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Posted by RLPA

March 10, 2022

Progress made but concerns remain

The Rugby League Players’ Association is pleased that the Australian Rugby League Commission has announced their Judiciary and Match Review ahead of the new season. However, the players’ desired changes to the fines system still remains unresolved.

After extensive consultation with the playing group, led by RLPA the Player Advisory Group and Club Delegates, many of today’s changes came as a result of the RLPA bringing forward those player collated views. 

The RLPA acknowledges the NRL for providing us with the opportunity to meet with the ARLC Judiciary and Match Review subcommittee yesterday afternoon. The RLPA believes there will be further opportunities to keep working proactively with the NRL and Commission on all matters relating to the NRL and NRLW playing groups.

We know that when the NRL genuinely engages the RLPA on matters that impact the players, the game improves and continues to thrive. The positive outcomes from today’s Judiciary and Match Review again demonstrates the value of providing the RLPA with the opportunity to table the players’ views and perspectives. 

The RLPA put forward a Judiciary and Match Review submission to the NRL in November 2021, with the goal of working together to implement a better system for the game. After months of urging the NRL to finalise the review to give fans, players and clubs certainty, sweeping changes have now been made to the system hours before the start of the 2022 NRL season.

After fines skyrocketed by 500% in 2021, the players were unanimous in their opinion that the system needed to be overhauled before the start of the 2022 season, and pleasingly this has now been completed. However, there is further work required to continue ensuring we are considered as industry leaders in all areas of our game

A post-season review involving players from all clubs showed that fines as a punitive measure were no longer working as a deterrent, and were also having a disproportionate impact on many lower wage earners. This evidence was provided to the NRL as part of the RLPA’s original submission.

Additionally, we believe the decision to move Grade 1 Shoulder Charges and Crusher Tackles to a finable offence is a step backwards in decreasing instances of two of the most dangerous on-field discretions. Both of these offences carry significant health and safety ramifications and the threshold for these offences requires closer attention.

The RLPA’s genuine concern is the health and safety element of Crusher tacklers and Shoulder Charges. The players do not believe fines have acted as a sufficient deterrent to any offences and, despite this, these two offences have now become finable offences.

Fines were introduced to prevent players missing both regular season and important milestone matches, while also not overloading the Judiciary system with lower-level offences. However, the removal of fines will not increase the risk of players missing milestone matches if more targeted improvements are made to the threshold for major matches.

The NRL has regularly outlined the need for improved safety, as we heard and saw during last year’s high tackle crackdown. The RLPA has asked what evidence was used to determine that fines act as an effective deterrent from on-field foul play, and we continue to recommend education as a key pillar when working to improve player health and safety.

The players play and promote the game, and are subject to the on-field sanctions and penalties. Given this, it is the RLPA’s belief that the players’ views (coupled with industry medical experts) should take precedence over other stakeholders when considering it is their own health and safety that is being dealt with.

While we acknowledge deterrence is an important factor when working toward behavioural change, the RLPA maintains the best way to improve the chance of achieving the desired outcomes is through education and training, not punitive measures. The RLPA would support any process that made players better aware of the criteria of each level of each offence.

Given that the average length of an NRL career is less than four years, the RLPA is supportive of the NRL changing the good behaviour period from five (5) years down to three (3).

Important changes like the Judiciary and Match Review should be made well in advance of the season, and is why we need to put issues like these on the table during the collective bargaining agreement negotiations.

The RLPA will monitor the application and management of the new judicial system during the 2022 NRL season, particularly the threshold levels of each grading. We will continue to engage with the players and continue to seek their feedback on this important area impacting them every time they take the field.

The RLPA is ready and willing to work with the NRL again on any future changes to the Judiciary and Match Review. Hopefully the RLPA can work with the NRL to remove the fines system and work toward better educating players on creating a safer workplace. 

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