Changes to the On Field Misconduct Rules have been introduced for 2023, after the Rugby League Council and RFL Board approved the recommendations of a review into procedures for dealing with On-Field Misconduct carried out in consultation with clubs.
The review was recommended by the RFL executive in July, five years after a previous club-led review, and partly in response to the impact of changes to charging and sentencing guidelines that were introduced for the 2022 season, leading to significant increases in the number of charges and resulting suspensions – all introduced with the priority of player safety.
Clubs at each tier of the professional competitions were asked to nominate representatives for a review group, which comprised: Robert Hicks (RFL Director of Operations and Legal); Richard Yates (RFL Head of Legal); Garreth Carvell (RLPA, GMB Union); Neil Hampshire (Hunslet); Gary Hetherington (Leeds Rhinos); Kevin Nicholas (Batley Bulldogs); and Mike Rush (St Helens).
It has involved consideration of how other contact and collision sports and the NRL regulate the areas of foul play and misconduct, and further consultation with Club Chairs and CEOs, Coaches and Players, Match Officials, the Match Review Panel, and Operational Rules Tribunal Members and Chairs.
The first key finding of the review group was that the processes followed by the Match Review Panel meetings and Operational Rules “are thorough, professional and appropriate to ensure the sport continues to meet its requirements to clubs, players and fans”.
There was also an observation that the changes to charging and sentencing guidelines introduced for 2022 had delivered the desired changes in player behaviour.
That led to a recommendation for fines to have a greater role, alongside suspensions, in increasing the accountability of players for their on-field actions, given the primary importance of player behaviour in promoting the importance of safety in the sport.
This means that a Grade A offence, at the lowest end of the scale, would be punished by either a caution or a fine, whereas it could previously have resulted in a one-match suspension. Similarly, a Grade B offence could also be punishable by either a fine, a one-match suspension, or both, whereas it would previously have meant a ban of either one or two matches.
In addition, it will now take three offences for a player to reach the top end of each grading boundary, compared with two offences in 2022. Only Grade E and F offences will now lead to an automatic tribunal, with Grade A-D offences included within the penalty notice framework. Grade D offences will carry a suspension range of 2-3 matches and will include a fine.
The amendments to sentencing guidelines for 2023 are as follows:
NORMAL SUSPENSION RANGE
PREVIOUS SUSPENSION RANGE
0 – Fine
0 – 1
Fine - 1
1 – 2
2 – 3
3 – 5
4 – 8
6+ or period suspension (and fine)
8+ or period suspension
The recommendation that players can be fined rather than suspended for careless actions brings Rugby League into line with the NRL and the RFU.
Other changes include:
- the rule relating to when a player shall receive the top end of the grading boundary be increased to mean three previous offences (in 2022 this was two previous offences) as set out below
If a Player has:
a. been Found Guilty of three or more On Field Misconduct Offences in the previous 24 months, including at least one offence in the previous 12 months prior to the date on which the Offence attracting the Penalty Notice was committed; or
b. been Found Guilty of a Similar Offence at Grade C or above in the previous 24 months to the date on which the Offence attracting the Penalty Notice was committed.
- Grade D offences be included within the Penalty Notice framework to allow acceptance without the need for Tribunal
- Comparison clips will no longer be used at tribunals
- The RFL will produce a guidance note for clubs and the Operational Rules Tribunals setting out the circumstances in respect of which a challenge will be deemed frivolous/unreasonable.
- The deterrent to bringing frivolous/unreasonable challenges should remain as a match on offences of grades B to D. However, on Grade A challenges the sanction would be a further 50% added to the level of the fine.
Robert Hicks, the RFL’s Director of Operations and Legal, said: “We always recognised that 2022 would be a challenging season for our disciplinary procedures, given the amount of change which was introduced – and we therefore envisaged this off-season as being an appropriate time for a thorough review.
“As with the previous review in 2017, it was essential that this review involved and in many ways was driven by representatives from clubs at all levels, as well as having a strong players’ voice.
“The findings of the review underline both the difficulties faced by the members of the Match Review Panel and the Operational Rules Tribunal, and the fact that they perform an essential role for the sport to a consistently high level.
“The review has reinforced the importance of a robust response to foul play, especially when it involves contact to the head and whiplash, and as such the changes introduced for 2022 in terms of chargeable offences have been maintained.
“A number of changes have been recommended for 2023, in all cases adjustments to recognise the changing landscape, while maintaining the emphasis on player safety – and increasing player accountability. It is important that all stakeholders understand the need to change behaviour and we believe these changes are best placed to do this.”