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Abdo confident players will handle increased need for speed

NRL CEO Andrew Abdo is adamant players will be able to handle the speed of the game in 2021 but said player welfare remained crucial after eight rule changes were announced on Friday.

The ARL Commission's changes to the game will come into effect next season following recommendations by the NRL's innovations committee, which included leading coaches Craig Bellamy and Ricky Stuart.

While the two-point field goal headlined the changes, the speed of the game looks set for another increase after play was already quickened last season with the introduction of the six-again rule.

This set restart rule will now also apply to 10-metre offside infringements, while scrums will be replaced with a play-the-ball when the ball or a player in possession crosses the touchline.

With a shorter pre-season of one trial for each club next year, Abdo believed the changes would not affect player burnout fears leading into a full 2021 calendar that includes the World Cup in October.

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"It's hard to judge off just one season … 2020 was an unusual season, we had a shortened pre-season and there wasn't a lot of respite for the players," Abdo said.

"We have to be cognisant of the overall player welfare issue and speed of the game, which is why we didn't consider reducing the interchange.

"I think there's an ebb and flow. There will be natural stoppages and breaks. We wanted to keep [most] scrums in the game, that is a stoppage that does allow teams to reset and draw defenders in."

Abdo said the ARL Commission had given the newly formed innovations committee further room to explore more ideas both on and off the field.

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He acknowledged the changes wouldn't be well recieved by everyone, but added the code wanted to keep pushing forward after consultation with players, coaches, fans and match officials.

"Everyone is naturally reluctant to change because we have to adapt and evolve but the outcome was we think it's going to add to our game on a net basis," Abdo said.

"I think the game was [played] terrific this year but it doesn't mean we stay still, we always need to invest in the game of rugby league.

"Not just on the field, the Commission is giving us the mandate to think about innovation beyond just on the field.

"The fans want free-flowing football and faster action within reason. If some of the changes don't work we'll be the first to review it."

Abdo said the general feedback around the use of trainers dealing with players and injuries initiated a two-minute rule, which will mean an injured player will leave the field for at least two minutes for assessment.

"The purpose of that is the feedback around sometimes the momentum of the game stopping unnecessarily, by trainers who signal to referees for injuries," he said.

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"The ability to do that [stop play] is always there. All we've done is when that happens there must be an automatic interchange or the player must go off for two minutes to be assessed.

"All that does is make sure if a player is injured there's an avenue to protect their safety and there isn't an opportunity for some teams to take advantage of that.

"It's to protect the club and players to avoid any confusion – the two-minute rule has been brought in to do that."