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Super League: Robert Hicks backs rule changes to avoid Nu Brown red card controversy repeat

The RFL made changes to the head contact sentencing framework earlier this week following Nu Brown being sent off for a clash of heads with Ben Currie in Hull FC's defeat to Warrington Wolves; Players and coaches had separate meetings with the RFL over the head contact rules on Wednesday

Picture by Ed Sykes/ - 23/02/2024 - Rugby League - Betfred Super League Round 2 - Warrington Wolves v Hull FC - Halliwell Jones Stadium, Warrington, England - Warrington Wolves' Ben Currie sustains an injury in a challenge from Hull FC's Fa'amanu Brown
Image: Nu Brown's red card in Hull FC's defeat to Warrington sparked changes to rugby league's head contact rules

Robert Hicks is confident changes made to rugby league’s head contact sentencing framework will avoid further incidents such as Nu Brown’s controversial red card.

The Hull FC half-back's dismissal for a head-on-head clash with Ben Currie in the Black and Whites' 36-10 defeat to Warrington Wolves in the Betfred Super League last Friday proved a major talking point and led to the RFL updating its rules, which were amended during the off-season to strengthen punishments for head contact in tackles, ahead of Round 3 of the regular season.

Brown's red card was rescinded by the match review panel as well and former Super League referee Hicks, now director of operations and legal for the governing body, is optimistic the clarification which stipulates the law interpretation only applies to initial contact will avoid a repeat of this incident.

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Hull FC's Nu Brown received a controversial red card for making contact with the head of Warrington Wolves' Ben Currie, which opened up a nasty cut above his eye

"A lot of this was changing in the off-season and you didn't have live matches," Hicks said. "We've now had 11 [Super League matches] and seen some incidents which happen, and until you actually see something in operation, sometimes you do miss things.

"The ideal world would have been the framework made it clear this was purely about initial contact and had something in there which gave referees and match review panel - and everybody, really - to use their rugby league knowledge as a way to get to the right outcome.

"The governing body's aim is to reduce the amount of contact with the head during tackles and the referees play a hugely important part in making sure that is done appropriately.

"All of these discussions, like we have with players and coaches, have to be done with match officials as well. I feel confident this weekend we'll be able to not have the dramas of the last."

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All of these discussions, like we have with players and coaches, have to be done with match officials as well. I feel confident this weekend we'll be able to not have the dramas of the last.
Robert Hicks

The updated rules were presented to Super League coaches and players in separate meetings on Wednesday, which gave those parties opportunities to ask questions and provide their input as well.

There had been concerns expressed by players around the level of fines being levied along with some suspensions by the match review panel as well, although Hicks insisted that was due to the changes to the sentencing framework meaning incidents of head contact were classified at a higher grade than they would have been in the past, rather than a toughening of sanctions for on-field offences.

"The reality of that is the sanctioning framework was agreed on a review of all the sanctioning frameworks two years ago by the clubs, the RFL and the RLPA," Hicks said.

"That hadn't changed this year coming in, more were being caught high up and that was part of the conversation on Wednesday, and something we are reflecting on over the coming weeks.

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Sky Sports pundit Jon Wilkin was fuming with the decision to show a red card to Hull FC's Nu Brown after he made contact with the head of Warrington Wolves' Ben Currie

"The key part of this is our direction of travel is unchanged, we have to reduce down the amount of head contact. But we also have to remember player behaviour change takes time, they're buying in, and we can't lose that buy-in."

The statement issued by the RFL confirming the rule changes at the start of this week conceded referee Marcus Griffiths and his team of official were left "in an invidious position" when deciding to issue a red card to Brown in Hull FC's game at Warrington.

Referees and touch judges have been given a presentation on the amendments ahead of this weekend's round of Super League games as well and Phil Bentham, the RFL's incoming head of match officials, believes they are more at ease with the decision-making process around head contacts.

"They were very, very uncomfortable with the decision and we were straight onto it with Rob to come to a solution which would suit everybody, so we don't have to go into this weekend with that framework holding us back in terms of making sensible decisions," Bentham said.

"That's been dealt with this week, the referees are a lot more comfortable going into the weekend and are aware of exactly where they can use the framework and the mitigations within that to come out with sensible outcomes."

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