Some interesting rule changes over the years.

The Laws of Rugby League

Sean Fagan of

Playing Laws 1895-1908

A summary of rule changes made in England by the Northern Union (NU/RFL) between 1895 and 1908, together with a full copy of 1908 laws (as used by the NSWRL, QRL & NU) are reproduced in the book Pioneers of Rugby League.

Overview of Amendments: 1909-present
As played by the NSWRL/NRL

Please note this is not an exhaustive list of all rule changes, nor does it provide a full explanation of all amendments.

This list is applicable to the NSWRL/NRL premiership only.

1909 Maximum of three forwards in front row of the scrum; other rows remain unrestricted.

1920 Scrum half required to roll ball into scrum.

1922 Goal from ‘fair catch/mark' and soccer-style ‘field goal' abolished.

1925 A second football provided at the touch-line to eliminate delays during all first-class matches.

1926 Goal-line drop-out (instead of from the 25-yard line) after defender makes ball dead; play-the-ball modernised - only marker and man playing the ball to be involved in contest for the ball, and marker to keep both feet on ground until ball is dropped or placed.

1931 Defending halfback to feed scrum (previously the attacking half-back fed scrum), with attacking side having the loose-head. The ‘3-2-1' scrum formation made mandatory. Scrums to be set minimum of 10 yards from touch and minimum of 5 yards from goal line. Off-side player at time of play-the-ball to be penalised if not making attempt to get on on-side and/or interferes/obstructs opposing player(s).

1932 Hooker must have both arms over props (loose-arm rule); penalty extended to include optional scrum (instead of ‘free kick').

1948 Front rows cannot pack against each other until ordered by referee.

1951 Five-yard ruck rule introduced (for one season only) to both teams; previously there had been a ‘no-yard' ruck rule.

1952 No-yard ruck rule reinstated; dummy-half and second-marker to both stand one yard behind the two men at the play-the-ball.

1954 Tap penalty introduced, with offending team to retire 10 yards.

1956 Three-yard ruck rule applied to both teams, with no minimum distance for dummy-half and second-marker.

1959 Abolition of tap penalty.

1961 Dummy-half caught with ball resulted in a scrum (rescinded after 1962 season).

1963 Ball from scrum to come out from behind the second-rowers; non-offending team given feed and loose-head for scrum from penalties (including after kick to touch); teams can replace a maximum of two injured players up to and including halftime .

1964 Scrums minimum of 10 yards from goal-line; place kickoff from halfway line to restart play after unconverted try; penalty at halfway if kickoff out on the full.

1966 Five-yard ruck rule implemented (applied to both teams i.e. attackers and defenders).

1967 Four-tackle rule replaced unlimited tackles; tap penalty reintroduced; scrum replaced by tap kick for restart after penalty kick into touch.

1968 Restart after attacking team makes ball dead: 25-yard optional kick.

1969 Front row to pack ‘square' in the scrums.

1970 Two replacements for injured players allowed at any time during a game, provided those replacements had played at least half of a lower-grade game.

1971 Value of field goal reduced from two points to one, and six-tackle rule introduced.

1972 Stopping play for treatment of injured player by ambulanceman replaced by use of club trainer and play continuing (unless serious injury &/or too close to play to allow game to continue).

1981 ‘Sin-bin' and differential scrum penalty introduced; four replacements allowed.

1982 Scrum feed and loose-head given to non-offending team.

1983 Value of try increased to four points; handover after sixth tackle if caught in possession.

1986 Twenty-metre restart when ball caught on full in in-goal by defending team.

1987 ‘Head-bin' introduced (players suffering minor head injuries allowed to return to the field of play after 10 minutes without affecting team's quota of replacements). A team kicking ball into touch in own half of the field, up to the fourth tackle, earned right to feed the ball at ensuing scrum (rule suspended before NSWRL 1987 play-offs).

1988 Two fresh reserves allowed.

1989 Handover if on the sixth tackle the attacking team knocks on, kicks out on the full, or runs into touch. At scrums, backs (apart from half-back) to stand back a minimum of 5m.

1990 In-goal touch judges used in finals series. Off-side kick chasers to remain 10m (increased from 5m) away from opponent taking possession of the ball.

1991 Penalty against defender stripping the ball from opponent in possession (later changed to allow one-on-one strips). Interchange rule introduced, allowing four players (two of whom could be fresh reserves and two of whom must have played half a game in the preceding Reserve Grade or President's Cup) unlimited interchanges throughout a match. This rule was brought in primarily to cut down the risk of the spread of blood-borne diseases. By April an angry public reaction forced a modification which provided for a maximum of four players to be available for a total of six interchanges in a match. Players sent to the ‘blood-bin' did not count among these six interchanges.

1993 Ten-metre rule introduced mid-season.

1996 Unlimited interchange re-introduced.

1997 Striking in the play-the-ball banned; deletion of minimum distance for attacking team behind dummy-half; ‘40/20' kicking rule introduced; new guidelines introduced to combat ‘dangerous throws'.

1998 ‘Zero tackle' introduced; video referee introduced.

1999 Field goal (drop goal) still awarded even if touched in flight by defender.

2001 Defending player jumping to take a catch from opponent's kick cannot be tackled mid-air. Team finding touch from the 20m optional re-start to feed scrum. If the defending team takes the ball dead from a kick (e.g. placing one foot over the dead ball line before playing at the ball) from anywhere on the field it must re-start play with a drop-out from beneath its own posts. Defending team could strip ball in the tackle if no more than two tacklers. Limited interchange rule re-introduced - 4 replacements and max. 12 interchanges.

2003 'Golden Point' extra-time introduced to decide drawn games (in NRL).

2004 When attacking player is held up in-goal, play-the-ball 10 metres from goal-line.

2007 Tap from penalty kick to be taken 20 metres infield (rescinded after 2008).

2008 Interchanges reduced from 12 to 10. Second tackler permitted to strip ball if attacker attempting to place ball for a try.

2009 Assistant on-field referee introduced. Penalty applied against defender where kicker is tackled whilst in the air.

Original compilation by Sean Fagan of RL1908 for and on behalf of the NRL © 2007
Full copy of 1908 laws are reproduced in Pioneers of Rugby League.

"The Master: The Life & Times of Dally Messenger"

"Pioneers of Rugby League"





























































Comment Guidelines: The SportsTG Network is made up of players, families and passionate sports followers like you who have a strong opinion about sport. That's great - we want you to have your say and share your thoughts with the world. However, we have a few rules that you must follow to keep it fun for all. Please don't be rude, abusive, swear or vilify others. Apart from some pretty serious sport sanctions, we also can ban you and report you if things get out of hand. So play fair and have fun, and thanks for your contribution.

Photo Gallery