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NRL referee Chris Sutton.

Graham Annesley is confident the 10-metre six-again rule has initially had the desired effect with fewer general penalties awarded and players being more compliant.

Data from the opening two rounds of 2021 shows the average number of penalties per game was 6.7 compared to 10 last season.

Ruck infringement six-agains have decreased to 5.3 per game from seven last year, while only 1.8 six-agains for 10-metre infringements – the newest rule addition – were called on average across the first 16 matches.

Last year, including finals, there were 344 inside 10-metre offside penalties blown in 169 premiership matches (2.03 per game).

Annesley, the NRL head of football, is pleased with the results but said "referees won't hesitate to go harder if they have to" and "they're not under any instruction to artificially keep those figures low".

"I think those savings in penalties have come from those areas where they would have given penalties in the past, like rucks and 10 metres," Annesley told after his Monday media briefing.

"So I still think they're applying the same standards to all other facets of the game... The last thing I would want to do is give the impression that we're moving towards almost an 'anything goes' scenario.

Graham Annesley weekly football briefing - Round 2

"That's not the case at all. They've still got to apply the same standards, whether it be six-again for 10 metres, whether it be six-again for rucks or whether it be general play penalties.

"If [10-metre six-agains] were to creep up to two, three, four, five a game because players start pushing the limits, then so be it.

"But I'm not overly concerned about it; in fact, I'm happy that what we're seeing so far and what we're measuring so far is demonstrating that to this point, it is having an impact."

Annesley said the NRL was aware that defending teams may try to "get an advantage" from the 10-metre rule by shooting off the line at the start of sets in a bid to force an error or stall their opponents' momentum, risking the referee restarting the tackle count.

"We're mindful of that and Jared Maxwell, the referees' coach, is monitoring that," Annesley said at the briefing.

"We're also analysing stats," he added, revealing that for now, teams aren't testing the limits too often.

According to Annesley, referees haven't needed to "manage" as many infringements – for example, calling a player offside so they don't get involved in a tackle and trigger a six-again.

Every try from round 2

And compared to previous years, he said, whistleblowers have overlooked fewer offside offences like when a player on the extremity of the field fails to retreat the required distance in the defensive line.

"What we've seen in the opening two rounds... is less infringement in the 10 metres so far in both of those indicators," Annesley said.

"I'm hopeful that will continue and I'm hopeful that the disincentive of conceding another six tackles is having the desired effect."

For Annesley, reducing the number of general penalties that result in a piggy-backing kick for touch is a big positive.

"I've been concerned for a long time, actually, about the impact penalty kicks have on the outcome of games," he said.

"[Based on past statistics] my recollection is that there is a very high percentage of tries that are scored, historically, in the next set following the awarding of a penalty kick [for touch].

"It gives the team who receives the penalty not only another complete set, but it gives them field position as well."

There were some concerns about the competition's gulf in class widening after 17.8 points were averaged per game in round one.

That dropped to 13.1 in round two – below the 2020 season average of 15.1 points per game – but wet weather may have contributed.

Overall, Annesley is satisfied with the standard of play and how officials have adapted and implemented the latest rule changes.

"[But] we're only two rounds in. The inevitable blow-ups will happen. That's the nature of rugby league," he quipped.


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