The NSWRL will introduce a limited interchange system in Junior Rugby League this season to continue its commitment to make the game accessible for all players and address any safety concerns about weight and age.
The NSW Junior Rugby League season kicks off on 6 April and some of the new initiatives will be on show at a special Junior League and Volunteer Recognition Day at the NSWRL Centre of Excellence at Sydney Olympic Park on Sunday 24 March.
The limited interchange system is part of the NSWRL’s whole of game approach to make Rugby League fun and safe for all players and ages with some of the other initiatives including a weight dispensation scheme, Monarch Blues Tag (non-tackle), Fast Footy and Try League (culturally and linguistically diverse communities).
The limited interchange system will apply from age 13 to open age groups and will see Junior Rugby League teams allowed to make 10 interchanges a game from seven players on the bench.
Having previously operated under an unlimited interchange system, the implementation of limited interchange coupled with the new weight dispensation guidelines, aims to promote the endurance component of the sport and level the playing field between bigger and smaller players.
The new rule will apply to conference competitions managed by the NSWRL in collaboration with Junior Rugby League Districts after the successful implementation of similar limited interchange initiatives already being run in western Sydney.
While the new initiatives will assist aspiring Junior League players entering the junior representative pathway which operates similar interchange rules, it also aims to address any concerns parents may have about weight and age discrepancies.
“Rugby League has always been an inclusive sport and we want to make it available to all children to come and try,” General Manager – Football, Barrie-Jon Mather said.
“We have introduced a number of strong initiatives with regards to weight and age to help allay any safety concerns parents might have.
“We also have a non-tackle program in Monarch Blues Tag which allows children to learn all the skills of Rugby League without any of the concerns about contact, and a Try League program which encourages children from culturally and linguistically diverse communities to try the sport too.
“Rugby League is not only a fun sport but a great way to make new friends and I would encourage all children to sign up and give it a go this season.”
St Christophers coach Grant Hanratty said he was looking forward to the limited interchange system that would impact on his son and halfback Jack Hanratty, 13, and teammate Kobe Pepene, 12.
“I think it will definitely bring back the little halfbacks being able to run around the bigger guys later on in the game when the big guys get tired,” Hanratty said.
“It’s a positive move instead of being able to roll on big guy after big guy after big guy unlimited. It will certainly slow the game down a little bit and bring all players back into it.”
The NSWRL piloted a weight dispensation initiative (guidelines below) last year which allows any child in the bottom 15 percentile of their weight range the option to drop down an age group and play against children more in line with their own weight and size.
- U6: N/A
- U7: players 21kg or under may play U6
- U8: players 23kg or under may play U7
- U9: players 26kg or under may play U8
- U10: players 29kg or under may play U9
- U11: players 33kg or under may play U10
- U12: players 37kg or under may play U11
- U13: players 42kg or under may play U12
- U14: players 48kg or under may play U13
- U15: players 53kg or under may play U14
- U16: players 55kg or under may play U15
- U17: players 58kg or under may play U16
Female only competitions:
- U14 – Players turning 13 in the current year and;
- 38kg or under may play in U12 female only competitions
- 42kg or under may play in U12 mixed competitions
- U16 – Players turning 15 in the current year and 44kg or under may play U14
- U18 – Players turning 17 in the current year and 48kg or under may play U16
St Johns Eagles coach Fady Ghanem applauded the weight dispensation scheme which had afforded John Ghalouhi, 8, the chance to drop down an age group and play with his seven-year-old son, James Ghanem.
“I’m a schoolteacher so I think it’s a great idea,” Ghanem said.
“It keeps these kids involved in Rugby League.
“Johnny’s parents wouldn’t let him play because they were worried about his size so the fact he’s playing with his friends in a lower age group - he’s smaller than my son who’s younger than him – has made the difference between him playing Rugby League and not playing Rugby League.
“At this age it’s all about having fun so the fact that they’re with their friends is the most important thing.”
The NSWRL is also trialling a Fast Footy Competition for Under-13 players who weigh 68 kilograms and under across all Sydney Junior Rugby League districts. Registrations have already commenced and player eligibility is determined by NSWRL Guidelines for Weight Restricted Competitions.*
The NSWRL has already addressed issues regarding contact with the introduction of its Monarch Blues Tag program which allows children to learn all the skills of Rugby League without any of the concerns about tackling.
To date, there have been 115 teams ranging from Under 9s to open age group for the 2019 season. Only odd age number groups (Under 9s, Under 11s, Under 13s, etc) can register to play Blues Tag, with the options after that to play tackle in even age number groups, or play up a year and continue to play Blues Tag.
The initiatives the NSWRL are adopting are already having a positive impact with registrations up by more than 2.5 per cent from the corresponding stage last season (there were 42,000 players registered in total in Junior Rugby League competitions in 2018).
* Any team who nominates for a Weight Restricted Competition must be weighed and deemed eligible by a NSWRL official. Once weighed and deemed eligible or ineligible, a player will not be required to be weighed again during the season.