.

“I watched every game across the weekend, and some of the games were fantastic and others were less so.”

Beattie said the ARLC had endorsed a recommendation from the competition committee to strengthen the sin bin rule to protect players from foul play. That means players could be binned for high tackles, dangerous throws, shoulder charges and crusher tackles.

“No one wants to see players taken out of the game through acts of foul play,” Beattie said.

“Sometimes those acts do not warrant a send-off – but they do deserve 10 minutes in the sin bin.

“Until now, the rules did not allow referees to use the sin bin for foul play unless the victim of foul play was forced to leave the field and was unlikely to take any further part of the game.

“So we have seen players commit acts of foul play, put on report but miss no game time.

“We dont think that is an adequate deterrent so, from Round 15 onwards, referees will be able to use the sin bin for foul play, whether the victim has to leave the field or not.”

The commission also endorsed a proposal that will allow salary cap relief for clubs if their players suffered long-term injuries during representative fixtures. Clubs can now sign a replacement as well as receive salary cap exemptions of up to $350,000.

“Clubs place significant investments in their players, so it stands to reason that we would attempt to compensate them as much as possible for instances where their players have suffered long-term injuries while they are on representative duties,” NRL chief operating officer Nick Weeks said.

Adrian Proszenko

Adrian Proszenko is the Chief Rugby League Reporter for the Sydney Morning Herald.

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