The long countdown to the 2024 season starts with a number of fixtures over the festive period – and that will also be the first chance for match officials, players and supporters to get to grips with the Laws changes that have been announced in recent weeks.
Five Laws changes were confirmed on November 24, having been recommended by the RFL’s Laws Committee and approved by the RFL’s independent Board.
These include a new offence of Reckless Endangerment, a change around the implementation of the Green Card for injured players, a new option for teams awarded a scrum penalty, and a new limit on the restarting the tackle count (Six Again)- full details can be found here.
A fifth Laws change for 2024, relating to the use of the 18th player, will not be relevant in pre-season fixtures where teams are permitted unlimited interchanges.
However, the pre-season games will also be a first opportunity for players and coaches to experience the fresh emphasis from Match Officials on cleaning up the ruck area, which has also been flagged for 2024.
Clubs have been advised that there will be “closer scrutiny on flops and hands on the ball”, with Match Officials also instructed to “ensure that ball carriers regain their feet on the mark and make a genuine attempt to play the ball with the foot”.
Head coaches, players and match officials have been working hard in training to implement these key changes. That will continue during pre-season with the aim that everyone understands what is expected in these areas when the main competitions start in 2024.
The pre-season fixtures will also be the first played since the RFL Board’s approval of 44 recommendations from the sport’s Brain Health Sub-Committee, which were announced on December 8.
As these recommendations apply to different areas of the sport, from Under-6s to Super League, only a few will be relevant in the pre-season fixtures.
Of these, the new requirement for all Super League players to wear an instrumented mouthguard (IMG) – which has been identified as an essential tool in the measurement and management of head contact and player load – will be the most visible.
Recommendations for changes to the sanctioning framework for contact with the head and neck have also been accepted – but the RFL has advised clubs that this will have a soft launch during the pre-season matches.
Whilst the on-field framework will start immediately, the off-field sanctioning will not come into force fully until the start of the regular season. Clubs and players will be advised of what the new punishments would be, but the new sanctioning framework will not be reflected in actual suspensions (or appear on a player’s record) until the start of the season proper early in 2024.