The NRL has warned star players could be rubbed out of the finals series if high rates of foul play continue over the coming weeks.
Speaking at his weekly briefing on Monday, NRL head of football Graham Annesley said there had been a “disturbing” spike in on-field misconduct in round 21.
Forty three of the 92 penalties handed down in round 21 were for foul play, which encompasses dangerous tackles, professional fouls and contrary conduct.
The NRL’s match review committee laid 22 charges following round 21’s games – up from 17 in round 20 and nine in round 19.
Annesley said the “most disturbing” aspect of the surge was 17 of 22 charges were for players with prior records.
“It is a disturbing trend; it’s one that I hope is a bit of a glitch and will settle down over the next few weeks. One thing’s for certain – things won’t be backing off,” Annesley told reporters.
Annesley speculated the increase in charges could be linked with the hot competition for finals spots, or the difficulties of living in the league’s southeast Queensland bubble.
All NRL teams are currently subject to strict Level 4 Biosecurity Protocols that prohibit players from leaving their hotel rooms unless training, playing or conducting an essential task.
Meanwhile, the dogfight in the middle of the NRL ladder means all teams ranked 7-13 are vying for the two remaining finals spots.
“I know emotions are starting to run a little bit higher and we’re getting close to the finals and so everything ratchets up a few notches,” he said.
“I know players are living away from home and we’ve had the bubbles and all of the frustrations that go with Covid and it’s been a tough year.
“But we’ve got to make sure that players remain in control of their emotions on the field and they don’t let those emotions boil over.
“We’re still four weeks from the finals but if we’ve got finals teams that find themselves with these types of players committing these types of offences and we get to round 25, teams face the prospect of playing finals without some of their players.”
Annesley said those with prior records at the judiciary faced the prospect of being suspended for offences that would result in fines for those without a history of on-field misconduct.
“I don’t know whether it’s that or I don’t know whether perhaps it’s just that the type of player who does find themselves falling foul of the rules from time to time just have trouble containing their emotions on the field,” he said.