New Beginnings

Super League in 2019 will be bigger and better than ever and will feature shot clocks, Golden Point extra time and a number of other changes to the laws and playing conditions in 2019 to introduce more speed and on-field drama for spectators and television viewers to enjoy.

Add to this, the best crop of ex-NRL players for some years making debuts in 2019, including Blake Austin, Trent Merrin and Lachlan Coote along with two iconic venues; Liverpool's world famous Anfield Stadium for Magic Weekend and Barcelona's Camp Nou will host it's first Rugby League game when Catalans Dragons take on Wigan Warriors, the 2019 season is set to be one of the most excting ever.

1. Why are we doing this?

  • Fans of many sports are concerned with time-wasting, gamesmanship and a lack of transparency and integrity in time-keeping. The intensity and ball-in-play time is declining and nothing seems to be being done about it.
  • Fans and commentators in Super League were getting increasingly frustrated with long, unnecessary delays during our game, which broke momentum and lowered the intensity of play.
  • Super League’s key attributes are its intensity, relentlessness and integrity. The new rules and laws will highlight and enhance these features.
  • Super League games were taking up to two hours of elapsed time - the first-half of the Grand Final took 53 minutes; the second-half, 58 minutes
  • Commentators and observers were also worried that for the first time, gamesmanship was becoming a feature in Super League, as players feigned injuries to stop the clock and secure unwarranted time to recover from fatigue.
  • It was taking increasingly longer for the ball to get back in play after every stoppage. Commentators referenced the predictability of an injury occurring immediately following a goal-line drop-out or scrum.
  • At the Magic Weekend, attempts on goal were taking on average almost two minutes. If a game has seven or eight tries, there may be up to 15 minutes ‘exhausted’ by attempts at goal.
  • The NRL listed its rationale for shot-clock, as part of an independent review in 2015, and of direct relevance to Super League, as:

-       To make the game more continuous and free-flowing by increasing ball-in-play time (an extra two minutes and 13 extra play-the-balls per game);

-       To introduce more fatigue into the game by minimising time-wasting and stoppages in play;

-       To enhance player safety by reducing the number of collision injuries, especially to the head and neck;

-       To encourage a more expansive style of play and place a greater emphasis on skill to complement power and size in the game (the number of tries stayed the same but line breaks and offloads increased).

2. Observations and changes

  • We met with several stakeholders to understand more about the weaknesses and issues and started by considering what was special or a highlight of our game.
  • A group including; match officials, players, coaches, commercial partners, marketers, and performance staff, met to consider what made a game, great. The key ‘takeaway’ of that debate was that although our game is a contact/collision-based sport, first and foremost, Rugby League is attritional. There is a compelling and persuasive aspect to our game that highlights and rewards the ‘last-man-standing’.
  • We focused on the last 15 minutes of a tight game, with players barely able to breathe, with space and opportunities opening-up, and with the final period of the game best described as the ‘survival of the fittest’.  
  • Whilst we did not wish to diminish collision and impact, we wanted to keep the pace of the game high, reduce stoppages, keep the ball in play for as long as possible, reward the fittest and most mobile players, and present more opportunities for our most skilful players.
  • Related closely to these objectives was interchanges and it was felt that ten interchanges allowed too many players to operate in short-stints, at a slower pace, with greater emphasis on impact rather than attrition.
  • Reducing interchanges to eight, means each player will average just under five minutes longer on the pitch and will require greater mobility and stamina, this will open gaps particularly towards the end of games. 
  • We also wanted to add to the drama of our sport and build on the excitement of the final periods of tight games. The group recalled the drama of sudden death in Cup competitions and the excitement of Golden Point applied in the NRL. In 2018, there were four draws in Super League.
  • In addition, we reviewed how the NRL had added excitement into the final five minutes of the game. Clearly this drama will only apply in a tight game but the match clock will stop, immediately in the final five minutes, and in Golden Point, following a try or an attempt at goal.

3. NRL Learnings

  • All changes have had the benefit of being tried and tested in the NRL.
  • The changes have become adopted/accepted and very broadly liked by fans, commentators, players and coaches.
  • Shot-clock, introduced in 2016, has become a natural/non-enforced part of the fabric of a faster-paced game.
  • NRL research into Golden Point revealed that approximately 70% of fans favoured a mechanism to determine the ultimate winner of a game.

4. Future Changes - Second Referee

  • The pace of the game – a key attribute and differentiator of our sport and Super League puts added pressure on our match officials. We discussed at length the benefits of a second Referee – to better manage the ruck and to support the main Referee in an ever-quickening sport. 
  • There was widespread support for the second Referee particularly from ex-NRL players who had seen the improvements first hand. However, we found ourselves with too little time to delver the second Referee ‘to the start line’ for 2019 without undue/unmanageable risk.
  • For the reasons outlined above, the second Referee will be trialled and tested in the Academy competition in 2019 and considered for Super League 2020.

