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Rabbitohs playmaker Cody Walker.

Graham Annesley has refuted claims rugby league has gone soft and declared it "a better game" now player safety is at the forefront of the code more than ever.

The NRL's head of football reiterated the recent crackdown on avoidable high contact, which contributed to a record 24 charges laid by the match review committee across Magic Round, was necessary so current and future players feel protected.

He said the massive number of charges would have been picked up in any given week and the surge wasn’t connected to officials being instructed to take a harsher stance on high contact.

"The game is a better game now. It's more family friendly," Annesley said.

"Parents, hopefully, don't have to think too hard about letting their kids play the game.

"Their sons and daughters can play and [parents can] say, OK, we know that the administrators have got our backs to look after our kids, to give them every opportunity to go as far as they can, if they've got talent, to play this game, but do it in a safe way.

"There's always going to be injuries in our game, but we don't want the injuries to be as a result of someone getting belted in the head or the neck."

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However, he insisted heavy contact is still very much encouraged – so long as it's legal.

"There's nothing wrong with physicality. We love the physicality of the game. That's what the game is all about," Annesley added.

"But physicality doesn't mean hitting people in the head. It doesn't mean punching them. It doesn't mean picking them up and dropping them on their heads. All of the things that have been driven out of the game.

"This is happening around the world. To use the common word of a bubble - if we think we're going to live in a bubble in NRL land and operate differently to every other major contact sport in the world, and just not deal with these things, we're kidding ourselves."

The NRL is refusing to back down from its no-tolerance policy for head and neck contact. Annesley said the onus was on the players to adapt their tackling techniques.

There has been discussion about whether rules introduced to speed up the game and keep the ball in play for longer have inadvertently caused more foul play as players fail to execute tackles under fatigue.

While Annesley said there is not yet enough data after 10 rounds to properly analyse that claim, he wanted to "get some balance in the debate".

"Of the 24 charges that were laid across the course of the weekend, 16 of those charges - or 16 of those players who were charged - spent less than 40 minutes on the field before they committed their offence," he said.

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"They played less than half a game of football [in total], so these things weren't all happening in the 60th, 70th and 80th minute after players had been out there and they're all fatigued at the end of the game."

Fourteen charges were dished out by the match review committee last round in what was then a record to the best of Annesley's recollection.

Despite that bar being unfortunately raised in Magic Round, Annesley is hopeful the trend is just "an unusual spike that can't be explained" and that players will better comply going forward.

The crackdown on high contact with the head and neck may have seemed extreme last weekend, with 14 players sin-binned and three sent off.

But Annesley pointed out the clubs had received plenty of warning including a memo sent on May 5 via email stating that sin bins and send-offs would be used to punish serious high contact.

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A "mismatch" between the NRL and its officials meant the punishment wasn't implemented as planned in round nine but another memo was sent last Friday advising of the harsh consequences for high contact.

That approach will continue though play may be allowed to run instead of being halted to address an incident initially missed by a referee.

Rabbitohs coach Wayne Bennett was among those concerned that constantly stopping the game to address overlooked transgressions was stifling momentum.

"If the on-field officials miss an incident and it's only picked up by the Bunker after that play had continued, if it's a serious incident that requires action, then I think we should go back," Annesley said.

"If it's a relatively minor incident that hasn't caused too much harm and play has moved on, it's a non-reportable offence, then we keep going.

"We don’t want unnecessary stoppages. My whole ethos in this job has been about to try and keep the game flowing. But we can't just turn our back on serious foul play just because we've moved on.

"And not only is it important that we pick up the foul play, it's important to the clubs that we pick it up.

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"Because if a player is placed on report in the first instance, they're entitled to a free interchange. If a player is sent to the bin or sent off, they're entitled to activate their 18th player."

Bringing back the five-minute sin bin isn't an immediate option, with Annesley saying the ARL Commission would need to thoroughly look into it at season's end.

The solution, he added, is for players to leave themselves bigger margins of error when tackling.

"Adjust your targets, bring it down a bit. And then you know if something does go wrong, beyond your control, you're not going to finish up with the same [high contact] circumstances as an outcome," Annesley said.

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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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