Longitudinal changes in Super League match locomotor and event characteristics: A league-wide investigation over three seasons in rugby league

Gordon Rennie, Brian Hart, Nicholas Dalton-Barron, Dan Weaving, Sean Williams, Ben Jones

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The 2019 and 2020 Super League (SL) seasons included several competition rule changes. This study aimed to quantify the difference between the 2018, 2019 and 2020 SL seasons for duration, locomotor and event characteristics of matches. Microtechnology and match event data were analysed from 11 SL teams, comprising 124 players, from 416 competitive matches across a three-year data collection period. Due to an enforced suspension of league competition as a consequence of COVID-19 restrictions, and subsequent rule changes upon return to play, season 2020 was divided into season 2020 a (i.e. Pre-COVID suspension) and season 2020 b (i.e. Post-COVID suspension). Duration, locomotor variables, and match events were analysed per whole-match and ball-in-play (BIP) periods with differences between seasons determined using mixed-effects models. There were significant (ρ ≥ 0.05) reductions in whole-match and BIP durations for adjustables and backs in 2019 when compared to 2018; albeit the magnitude of reduction was less during BIP analyses. Despite reduced duration, adjustables reported an increased average speed suggesting reduced recovery time between bouts. Both forwards and adjustables also experienced an increase in missed tackles between 2018 and 2019 seasons. When comparing 2019 to 2020 a, adjustables and backs increased their average speed and distance whilst all positional groups increased average acceleration both for whole-match and BIP analyses. When comparing 2020 a to 2020 b, all positional groups experienced reduced average speed and average acceleration for both whole-match and BIP analyses. Forwards experienced an increased number of tackles and carries, adjustables experienced an increased number of carries, and backs experienced an increased number of missed tackles when comparing these variables between season 2020 a and 2020 b. Rule changes have a greater effect on whole-match duration and locomotor characteristics than those reported during BIP periods which suggests the implemented rule changes have removed stagnant time from matches. Amendments to tackle related rules within matches (e.g., introduction of the ‘six-again’ rule) increases the number of collision related events such as carries and tackles.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere0260711
Number of pages14
JournalPLoS ONE
Issue number12
Early online date2 Dec 2021
Publication statusPublished - 31 Dec 2021

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General


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