The RFL have announced some important changes to their operation rules for the 2020 season.

The biggest change is to the squad declaration rules, with clubs now having to name 21-man squad prior to each fixture and facing sanctions for any unauthorised changes.

There have been amendments to the rules surrounding amateurs playing for professional clubs and dual registration, so check out our explainer below to find out more…

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What are the changes to the squad declaration rules?

Clubs will be required to name 21-player squads for the 2020 season and face losing interchanges for any brought in from outside that number, the RFL confirmed on Friday.

Previously, clubs in Super League, the Championship and League One had been required to submit 19-man squads by noon 48 hours before each fixture in their respective league or Challenge Cup or 1895 Cup.

However, that number has been increased by three for next season – with the caveat that each player brought into the match-day 17 squad from outside the initially declared 21 will mean the loss of one of the eight interchanges permitted during games.

Squad declaration changes key points

  • 21-man squads to be submitted at noon two days before a game
  • Reduction of one interchange per player named in the match-day 17 from outside the initial 21
  • Exemptions for unavailable dual-registered and suspended players

    Exceptions to the reduction of interchanges have been made for if a team loses a dual-registered player who was named in the 21 but then recalled by his parent club, or if a player chosen is then suspended by a tribunal – for example at a Tuesday hearing ahead of a Thursday night fixture.

    In any other exceptional circumstances, clubs would be required to seek permission from the RFL to make changes to the declared squad without losing interchanges.

    Why have the changes been made?

    The squad declaration rules came into focus in July, when Warrington Wolves named Stefan Ratchford in the starting line-up for their Challenge Cup semi-final against Hull FC despite him not being in the initial 19-man squad.

    Stefan Ratchford played in Warrington's cup semi-final despite not being named in the initial 19-man squad Stefan Ratchford played in Warrington's cup semi-final despite not being named in the initial 19-man squad Stefan Ratchford played in Warrington’s cup semi-final despite not being named in the initial 19-man squad

    The Wolves had also raised a few eyebrows earlier in the month when they named a 21-man squad for the Super League clash with Castleford Tigers after Harvey Livett and Luis Johnson returned from their loan spell with Hull Kingston Rovers.

    The RFL have made the changes in an effort to ensure such situations do not arise again, with the addition of a clear sanction for any breaches of the rules.

    “The change to the squad declaration system was proposed in response to feedback from various sections of the game, including supporters and the media,” RFL chief regulatory officer Karen Moorhouse said.

    “As with all the other changes, we will monitor the impact of the changes carefully through the 2020 season.”

    Bradford's Easter Monday win over a depleted St Helens in 2004 Bradford's Easter Monday win over a depleted St Helens in 2004 Bradford’s Easter Monday win over a depleted St Helens in 2004

    The squad declaration rules were originally brought in 14 years ago, partly as a response to the betting scandal which arose following the 2004 Easter Monday fixture between St Helens and Bradford Bulls where the Bulls won 54-8 after Saints fielded a team without 11 first-choice players.

    Initially, Super League teams were required to name a 20-man squad 72 hours before each fixture before being cut to 18 24 hours before kick-off.

    Those rules were amended in 2009 to require a 19-man squad to be named at noon two days before a match, with medical authentication to be provided for subsequent withdrawals or replacements.

    What are the changes to the registration rules?

    The biggest change relates to amateur players, with a limited number now being able to be registered by Championship and League One clubs while still being able to play for their community clubs.

    League One sides will be able to register up to 10 amateur players for the season and Championship clubs will be able to register up to five.

    Under the previous rules, amateur players could only join a professional club on a one-month trial basis before having to either sign a contract or return to playing in the amateur ranks.

    Super League clubs will be able to register up to two amateur players for fixtures in the new RFL Reserve League as well, while all clubs involved in that competition will be able to include an additional two university players in their reserve squads.