NRL makes big rule changes for 2020 season

Players will be able to challenge referee decisions from next season. Mark Kolbe/Getty Images

NRL's head of football Graham Annesley has announced a raft of rule changes to be introduced for the 2020 season, including a controversial captain's challenge.

Following an ARLC meeting on Thursday, the NRL has been instructed to implement an operational plan to allow each team one chance in general play per game to challenge a referee's decision with the help of the Bunker.

If successful, the team would have another opportunity to use the challenge system later in the game.

Boldly, the concept of introducing the challenge in 2020 was not raised by the competition committee, rather the ARLC made the recommendation without consultation.

"The commission have decided that this is an innovation that they want to use to take some pressure off referees around big calls and give some more opportunities for fans to walk away from games feeling like some of the big calls have been addressed.

"They may have walked away in the past feeling as though there's errors that have affected their team.

"We have to constantly look at our game. We can easily roll out the same thing every year but organisations that aren't prepared to change and innovate, they won't stick around for very long."

Annesley admitted there is nothing stopping teams from using a challenge tactically to slow the game down, but said coaches already use rules to their advantage and a wasted challenge could have repercussions later in the game.

The NRL will work through the operational details on how the challenge would be applied and a report will be put to the commission in February for approval.

Additionally, restrictions on trainers will be introduced to spend less time on the field and those limitations will be finalised at the next meeting.

A number of other rule changes have been approved by the commission to be rolled out next season.

Two tactical changes have been made with a 20/40 rule introduced, while teams will also be given an option to select the lateral scrum position either 10 or 20 metres from touch or in line with the black dot on the cross bar.

The 20/40 rule was trialled in Queensland Cup in 2019 but used successfully just once.

Rules around tackling players in mid-air have also been strengthened while the outdated mutual infringement law has been updated to replay the previous play-the-ball, scrapping a scrum for the attacking team.

The archaic law was brought into the spotlight during the 2019 NRL grand final, where Canberra's Sia Soliola charged down a ball but it hit a trainer and the Sydney Roosters were given a scrum feed, changing momentum.

Under the new rule, referees will replay the previous play-the-ball instead of resetting with a scrum in favour of the attacking team.

Rules around tackling in mid-air have been clarified in favour of player safety.

Players can't be tackled while in the air - a defender will need to wait until the player reaches the ground.

However, there is still room for contesting the ball, which could complicate the decision for referees.

Second-tier competitions will also trial packing six players into a scrum when only 12 players are on the field instead of five.