Fred Oakhill, 6, and Donnchadh O Cinneide, 6, at Valleys Diehard Rugby League Club in Brisbane. Picture: AAP/Josh Woning
Fred Oakhill, 6, and Donnchadh O Cinneide, 6, at Valleys Diehard Rugby League Club in Brisbane. Picture: AAP/Josh Woning

Junior rugby league tackle ban extended

CONTROVERSIAL new tackling changes will be expanded across Queensland's junior rugby league competitions following a year-long trial in the state's southeast.

Under the new rules, Under-7s throughout the state will be banned from tackling for the first 10 rounds of the year before transitioning into full contact at the end of the season.

Queensland Rugby League board member and former Maroons great Ben Ikin has backed the changes to the state's junior rugby league competitions.

"There's going to be some opposition to it but the game is no stranger to that," Ikin said.

"We need to be conscious of the fact that the game we have been taking to market at various age groups is suffering a decline in participation.

"We need to understand why and make changes to the game so that we can draw more people back and playing.

"It's going to be a lumpy journey but we're doing it for the right reasons."

The decision follows last year's radical shake-up of the sport which saw southeast Queensland a testing ground for a no-premierships and no-tackle program trial.

Last year, Under-6s in junior rugby league competitions across Brisbane, Ipswich and the Gold Coast were outlawed from tackling - instead playing a non-contact version called Tag League.

Results from the trial revealed the rule changes made both players and parents more confident to participate, which has prompted the no-tackling expansion into the Under-7 age group this year.

A Tackle Safe Program will also be implemented for the Under-7s to teach them the correct techniques to ease them into the traditional full contact sport.

Maroons great Ben Iken is supportive of the rule changes.
Maroons great Ben Iken is supportive of the rule changes.

Ikin is also on the NRL Player Development Framework committee, which has been tasked with finding ways to bring kids back into the game.

"The NRL, through this committee, embarked on a whole heap of research," Ikin said.

"Effectively, what the Player Development Framework is trying to build is versions of the game at multiple levels … that meet changing trends.

"The whole idea around the slow introduction to contact is that we needed parents to feel safe and that kids were getting the proper education and (tackling was) phased in over a period of time.

"At the moment, the idea would be no contact for the Under-6s.

"Before kids are allowed to participate in the full contact game, they need to go through the Tackle Safe Program where they learn how to tackle and be tackled.

"It's about taking a responsible approach to what is one of the more difficult components of our game."

The NRL's Retention Survey, conducted in 2017, found that "injury or fear of injury" was a key reason for junior rugby league players to avoid playing the game.

The divisive decision has received both positive and negative feedback from clubs.

Redlands Rugby League Club vice-president Todd Flahey said he was wary about the expansion and what it would do to younger players.

"I'm against the changes, mainly because our numbers dropped," Flahey said.

"The issue is that they're eventually going to have to tackle and what worries me is they will have to learn how to tackle kids in Under-8s who are 40kg up to probably 70kg."

Brisbane Valley Diehards Rugby League Club president Danny Walker understood the reasoning behind the changes but has introduced free registration to Under-6s and Under-7s to combat participation decline.

"I know there's good intentions in providing a safe sport," Walker said.

"Time will tell whether these changes will work. Rugby league is a great sport, fun sport and safe sport.

"To combat this issue, we've provided free registration for Under-6s and Under-7s."

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