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NRL open to considering bench changes for injuries

3 minute read

Brisbane coach Kevin Walters has backed calls for changes to NRL interchange rules to deal with injuries, with teams struggling to recover from losing backs.

Kevin Walters.
Kevin Walters. Picture: Bradley Kanaris/Getty Images

Peter V'landys says the NRL is open to considering changes around interchange rules in a bid to deal with the heavy impact of early injuries on match results.

Brisbane coach Kevin Walters on Saturday said he'd back a move to offer more bench options, with data showing a quarter of games have been affected in 2024.

An AAP analysis of 2024 results shows teams have lost at least one winger, centre or fullback to injury at or before half-time in 23 games this year.

The most impacted team has won only six of those 23 games, and lost 17.

No team has won from behind on the scoreboard when losing a back in the first half, and in the majority of cases a lead of at least 12 points has been required to hold on for victory.

In most instances, opposition teams have been able to target backrowers defending out of position at centre and pile on points against teams once an injury has been suffered.

The issue was highlighted again in St George Illawarra's loss to Canterbury on Thursday night, when they went from leading 12-6 when Jack Bird went off injured to being beaten 44-12 with Tom Eisenhuth filling in at centre.

It has prompted calls for coaches to be able to name a six-man bench and choose which four players to activate.

Another option would be for the 18th man to be able to be used once any player suffers a match-ending injury.

"At the end of the year we do a consultation processes with clubs, coaches and players, and they raise these issues at that time," ARL Commission chairman Peter V'landys told AAP.

"We take into account everything across the board and look at it carefully.

"With those numbers it will certainly be raised at the end of the year and it will certainly be looked at. There's no doubt about that.

"We have to evolve all the time and that is why the game is in the sweet spot it is in. We do move with what is required.

"I'm sure there are solutions the coaches will put forward and we will look at them."

One immediate solution could be for coaches to place an outside back on their bench as cover.

But Dragons coach Shane Flanagan has warned that can place forwards at risk of injury under fatigue, if they are not capable of playing big minutes.

Of 16 teams this weekend, only Melbourne with Grant Anderson and Cronulla through Siosifa Talakai named a regular outside back on their bench.

Walters believed it would be well worth the NRL allowing for extended benches or easier use of the 18th man.

"I certainly do (think it would be). It just makes it fair for all teams," Walters said.

"Particularly with foul play. Sometimes there are accidents as well where players get concussed or pick up injuries.

"For players' welfare as well. It makes sense to me.

"We have seen this year, particularly when you lose those outside backs, it makes it very hard."

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