SAINTS coach Paul Wellens has praised the referees’ department for the way they have given guidance on the way the ruck area will be cleaned up in 2024.

Wellens explained that the club had received numerous visits from match officials during the off-season to explain what the new rules around the ruck area and play-the-ball entail and how they will be enforced.

The Saints boss has long been an advocate of tidying up the rucks has increasingly been rugby league’s bête noir for more than a decade, with the messiness leading to frustration, inconsistencies and a duller spectacle.

Wellens said: “I have got to go on record and pay huge respect to the referees there in terms of their approach throughout the course of pre-season.

“We've had numerous visits from match officials, including head of the referees Dave Elliott in terms of their expectations of us and they've been very clear on their message in how they want to clean up the game.

“That in turn has allowed me the opportunity to give clear messages to our players as well in terms of the standard of what you can and can't do. I think that's really helped us in the way they've been really transparent with us.”

Wellens is strongly in favour of a clean up and believes the product will become a better spectacle in creating a platform for rugby league’s more eye-catching strike players – not just at Saints.

“It's been a frustration for spectators, a frustration for players, coaches and referees and I think the positive steps that the game has taken to be really transparent with everybody in terms of what isn't, isn't an expected standard can only clean the game up.

“If we're honest, as the game, the product over a period of time has started to become diluted because the ruck area has been messy, the play the ball's been messy, the offsides have been messy.

" I've got to pay huge credit to the referees and the way they've approached this and the clarity and the transparency that they're giving us as coaches and the players of all clubs throughout the course of preseason in terms of what is and isn't acceptable.

“I think the early signs are great and we have seen the standard increase in terms of the cleanliness of the game throughout the preseason friendlies.

"If we all work hard together there to continue to want to clean it up, it can only improve the product, which will obviously then improve everything within the game.

“So, let's continue to work out together though to make sure that rugby league continues to grow.”

Even before the tweak to the rules was mooted, Wellens was advocating a change – not least to enhance the spectacle in a very competitive entertainment world.

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“We want to see the more exciting players. We want see the Daryl Clarks and Kruise Leemings inject themselves into the game,” he said.

“We want to see the Jack Welsbys, Bevan Frenches, Jai Fields and Harry Newmans - those players in the competition that are considered strike players - get the ball in space.

“That excites people on the terraces there, but that's not to say that a player like Alex Walmsley can't be as effective.

“I think what the game has done in a really smart way, and if you continues to do it in the right way, is ensure that there's a place for every type of player.

“The game becomes more inclusive. I think we'll start to have an effect at junior level as well.

“And the game will grow, no doubt in 2024, but we need it to grow year on year, but we need it to grow for many years to put rugby league where it should rightfully be as a team sport.”

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Wellens also welcomed the new restart rule where a six again will only be given in the defending team’s half.

Infringements conceded in the ball carrying team’s own half will now result in a penalty to punish teams that were content to concede a six again on play one to enable them to set their line.

Wellens said: “What was happening last year, with the way the rules were, was teams would kick into a corner, and lay on for those first two plays and if you give a six again away it wasn't really a big deal.

“You can't do that anymore. It takes away what we would all consider negative play.

“So the game will speed up. It brings into play, the first couple of players, the more exciting players - your wingers and centres will get time and space.

“That's what people want to see, and that excites the paying public – taking away that negativity and I think we're all a fan of that.”

The rule changes dovetail with the mission to get more eyeballs on the sport from TV and digital platforms, with Rugby League seeking to grow.

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Wellens looks at this with his whole game hat on rather than purely his Saints one – although he feels his side does have the strike to benefit.

“We hope the rules being played this way will benefit us because of the players that we've got, but I'm sure it will do that for every team.

“It makes the games more exciting, not as frustrating to watch, whether you are a coach, player or spectator.

“It makes people want to turn or want to switch the TV.

“I'm certain off the back of this that participation will grow, the numbers of people who want to turn up and watch the game will grow, and that can only be a positive,” he said.

There will be more interviews online this week as build up to the Super League opener, with special content for St Helens Star subscribers.

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