NRC captains welcome rule changes in 2019 tournament

Beth Newman Profile
by Beth Newman

The NRC’s captains have welcomed the addition of some experimental rules into the competition this year.

Kicking off on Saturday, the 2019 NRC will have a rugby league-style 50-22/22-50 kicking rule and introduce a line dropout when the ball is held up over the line.

The latter rule is one that should excite plenty of forwards after years of heading to five-metre scrums after stopping a try over the line.

Teams won't have to take the dropout under the posts either, in contrast to rugby league, giving them the chance to exit their defensive zone immediately.

NSW Country captain Ned Hanigan said it would be a positive move for defending teams, especially.

“That's always been a bit of a questionable rule - you hold them up over the line and they get a five-metre scrum, which straight away puts the pressure back on you,” he said.

“This way it’s a quick hold up, get the ball back, kick to buggery down the field and yeah, so it'll be a bit exciting, it'll open the game up.”

Interestingly, Rugby Australia’s director of rugby Scott Johnson was the man who first posed that law variation, at World Rugby’s laws committee.

“Scott Johnson is our representative on that group, and he is particularly good in that space, like he really wants to innovate and see the game really move,” Rugby AU CEO Raelene Castle said.

“So he is quite a leader in that group, probably less conservative than some of our northern hemisphere friends.

He is a real fan of the 50-22, and it was his initiative the drop-out after the held-up over the line.

“That was something he really pushed for at World Rugby.”

Castle said the NRC was the perfect environment for testing new rules, with the aim to open up the flow of the game.

“The whole point of the trial is so they can look at it in a competition like this, and make sure it doesn’t open up opportunities in other areas of the game,” she said.

“Because sometimes when you change a law here, this happens over there and then you end up with unfortunate consequences.

“So trialling it makes sure when you put into into Super Rugby and Test rugby you are really sure it is the right law change.”

Brisbane City skipper Fraser McReight is certainly hoping the law variations open the matches up more this year.

The 50:22 kicking law is aimed at forcing players to drop out of the defensive line to prevent their opponents from kicking into touch, opening up more space across the field.

“I think I can see this year it's going to be a very high-scoring NRC but it's not going to be five-metre scrums, scrum, scrum, scrums, penalty try.

“It's going to be held them up, kick the ball up, attacking rugby,” he said.

“We like that and it's rewarding because the best thing about rugby is not just the scrums and the mauls but for me, I love the running, I love the tackling, love the openness and the freedom of the game, that's what this NRC season's going to do so I can't wait to get stuck in.”

Ned Hanigan and Lalakai Foketi will lead the NSW NRC teams in 2019. Photo: Getty ImagesThe new 50-22 rule will give teams an attacking lineout should they kick from their own half and the ball bounces into touch in their attacking 22 or if they boot the ball from their own 22 beyond halfway.

Sydney captain Lalakai Foketi said he felt it would be an easy one to adapt to given how many players have grown up watching or playing rugby league 

"I guess my first option would be to run it but I think it's great, it's pretty smart, get rewarded for good play," he said.

"If we get into that right position on the field, I'm sure that boys will do that and see what happens. We get a lineout in their 22, hopefully we can counter on that.

"Everyone watches rugby league here and I'm sure most of them have grown up playing rugby league so again talking to a couple of the boys like Will Harrison and that about the kicking rules, they're loving it so I'm sure if we're in our 50 and we've got a four on two they'll still kick it into the 22.

"It's exciting."

The NRC kicks off on Saturday August 31 with NSW Country Eagles hosting the Sydney Rays at Apex Oval, Dubbo.