Appendix One: Shot Clock FAQs and how

A. Scrums

1. Where play is restarted by a scrum, both teams must be properly bound and packed within 35 seconds from the time the Referee has verbally indicated that the shot-clock has started.

a)    Shot-clock will start when the on-field officials call “all up” and the Referee is near the mark.

b)    The shot-clock will not be started if a player is down injured prior to the scrum being formed. It will be left to the discretion of the Referee when to restart the ‘game-clock’ and start the shot-clock.

2. If one team is properly bound and packed then the Referee will call "time off", at which time the ‘game-clock’ will stop but the shot-clock will continue to run. This team will be obliged to hold this formation until such time as:

a)    The Referee indicates that they may stand; or

b)    The opposing team packs and the scrum is formed. Players are not allowed to change position once formed. If they do, the game-clock goes back on and the shot-clock continues.

3. If the shot-clock has counted down to zero seconds, (indicated by a buzzer sounding) and one team is not properly bound and packed, the Referee shall award a penalty to the non-offending team. This will result in a full penalty.

4. If the shot-clock has counted down to zero seconds, (indicated by a buzzer sounding) and both teamsare not properly bound and packed, the Referee shall award a penalty to the team which has the feed. This will be a full penalty.

5. If, in the opinion of the Referee, the scrum is being delayed by factors outside of a team's control, the Referee may call "time off, CLOCK OFF". If, "time off, CLOCK OFF" is called, the ‘game-clock’ and shot-clock will both be stopped and WILL NOT be restarted.

a)    Examples of this would be where there is no ball to restart the scrum, there are spectators on the field of play, or there is a malfunction of the shot-clock.

b)    If there is no ball and the shot-clock has started then the referee will stop the shot-clock. The ‘ball crew’ has been advised to place a ball on the line when the ball enters touch.

c)     If the Referee is aware that there is no ball and it is not through a player’s deliberate action, the clock will not be started. 

6. In the event of a player suffering an injury after the shot-clock has commenced, and the player is unable to re-join play, or is preventing play from restarting then, after the shot-clock has counted down to zero seconds, (indicated by a buzzer sounding), the player will be required to leave the field of play and either:

a)    Be interchanged; or

b)    Leave the field of play and return once an interchange card is handed over; or

c)     Not return to the field of play until the next stoppage (scrum, drop out, 20m restart or handover) or when their team regains possession.

-       This will be monitored by the clubs’ off-field staff, i.e. trainer, physio.  It will also be their responsibility to ensure that the player does not come back onto the field of play, until the appropriate time*.

-       "Stoppage" for the purposes of the shot-clock means a scrum, drop out, 20 metre restart, or a handover. Foul play is not classed as a stoppage.

B. Drop-Outs

1. Where a team is required to recommence play with a goal-line or 20 metre drop-out, they must do so within 30 seconds from the time the Referee has ruled the goal line or 20 metre drop-out and verbally indicated that the shot-cloc’ has started.

2. The Referee will blow his whistle to signal ball dead, he will then scan the players and say, “all up”.  The Referee will then signal the shot-clock on and walk into position for restart.

3. The kick will be deemed to be completed when thekicker's foot has struck the ball.

4. If the shot-clock has counted down to zero seconds, (indicated by abuzzer sounding) without the drop-out having been taken, the Referee shall award a penalty to the non-kicking team:

a)    In the case of a goal line drop-out - at the centre of the 10m line; or

b)    In the case of a 20m drop-out - at the centre of the 20mline.

5. If, in the opinion of the Referee, the drop-out is being delayed by a factor outside of a team's control, the Referee may call "time off CLOCK OFF". If "time off, CLOCK OFF" is called, the game-clock and shot--clock will both be stopped and will not be restarted.

a)    Examples would be: no ball to restart drop out, spectators on the field, malfunction of the shot-clock.

b)    If there is no ball and the clock has started then the referee will stop the shot-clock. The ball boxes should ensure a ball is available

c)     If the Referee is aware that there is no ball and it is not through a player’s deliberate action, the clock will not be started

6. In the event of a player suffering an injury after the shot-clock has commenced, and the player is unable to re-join play or is preventing play from restarting, then after the shot-clock has counted down to zero seconds (indicated by a buzzer sounding), the player will be required to leave the field of play and either:

a)    Be interchanged; or

b)    Leave the field of play and return once an interchange card is handed over; or

c)     Not return to the field of play until the earlier of the next stoppage (scrum, dropout, 20 metre restart, or a handover) or when their team regains possession

-       This will be monitored by the clubs’ off-field staff, i.e. trainer, physio. It will also be their responsibility to ensure that the player does not come back onto the field of play, until the appropriate time*.

