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“No tackling” – What your local junior rugby league matches will now look like under new RFL laws

The RFL have confirmed some huge rule changes for the game at all levels going forward which means they are taking a massive risk with the future of the sport.

At all levels of Community Rugby League, and at Age Grade at professional clubs (including Reserve Grade), the legal limit for any contact is to be lowered – from shoulder height (ie below the neck) to arm pit height (ie below the shoulder).

Any contact above the arm pit will therefore be penalised.

This follows the outcomes of the Laws Trials in the Under-18 Academy competition in the summer of 2023 – which were found to have significantly reduced the amount of head contact, and the number of head accelerations.

It is further recommended that this Laws change should be applied at all levels of professional Rugby League from the 2025 season.

Junior Rugby League though is where the big risk is taken. Twelve of the 44 recommendations relate to specific age groups.

Three Laws changes will see contact Rugby League replaced by touch / tag in a stepped approach, starting with Under 6s and 7s in the 2024 season, and continuing with that age group to Under 8s from 2025, and Under 9s from 2026.

This is consistent with the sport’s existing Safe Play Code, developed following the Whole Game Review, carried out in 2019.

This will now be enforced as mandatory from 2024 at all age groups, meaning that Under 10s fixtures will be a maximum of nine players per team with a 5-metre retreat by the defensive line; and Under 11s will be a maximum of 11 players per team, again with a 5-metre retreat by the defensive line.

From Under 12s to Under 18s, a trial will be held in at least one member league in 2024 to reduce the retreat by the defensive line to 7 metres, and to minimise knockout cup fixtures – with a view to more widespread introduction from 2025.

What does this mean for the next generation of Jack Welsbys and Harry Newmans? Time will tell. It means our game is a safer game but perhaps less appealing and entertaining at a number of levels not just at the highest but also when introducing the sport to young boys and girls.

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