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NRL head of football Graham Annesley conceded referees could be placed under further pressure as he backed the introduction of the 18th player rule on Tuesday.

The ARL Commission gave NRL clubs the green light to use any player from their top 30 squads as an 18th player, beginning this weekend, if a team is affected by foul play or three failed head injury assessments during a match. 

An 18th player will only be able to take the field when three players fail a head injury assessment or when a player suffers a match-ending injury caused by foul play, in which the opposing player was either sin-binned or sent off. 

Annesley said while this may place a further spotlight on the game's match officials in the heat of the moment, he was confident they can handle the pressure.

"I think referees are always under pressure to act consistently [but] there is a bit more riding on that decision now potentially," Annesley said at the weekly football briefing on Tuesday. 

Farah and Kimmorley assess the 18th man ruling

"What I do know is that no two circumstances are exactly the same and you can't have a blanket rule that says every type of offence must result in a sin bin or a send-off because there are degrees of severity or circumstances that might lead to foul play.

"The player who is on the end of the foul play, they have to be in the position where they don't return to the game."

Annesley clarified a few grey areas around using the 18th player including;

  • The 18th player will wear a replacement vest on the interchange bench and a specific card will be used to indicate his activation into the game
  • Should a third player suffer an HIA in the final 15 minutes of a match, if the club's medical officer deems a player cannot return to the field of play, the club's medical officer will need to advise NRL staff on duty at the ground. However, the affected team would need to be required to use an interchange to activate the 18th player. 
  • An 18th player must be confirmed one hour before kick-off. However, if a starting 17 player is injured in the warm-up, the 18th player would need to seek an exemption from the NRL's medical officer at the ground to replace the injured player. The affected team could also call upon their 19th man.
  • A match fee for the 18th player will be paid by the NRL but is only payable when that player is activated into the game. The match fee is not included in salary cap.
  • Any bonuses or ratchet clauses triggered by the 18th player being used on the field will count in the salary cap

In a change to initial talks last week surrounding the use of emerging players as an 18th player replacement only, the ARL Commission accepted feedback and confirmed a registered NRL player who is eligible for selection in that round and part of the 21-man squad could take the field. 

"The Commission wisely asked us last week to conduct a consultation with the clubs, which we did over 48 hours," Annesley said. 

"On many occasions, we consulted with the football manager and head coach at each club.

Annesley explains the new rules for 18th player

"We consulted with the RLPA and took all of their feedback and proposed changes. We recorded that and drew some conclusions.

"A lot of the feedback from clubs was that an emerging player was too restrictive."

Earlier, ARL Commission chairman Peter V'landys said the game was listening to its players and coaches after confirming an 18th player would be in use from round five if a team is affected by foul play or three failed HIAs.

"Player wellbeing is a priority for the Commission and this additional safety net ensures players continue to be protected," V'landys said.

"Our clubs are outstanding in the way they detect and monitor head injuries and the activation of an 18th player in rare cases of three failed HIAs during a game will ensure continued strict compliance throughout a match.

Every try from round 4

"Why should a team be disadvantaged by an act of serious foul play?

"This was a strong message from all clubs and fans and the Commission has listened to that feedback.

We've also listened to clubs and players about the criteria of the 18th player used and will allow the club to select any of its registered players which will enable the most effective team combination on game day. I want to thank all clubs and the RLPA for their feedback."

The use of an 18th man is expected to be monitored by the ARL Commission with further adjustments possible if required.


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