The RFL Board considered a number of matters arising from the Covid-19 pandemic, and its implications on Rugby League.

The Board approved the introduction of a number of law changes for the resumption of the 2020 season, which had been recommended by June’s meeting of the Laws Committee, all with a specific intent of protecting the welfare of players, and mitigating risk.

These changes include the suspension of scrums, and the adoption of the “Six Again” rule that has recently been introduced to the NRL – details below.

The Board also considered the issues surrounding the resumption of the Betfred Championship and League 1 seasons, the possible impact on the Coral Challenge Cup, and the situation regarding promotion and relegation between Betfred Super League, Championship and League 1.

Following a survey of the 25 Betfred Championship and League 1 clubs that was conducted after their meeting last month to assess their current views, the Board observed that for a majority of clubs in each competition, playing matches behind closed doors is impractical, given the costs and other logistical issues.

However the Board also noted that a small majority of clubs at both Championship and League 1 level preferred to hold open the possibility of resuming the season given the changing situation regarding the cost of antigen testing and the possibility of playing in front of crowds – while a majority also expressed support for the possibility of a meaningful competition later in the autumn and winter if that was the best available option.

The Board also have sympathy for the issues at Super League level, in terms of the integrity of their competition, and the need for clarity well ahead of the resumption of their 2020 season on August 2.

Therefore the situation will be reviewed at the Board updates on the next two Mondays (July 13 and 20), with a decision to be made at the latest by July 23 – both on the resumption of the Championship and League 1 season, and on promotion and relegation between the competitions.

That timeline also fits with a deadline for the five Championship and League 1 clubs who have qualified for the Sixth Round of the Coral Challenge Cup, to decide whether they feel it is feasible to continue in the competition.

Simon Johnson, the RFL Chair, said: “The Covid-19 pandemic has presented all sports with immense challenges. We continue to work through these challenges in Rugby League, and our approach throughout has been to consider the interests of all our member clubs, and of the game as a whole. That is why we have been keen to communicate and consult as often as possible – and that consultation has revealed a wide range of opinions.

“After our meeting today, we are confirming some significant changes to the way the game will be played on the field when Rugby League resumes next month – which we believe are important and necessary to prioritise the welfare of players, and the success of the season when it resumes.

“We recognise that further important decisions are necessary in terms of the tiers below Super League, and promotion and relegation – and that there is urgency in making these decisions, which is why we have set some firm deadlines to ensure clarity well before the resumption of the Betfred Super League season on August 2.”

The Board also discussed a number of operational matters following recent Regulatory Meetings of Betfred Super League, Championship and League 1 clubs.

The Board agreed to the simplification of the regulations regarding nationality and the limit on players who are not ‘federation trained’ by supporting the removal of the Quota Rule at all levels. This means that at Super League the only restriction will be that Clubs may employ a maximum of seven Non-Federation Trained players. At Championship and League 1 level the removal of any restrictions will be monitored.

The Board supported the adjustment of the RFL’s Governing Body Endorsement Requirements following Brexit, meaning that from 1 January 2021, new players with EU passports (other than UK passport holders or those with an existing right to work in the UK) will have to obtain a GBE to be signed by clubs. This includes the ability to base an application on appearances for any IRL Member and removing the requirement for players moving from Catalans and Toulouse to have met the requirements when joining those clubs. These changes have been agreed with UKVI (UK Visas and Immigration).

The Board agreed that the RFL Reserves League will be suspended for 2021; however, clubs may arrange friendlies – the suspension will be lifted ahead of 2022.

The Academy Competition will be extended to Under-19s in 2021, to allow a more sustainable one-team structure below first team with the temporary suspension of Reserves – Academy will be realigned to Under-18s for 2022, with the resumption of the Reserves.

The Scholarship Competition will be extended to Under 17s in 2021 only.

Law Changes

The Board have approved the adoption of all five law changes recommended for immediate introduction for the resumption of the 2020 season, as well as an amendment to the Operational Rules regarding the announcement of 21-player squads – details here https://www.rugby-league.com/article/56839/rfl-laws-committee-recommendations.

These changes initially apply at professional level only – although the suspension of scrums is already being included in the RFL’s work to expedite the return of the community game.

The Board noted that since the Laws Committee meeting on June 10, the recommended changes have been considered by separate meetings of the Betfred Super League, Championship and League 1 clubs.

The recommendations have since been developed, to reflect recent changes in the implementation of the Six Again rule in the NRL, and to agree on the replacement for scrums as a means of restarting the game – again, with Laws Committee members kept informed.

Full details of these changes will now be distributed by the RFL’s On-Field department to allow players, coaches and match officials to incorporate them in their return to training – and also to supporters and the media.