NRL head of football Graham Annesley is hoping the new rule change will also limit concussions. Image by James Gourley/AAP PHOTOS
  • rugby league

NRL hope new kick-off rules reduce concussions

Scott Bailey January 20, 2024

The NRL hope new rules encouraging short kicks-off and dropouts will prompt a reduction in concussions.

The league has ushered in new rules for 2024, with teams no longer penalised for kick-offs and dropouts that go out on the full or do not travel 10 metres.

Instead, receiving teams will now be handed a play-the-ball 10 metres from where the kick was taken, and 10 metres in from touch.

The NRL believe the changes will increase unpredictability in the game, encouraging more contested possessions with shorter kick-offs and dropouts.

But AAP has been told other potential benefits could include concussions.

The majority of the NRL’s heaviest car-crash like collisions come from kick-offs and dropout returns which double when opposition packs charge at each other from great distance.

While data on head knocks from kick-offs and dropouts is yet to be made available, it’s known to have made up a number of last year’s concussions.

The NFL made a point in 2018 to disincentivise long kick-offs, claiming players were four-times more likely to be concussed on the kick-off than other plays.

Further changes around the fair-catch rule to reduce kick-off returns in 2023 were forecast by the NFL to have a 15 per cent drop in concussions on those plays.

NRL head of football Graham Annesley insisted that was not the main reason behind the changes for 2024, but said officials were hopeful it would prompt a reduction in HIAs.

“We certainly considered that as a possible additional benefit of the rule amendment, it could also reduce some of the high impact collisions from kick returns,” Annesley told AAP.

“But it was not the driving factor behind the change. 

“The primary objective was to incentivise more contests for possession and add further unpredictability to restarts. 

“The commission is always striving to make the game as exciting and engaging for fans as possible”.

Some 178 short restarts were attempted last season, a 30 per cent increase on 2022.

Of those, the kicking team only successfully regained possession on 59 occasions.

 James Graham suffered several concussions in his career and is in favour of abolishing kick-offs. Image by Craig Golding/AAP PHOTOS 

Former Canterbury captain and St George Illawarra star James Graham last year suggested the kick-off be abolished, having become a leading voice for action on concussions after suffering several in his career.

“One thing that would eliminate the potential for a head knock happening is the kick-off,” Graham said on his podcast The Bye Round last May.

Because that’s the greatest amount of distance away from one another, which generally tends to suggest the highest impact.

“Eliminate the kick-off. If you had at the top of the pedestal the utmost priority to limit the risk the athlete takes for a concussion, you would remove the kick-off.

“If you had a neuroscientist in here, they’d be saying, get rid of it.”

Graham’s comments were met by opposition from South Sydney coach Jason Demetriou and Cronulla forward Dale Finucane on the podcast at the time.