Hawkeye for offside rulings could land next year

The NRL is hopeful advancements in Hawkeye technology could result in the Bunker using simulated offside lines to rule on tries from kicks as early as the 2020 season.

Recent trials of the virtual line – using similar technology to that seen in the English Premier League – have been conducted over the past two months in NRL fixtures, with head of football Graham Annesley to meet Hawkeye developers this week.

The trials come as the NRL also explore technology that could definitively rule on forward passes, though the off-side lines are much more advanced in terms of both development and accuracy.

The use of a virtual line on replays would allow video officials to determine whether kick chasers are onside, without current pitfalls that occur when camera angles are obscured.  

NRL officials are confident the technology has advanced markedly since it was first explored in 2017, with Annesley hopeful it could be used in play at the start of next season.

"Over the last 2-3 months we have been talking to Hawkeye, our technology partner in the Bunker, not only about forward passes, which is a much more difficult one, but also about offside lines," Annesley said.

"[The aim is] to determine without doubt whether a player is in front of the kicker or not.

"And that one's much further advanced at this point. I am hopeful that that might be introduced as early as next season."

Mooted for several years, the offside technology is far more complex than simply photoshopping lines onto replay screenshots.

The uneven nature of most every rugby league ground, in particular suburban venues, has effected the Hawkeye technology's accuracy.

The NRL has previously conducted 3D scans of playing surfaces around the game to be factored into the technology.

The cost of introducing similar technology has also reportedly led to A-League bosses baulking at replicating the Premier League's 3D imaging of off-side calls.

Forward passes came to a head over the weekend after several contentious rulings, led by Warriors skipper Roger Tuivasa-Sheck being denied what would have been a match-winning try assist by a line-ball decision from on-field officials.

The NRL allowed video referees to rule on forward passes for one season in 1999, scrapping the concept after one season as camera angles rarely permitted for a definitive call.

Annesley said that any Hawkeye technology to be used on forward passes would only be implemented in try-scoring situations, and would need to measure what direction the ball travels at the moment it leaves a players hands.

"I asked the question as to what technology is feasibly possible to measure the ball as it comes out of the hands and the movement of the players hands," Annesley said.

"Because that's the only thing that matters in forward passes.

"I was told that similar types of technology exist and are being developed around limb tracking and tracking the movement of players around the field.

"We want to be convinced that it has a high degree of accuracy.

"But if we can determine this one way or another I think it can certainly be of great benefit to the game. Often these last passes leading up to tries are the ones that cause the most angst with fans and clubs."