NRL 2024 Update: Visa Problems, Rule Changes & More

A sense of uncertainty looms over the upcoming National Rugby League (NRL) double-header scheduled at the Allegiant Stadium in Las Vegas on March 2

Brisbane Broncos, Sydney Roosters, South Sydney Rabbitohs and Manly Sea Eagles are scheduled to take part in the NRL showcase event, but administrative issues are complicating matters.

Read on as we look at the hurdles league bosses must overcome, before assessing some of the other latest news from Australia’s top rugby league competition.

Visa Issues Give NRL Unwanted Headache

With just over a month remaining before the highly anticipated matches, the clubs are grappling with a lack of information on elements such as visas, medical insurance and training facilities in the United States.

They are now urgently seeking a meeting with NRL Chief Executive Peter V’Landys due to mounting concerns and confusion surrounding player visas for the event.

The situation has led to palpable frustration among the teams, prompting them to reach out to V’Landys for clarification.

The initial advice from the NRL regarding player travel to the US suggested the use of an Electronic System for Travel Authorisation (ESTA). 

However, that advice has since changed, and players are now presented with three entry options – an athletes’ visa, a visitors’ visa and ESTA. The NRL has also cautioned that players with a history of arrests could face challenges in gaining entry into the US.

This confusion has raised valid concerns among the participating clubs, given the significance of the Las Vegas event and the potential impact on player availability. 

While expressing support for the venture into the US, Rabbitohs boss Blake Solly has highlighted the pressing need for the NRL to address the number of questions raised by the concerned teams.

Rule Changes Spark Controversy

There is more than one problem ahead of the NRL double-header in the US. The NRL is also making changes to the rules, adding another layer of controversy to proceedings

They have implemented a rule change regarding short kick-offs and drop-outs, aiming to foster increased contested ball situations, particularly in the absence of scrums or rucks for teams to challenge.

Under the new rule, failed short kick-offs and drop-outs will no longer result in penalties. Instead, a play-the-ball will be awarded if the ball goes out on the full or into touch without covering the mandatory ten metres.

This alteration in the rulebook is a strategic move to encourage teams to attempt more short restarts, thereby leading to a more vibrant and competitive playing environment.

The NRL’s decision is grounded in data, with a notable 44% surge in attempted short drop-outs observed since 2021.

However, critics have voiced concerns that this rule change might diminish the frequency of forced drop-out attempts and potentially pave the way for negative tactics, such as intentionally kicking the ball over the sideline.

Graham Annesley, the NRL’s Head of Football, has emphasised the league’s desire for greater contested ball situations, particularly involving players with aerial prowess. 

The rule change is the 20th in the past five years, reflecting a trend of frequent modifications in the NRL under the leadership of ARLC chairman V’landys.

Bookies Tip Panthers & Broncos to Dominate

As the NRL season approaches, sports bettors alike are gearing up for what promises to be an action-packed and thrilling competition. 

Australian punters have been focusing on horse racing betting over the past few months, but will soon be switching their attention to the NRL.

The best sites for betting are poised to be overwhelmed with wagers, particularly on the Penrith Panthers, who are gunning for a fourth consecutive NRL championship.

The Panthers are 3.75 favourites to defend their crown, while Brisbane Broncos can be backed at odds of 4.50 to knock them off their perch. Here are the NRL title odds ahead of the 2024 season.

  • Penrith Panthers – 3.75
  • Brisbane Broncos – 4.50
  • South Sydney Rabbitohs – 9.50
  • Sydney Roosters – 10.00
  • Melbourne Storm – 11.00
  • North Queensland Cowboys – 19.00
  • New Zealand Warriors – 19.00
  • Cronulla Sharks – 23.00
  • Parramatta Eels – 23.00
  • Newcastle Knights – 26.00
  • Manly Sea Eagles – 29.00
  • Gold Coast Titans – 34.00
  • Canterbury Bulldogs – 41.00
  • Dolphins – 41.00
  • Canberra Raiders – 51.00
  • St George Illawarra Dragons – 81.00
  • Wests Tigers – 101.00

Aussies Handed a Shot at the NFL

Former Brisbane Broncos development squad member Jotham Russell is one of the two Australians chosen for the 2024 class of the NFL’s International Player Pathway program.

Russell, who played as a prop for Tweed Seagulls Under 21 team in 2023, is set to embark on a transformative journey to the United States.

He will undergo intensive training in March, showcasing his skills in front of scouts who hold the key to unlocking his pathway to an NFL roster.

The International Player Pathway program is designed to provide opportunities for 16 international athletes to secure a spot in the NFL.

It has previously witnessed success stories, with Cowboys centre Valentine Holmes participating in the program in 2019.

Holmes joined the New York Jets’ practice squad and featured in pre-season games before returning to Australia to sign a multimillion-dollar contract with North Queensland a year later.

The program not only serves as a platform for individual athletes to make their mark on the international stage but also symbolises the growing global appeal and inclusivity of American Football.

Russell is anticipated to feature as a defensive lineman and is one of only two Australians alongside Patrick Murtagh on the list of 16 athletes named by the NFL.

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