-       "Stoppage" for the purposes of the shot-clock means a scrum, drop out, 20 metre restart, or a handover. Foul play is not classed as a stoppage.

C. Additional Information

1. There will be two different sounds for the game time hooter and shot-clock buzzer (the Timekeeper will operate a manual back-up stopwatch in case of malfunction)

2. There will be a requirement for a bucket behind the dead-ball line, behind the post, at either end of the pitch, which will always contain two spare match balls.

3. All players must enter the field of play from an onside position. Players and trainers are not required to return to the bench area when a player is waiting to return from injury after a shot-clock breach

D. Attempts at Goal

Note the shot-clock will not be use in visible form for any attempt at goal. Goal kicking is clearly a point scoring skill so a visible clock, counting down time was considered inappropriate. The objective is to reduce ‘dead-time’ on attempts at goal without adding undue pressure on the kicker and diminishing the skill.

There will be no buzzer if the shot-clock is breached and sanctions will be applied post-match and the match is unaffected by the breach.

  1. Referees should call ‘time off’ one minute and 20 seconds (this will be prompted by the Timekeeper) after a try has been awarded or a penalty has been awarded and the team opt to kick for goal.
  2. If the player is about to kick the ball when time elapses then the Referee should use his discretion and allow the clock to continue running.
  3. ‘Time on’ should be called as the ball is kicked. If the Referee fails to call ‘time on’ then the Timekeeper should restart the clock when the ball is kicked. 
  4. Repeated breaches of this time limit will result in sanctions from RFL Compliance Department, as determined by them.

E. Golden Point

1. If the scores are level at the completion of 80 minutes of regular time, the Referee will stop the game. The process of restarting the game in Golden Point is to be as efficient and as quick as possible to maintain the excitement at the end of normal time. Coaches will not be permitted to enter the field of play.

2. The Match Commissioner will then immediately enter the field with a coin and join the Referee with the two captains at the centre of the half way line. A toss of coin will then take place, with the home team tossing the coin and the away team calling the choice. The captain winning the toss shall decide to either kick-off or choose which end his team shall defend. The losing captain shall take the other of the alternatives.

3. The game will restart with a kick-off. At any time where a point is scored the game will end immediately.

4. If Golden Point will be played to a maximum of ten minutes, which is divided into two five-minute halves. At the completion of the first five-minute half, the teams will change ends immediately and they will restart the game with a kick-off. After a maximum of ten minutes the game will be declared a draw.

5. During Golden Point, teams shall be allowed to make two additional interchanges to those allowed in regular time. Any unused interchanges from regular time can be carried over into Golden Point.

6. A sin binned player can return to the field of play during Golden Point after his 10-minute sin bin has elapsed.

7. The Timekeeping rules applied in the last five minutes (set out below in G) will continue into Golden Point.

8. A result is required in Play-off games and the Grand Final. At the completion of each five-minute period, the teams will change ends immediately and they will restart the game with a kick-off.  The game will continue until a point is scored.

9. Even when the game continues longer than 10 minutes no further interchanges will be permitted

F. Interchange

1. Each team shall be allowed to make 8 interchanges from the four replacements that are named on the official team sheet.

2. In the event of a Golden Point game, each team will receive an additional 2 interchanges, alongside any unused interchanges.

3. A player will be permitted to re-enter play in the Golden Point period if he has completed the 15-minute concussion assessment.

G. The Last Five Minutes

1. The Timekeeper will advise the Referee that the game has entered the last five minutes. At this point the following will apply:

a) The clock will be stopped following a conversion, a decision not to take the conversion (after scoring a try a team declines the conversion attempt), a penalty kick at goal or a drop-goal attempt, where the ball goes out of the field of play.

b) The Referee will call “TIME OFF” at 1 minute 20 seconds following the awarding of a try. This time limit also includes penalty kicks at goal.

c) Where a conversion or penalty is taken, “TIME ON” should be called as the ball is kicked. If the Referee forgets to call “TIME ON” then the Timekeeper should restart the clock when the ball is kicked.

d) Once the conversion or penalty has been judged, “TIME OFF” should be called again and the clock stopped until play restarts in accordance with the RFL On Field Policy 2019

e) During this period shot-clock will be in operation as in the previous 75 minutes

H. Removal of Free Play

1. Free play to be removed and will revert to regular advantage.

2. The Referee is the sole judge of what constitutes an advantage be it tactical or territorial