The NRL could implement a new bunker policy as soon as next year after they declared their final-round experiment a success.
Under protocols trialled in two matches, referees only referred decisions to the bunker if their on-field decision was that of a no-try.
In all other cases, a try was awarded before the bunker quickly reviewed footage to see if it needed further analysis before the kicker lined up his conversion.
The results were significant. According to NRL figures, Manly’s loss to the Warriors ran for just shy of 96 minutes despite 14 tries being scored with just one stoppage for the bunker.
In the other experimental match between Brisbane and North Queensland, nine tries were scored as the game lasted 97 minutes with three bunker referrals.
In comparison, Canberra’s win over Cronulla using the normal process took 110 minutes with eight bunker referrals. That did, however, include a stoppage for a referee injury.
“The figures speak for themselves with the use of the bunker,” NRL head of football Graham Annesley said. “One of the primary reasons for that is the stoppages we have for bunker referrals.
“When you reduce the bunker referrals, you obviously reduce the amount of time it takes to play a game.”
Annesley said that could mean the process could be used in all games in 2021, pending NRL meetings over the off-season.
“Absolutely [we would look at implementing this full time], all of these things will be fully explored,” he said. “What the experimental rule we used on the weekend in these two games allowed us to do was still to have that level of accuracy but without stopping the game.
“In terms of accuracy we didn’t lose anything. In terms of the amount of times the referee referred to the bunker, we saw a significant reduction.”
Notably, no balls were kicked into touch in the two experimental games, meaning the handover did not replace the scrum at all. However that could be considered a success, as it arguably prompted the four teams to keep the ball in play.
Meanwhile, there was no significant difference in the amount of penalties or repeat set numbers with offsides awarded as six-agains.