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Annesley: Successful rules trial may lead to new Bunker system

A trial to award tries on-field and have the NRL Bunker review them later was a success, according to head of football Graham Annesley, with new system a chance to be implemented full-time next year.

He also backed a pair of controversial no-try rulings from the Bunker against South Sydney in round 20 during his weekly briefing with the media on Monday.

Two of the round 20 games which had no bearing on the finals - the Broncos v Cowboys and Sea Eagles v Warriors contests - were used to trial some innovations that could come into place in 2021.

One of those was a new policy where on-field officials who would otherwise send a try ruling to be checked by the Bunker simply awarded the try, with the video officials to then check the try as the conversion is being lined up.

Annesley compared those two games to the Raiders v Sharks contest, which had a similar number of tries, and noted as much as 15 minutes of elapsed time in stoppages could be saved.

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The Broncos v Cowboys game had nine tries, three referrals and exactly 97 minutes of elapsed time. Warriors v Manly had 14 tries and just one referral and it took 95 minutes and 51 seconds to play the 80 minutes of game time.

By contrast, the live game without the experimental rules had 12 tries of which eight were referred to the Bunker and it took 110 minutes and 30 seconds of real time to play the 80 minutes of game time.

Get Caught Up: Round 20

"It's had a very dramatic reduction in the number of referrals considering the number of tries that were scored," Annesley said.

"People are prepared to wait for decisions if it means they're going to be correct but what the experimental rule we used on the weekend in these two games allowed us to do was still to have that level of accuracy but without stopping the game.

"The tries that were awarded on field by the referee were still reviewed in the background… we saw at least one in the Broncos game [to Hamiso Tabuai-Fidow] pulled back after the review had taken place for a player that was in front of the kicker and they had to come all the way back downfield after the referee had already blown a try."

The result over a small sample size was a reduction in stoppages with no reduction in accuracy, Annesley said.

While there is the potential as with the Tabuai-Fidow try for some excitement to be generated and then deflated by the subsequent no-try ruling, Annesley believed that was not a reason based on what we'd seen not to look at implementing the ruling full-time.

"Maybe we need to tweak the process a little bit to try and make sure we don't lose any of that theatre but in terms of the time it takes this is an example of how we could pull some of that time back.

Every try from round 20

"Absolutely [we would look at implementing this full time], all of these things will be fully explored."

According to the NRL.com Fans' Poll, the move to implement the change full-time would likely garner support from the wider public. 

After more than 14000 votes in the poll, more than 52% believe the Bunker should be used less, 32% support the status quo and just 15% think it should be used more.

The fans poll closes on Monday night, with the full results to be announced on Wednesday at 6pm (AEST).

Annesley also addressed two controversial no-try rulings against Campbell Graham and Mark Nicholls in the Rabbitohs 60-8 win over the Roosters on Friday night.

Bunker official Ashley Klein ruled Graham had bobbled the ball into a Roosters player in the act of grounding it. The Nicholls play was sent up as a no-try for a perceived touch forward off his hand in the lead-up, with Klein finding no clear angle to rule otherwise.

Graham Annesley weekly football briefing - Round 20

Annesley described the Graham decision as a "50-50" and refused to criticise the ruling, given there was a thorough and clear process followed.

"I'm not prepared to say it's wrong," he said.

"There will be a divided opinion about this but the process he went through in reaching his decision, I don’t think you can be critical of the process."

Annesley replayed the Nicholls no-try several times and from several angles, noting there was no conclusive proof the ball – which clearly bounced forward off Roosters five-eighth Luke Keary's shoulder – had not also possibly grazed Nicholls' hand or finger on the way through.

"You don't know where that hand is because you can't see it," he said.

"It was referred as a no-try on the basis of a knock-on so the Bunker went with the on-field decision because they simply didn't have the evidence to overturn it."