Background A late hit in rugby league is when a player is tackled after passing or kicking the ball and is deemed player misconduct by the National Rugby League (NRL). During the 2019 season, the NRL cracked down on late hits as the struck player is typically in a vulnerable position and/or unaware and unable to brace for the impact.
Objective To (1) identify body regions of contact for striking and struck players involved in late hits, (2) compare the anthropometrics of striking and struck players involved in late hits and (3) compare the rate of late hit penalties before and after the crackdown.
Design Descriptive observational study.
Setting NRL 2019 regular season.
Main Outcome Measurements Body regions of contact for striking and struck players as determined by two independent video reviewers and subsequent consensus. Height and weight of striking and struck players as per the NRL player profile. Late hit penalty rate calculated on a per game basis.
Results A total of 29 late hit penalties were identified, most of which involved the shoulder of the striking player (73%) impacting the back (52%) or side (28%) of the struck player. The majority of the striking players were forwards (93%) with a mean height and weight of 1.89±0.05 m and 106.3±5.8 kg, respectively, which were significantly greater (p<0.001) than struck players (mean height, 1.82±0.07 m; mean weight, 91.4±8.4 kg) who were predominantly backs (79%). Before the crackdown, there were 0.12 late hit penalties per game, which increased to 0.18 per game after the crackdown.
Conclusions A typical late hit involved the shoulder of a larger player colliding with the back or side of a smaller player. The rate of late hit penalties increased after a crackdown by the NRL suggesting that referees were more vigilant in penalising late hits.
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