A Few Changes Here , Some Fine Tuning

The Annual NRL Conference has agreed with a fine system for deliberately slow goal kickers, new powers for the Video Referee in relation to foul play and discussion on an alternate finals system for the Telstra Premiership.

The opening session of the conference included players, coaches, chief executives, club chairmen and NRL Board members.

The meeting supported Board and NRL Rules Advisory Committee calls to introduce policy changes to the enforcement of Telstra Premiership rules.

These include giving the Video Referee the same powers as a touch judge in the reporting of foul play.

This would allow the video referee to wait for an appropriate stoppage in the game to report an incident of foul play.

Existing rules had been criticised because they could be seen to encourage players to "feign" injury in order to give the video referee the opportunity review incidents under existing procedures.

The NRL's fine system for kickers who deliberately waste time will see match tapes reviewed to set a reasonable average allowance for 'kicking times'.

Clubs whose players do not complete kicking duties in that time will be fined.

As a result of today's conference there will also be further examination of ways to more consistently police time wasting in the lead up to line drop outs.

The Board and the committee have also removed inconsistency in relation to referee's decisions covering 'stealing the ball' over the try line.

The policy issued to referees will be that they should not award Penalty Tries where a ball is lost over the line.

Referees will still issue penalties where they see it as being appropriate.

Dangerous throws will attract increased penalties in the case of more serious tackles, while unnecessary contact with the head or neck during a tackle will also be closely monitored by referees.

Two rule changes will also be referred to the ARL and the RLIF for implementation in the NRL next season.

Where a team is held up in goal, the recommendation is that there should be a play the ball held 10m directly back from where the player crossed the line.

The tackle would be included within the existing tackle count thereby eliminating the need for a scrum.

In relation to commencing the game or restarting for 'golden point', the team that wins the toss can choose either the direction in which it wishes to run or whether it would rather kick off play.

Currently the team winning the toss decides which way it will run while the loser of the toss automatically is given the kick off.

The NRL Annual Conference also received a proposal from Premiership winning coach Warren Ryan for a new finals series format.

The top eight format would see increased competition between the top four teams in the opening week and three elimination games in week 2, while retaining a four week format.

Further feedback on the system will be sought from the clubs before the NRL Board finalises next year's format.

Clubs also discussed the option of including some Monday night football matches in the 2004 season.

While there is no intention to introduce games over a full year options will be explored for some Monday night matches.

"The whole day has reflected a really positive atmosphere," NRL Chief Executive, Mr David Gallop, said today.

"The players and coaches in particular contributed to some important discussion about next year's competition.

"There are obviously a lot of issues we still need to work on over the coming weeks but the optimism surrounding 2004 is very obvious.

"The release of the draw today is an important step and the initial reaction to the draw has been positive."