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NRL goes bold with plans to revolutionise the game

The NRL is investigating new technology involving the placement of microchips in footballs which could enable match officials to rule instantly on forward passes and other controversial decisions instantly.

Initial discussions have commenced with an English-based company with hopes of testing the technology as soon as possible. The NRL's head of football Graham Annesley has had early talks with the company with Annesley declaring the technology as "the most promising development of its type I have seen".

Discussions are still in the early stages with a lot of detail yet to be determined. Pending Commission approval and successful testing the earliest the technology would be introduced would be in 2022.


"I'm encouraged by the discussions and I've had a number of meetings with the company but there is a long way to go," Annesley said.


"It's not just a matter of me being comfortable the technology, once I have all the necessary information the Commission needs to be fully briefed so it can evaluate the costs against the intended benefits to ensure any proposal would deliver value for money for the game's stakeholders.


"We also need to further explore how it may be possible to offset some of these costs by generating revenue from a broader use of the data it produces".


Under the proposal, the ball would have a microchip implanted and players would wear a small transmitter which sits alongside the GPS unit they currently wear for every match.


Receivers would be placed around the grounds on the fence or on tripods. The data is then transmitted from the ball and the players to each of these receivers directly into a computer program.


The data received from the units in the ball and on the players, digitally replicates what is happening on the field in real time.

The 2022 season could see the introduction of the new technology.
The 2022 season could see the introduction of the new technology.

The technology tracks each of those components and in theory it should be instantly identifiable if players are onside or off-side from kicks, if the ball has gone forward or back and the direction the ball comes out of the hands when passed.

"From an officiating perspective these are the areas we would initially prioritise," Annesley said.

"In the case of decision making during play it can happen two ways - it can be set up so the information immediately goes to the bunker and the bunker advises the referee. It can also be set up in a way that it is automatically programmed to inform the referee verbally through a computer program.

"When a pass is thrown it has the potential to automatically relay a message to the referee if the ball has travelled forward out of the hands.

The NRL plans to hold further meetings with the company next month after promising initial discussions.

The technology also has other potential uses outside of officiating the NRL is investigating.

Graham Annesley is excited about the potential of the innovations.
Graham Annesley is excited about the potential of the innovations.

"This is a huge potential innovation - and not just for officiating," Annesley said.

"There are a range of possibilities including the provision of information to fans through our existing digital channels and broadcast partners.

"We want to see it in action in the first instance so we can brief the Commission on its effectiveness and seek approval to continue discussions. It's all very well to talk about the theory, but we need to see what it is really capable of."

Other sports are also exploring the use of the technology.

Originally published as NRL goes bold with plans to revolutionise the game