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NRL head of football Brian Canavan has instructed referees to crack down on players deliberately passing the ball into defending players at the ruck.

Starting with Thursday night's clash at Suncorp Stadium between Brisbane and Parramatta, referees will now rule that if a dummy-half player "deliberately passes the ball into a defending player caught in and around the ruck who is not actively taking part in the play, the act will be deemed to be contrary to the true spirit of the game".

Referees will award a penalty against the attacking team and the NRL has informed all clubs of the directive. 

"What we have seen recently is a bad look for the game, and in simple terms, not in the spirit of the game," Canavan said.

"In these instances, if a player deliberately throws the ball into another, the referees will give a penalty to the opposition team.

Coaches Corner: Edge defence and attack

"This does not absolve a defender of his responsibilities to clear the ruck and the defending team will still be penalised if it is deemed that they are interfering with play."

Referees have also been instructed to "communicate warnings or cautions for repeated infringements to captains more efficiently" to minimise delays in restarting play.

There has been criticism this season that captains are deliberately slowing play down when their team has conceded a penalty in order to give their teammates a breather before their next defensive set.

Sharks hooker James Segeyaro was caught out when he tried to pass the ball into a Canberra defender two weeks ago late in the win over the Raiders but missed his target and the ball sailed over the sideline.

"It's a grey area to be honest.

"If someone is in the ruck and you're trying to throw the ball and it hits them, obviously they can't be invisible."

Acknowledgement of Country

National Rugby League respects and honours the Traditional Custodians of the land and pay our respects to their Elders past, present and future. We acknowledge the stories, traditions and living cultures of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples on the lands we meet, gather and play on.

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