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Rugby league

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia


Rugby league is a team sport played by two teams of 17 players, with 13 on the field at any one time and 4 'on the bench' (reserves). Rugby league is one of the two major codes of rugby, the other being rugby union. The aim is to carry an oval ball (correct geometric shape is in the family of spheroid and is a prolate by nature) up the field towards the opposing team's in-goal where the ball is grounded to score a try, worth four points. Having scored the try, the team has the right to attempt to kick a goal worth a further two points if successful. The kick may be taken from any point on an imaginary line parallel with the touch-line and through the point where the try was scored. The opposing team attempts to prevent the attacking team from carrying out this objective by tackling the player with the ball.

Rugby league was initially a breakaway faction of the English Rugby Football Union (RFU) known as the Northern Union and played under the same rules as rugby. When similar breakaway factions occurred from RFU-affiliated Rugby Unions in Australia and New Zealand, in 1907 and 1908 they formed associations known as Rugby Leagues and introduced modified Northern Union rules. The Northern Union later changed its name to the Rugby Football League. Thus, the game became known as rugby league.


Main article: History of rugby league

Like most forms of football, rugby league's roots can be traced to early football history, through the playing of ball games which bear little resemblance to modern sports. It is then important to acknowledge the development of the modern codes and two separate schisms in football history.

In the nineteenth century football was most prominently played in private schools. Each school had its own rules based on whatever playing field that was available to them. The rules could be categorised as either handling or kicking forms of football. The kicking and handling forms were later codified by The Football Association and the Rugby Football Union (RFU) respectively.

In 1895 rugby football was later beset with a schism that resulted in the formation of the Northern Rugby Football Union (NRFU). Although many factors played a part in the split, including the success of working class northern teams to the irritation of the gentry who ran the game, the main division was caused by the RFU decision to enforce the amateur principle of the sport, preventing 'broken time payments' to players who had taken time off work to play rugby. Northern teams typically had more working class players who could not afford to play without this compensation, in contrast to southern teams who had "other" sources of income to sustain the "amateur" way. There were similar movements in other countries. In 1895 a decree by the RFU banning the playing of rugby on pitches where entrance fees were charged led to the famous meeting on 29 August 1895. Twenty-one clubs (plus Stockport who negotiated by telephone) met at The George Hotel in Huddersfield and formed the Northern Rugby Union. Within fifteen years, more than 200 RFU clubs had left to join the rugby revolution.

In 1906 the Northern Union made changes to the laws. The Northern Union adopted the name 'Rugby League' in 1922 and the sport became known as 'Rugby League football' or 'rugby league'.

Playing rugby league

Typical markings for a rugby league field
Typical markings for a rugby league field
Main article: Playing rugby league

Rugby league is played by two teams on a rectangular field with a length generally double the width. The in-goal areas, located at each end of the field, are used to score a try. At the intersection between the field of play and each in-goal area are also a set of goal posts in the shape of a H, used for point scoring via a field goal, penalty goal or conversion. The aim is to score more points than the other team, and each of the above scores carry different numbers of points. Although the exact number for each has varied over time, currently tries are worth four points, conversions and penalty goals are worth two points and a field goal, also known as a drop goal, is worth one point.

Rugby league consists of an attacking team (team with a greater territorial advantage), who has possession of the ball, and a defending team (team opposing the attacking team), who must attempt to stop the attacking team from scoring. In order to score points the attacking team must move up field. To do this they use a combination of kicking and running head-on into the defensive line to either force back the defence or break the defensive line. The defending team must devise tactics to limit the effectiveness of the attacking team's ball running and kicking.

The attacking team has six chances to attempt to score. The defending team tries to stop the attacking team from scoring by tackling the player with the ball. When a player is tackled, the entire defending team, with the exception of two markers, must move back 10 metres towards their own in-goal area. The tackled player must then play the ball.

After each tackle the attacking team is usually closer to the opposition's in-goal area and hence goal posts. If the attacking team is tackled a sixth time, a change over also known as a hand over takes place, where the defending team becomes attacking and vice versa.

Attacking tactics

  • The largest players (usually forwards) generally move the ball up field through what is known as a hit up in order to push back the defence; in other words gain field position.
  • Skillful forwards will attempt to pass the ball after drawing in the defence which breaks down the effectiveness of the defensive line; known as an off-load.
  • The attacking team may use combinations of plays utilising speed, passing and kicking designed to confuse the defence, breaking down the effectiveness of the defensive line.
  • Kicking is most commonly attempted as a method of gaining field position. When an attacking team is struggling to make ground down the field, a kick can be used to return the ball to the opposition team in their half of the field. Close to the opposition try line, kicks are usually used as a last ditch attempt to score. Common kicks are the 'grubber kick', 'bomb', 'chip' and the rare '40-20' where the kicking team gets to feed the scrum. When a team has used all of its tackles, kicks are used to break the defensive line or to gain field position.

Defensive tactics

  • A defending team must effectively defend against ball runners. The sliding defence and the umbrella defence are effective in stopping line breaks.
  • Players in the defence usually drop out of the defensive line to cover the back half of the field in order to defend against line breaks and kicks.
  • A defensive team may force the attacking team in to touch or force errors which gives possession to the defending team.
  • Late during the tackle count an attacking team uses an array of tactics to put themselves in the better defensive position on the opposite side of the hand over'.
  • The Full Back is behind the defensive line marshalling the defence covering gaps in the line. Also he defends against line breaks


The referee's job is to police the rules of the game. In the NRL and ESL the referee is accompanied by two Touch Judges, who watch to see if the ball has gone into touch, or if any incidents happen in back play, and a Video Referee, who is used to review a play at the discretion of the referee


Main article: Rugby league positions

Players on field are divided into forwards and backs. Each position has a designated number, 1 through to 13. Numbers 14 through to 17 are given to players starting on the bench, who will come into the game to replace other players who are injured, in need of a rest, or less suited to the coach's strategy for that particular phase of the game.


The backs are generally smaller and more athletic. Backs are likely the most creative and evasive players on the field, preferring fine skills, tactics and/or set plays to break the defensive line in favour of brute force.

  • The title of full-back comes from the fullback's defensive position where the player drops out of the defence line to cover behind the defensive line from kicks and runners breaking the line. They therefore usually are good catchers and clinical tacklers. In attack the fullback will typically make runs into the attack or support a runner in anticipation of an offload pass out of the tackle. Fullbacks can play a role in attack similar to a halfback or 5/8th and the fact that the fullback doesn't have to defend in the (first) defensive line means that a coach can hide a playmaker from the tackling responsibilities of the first line whilst allowing them to retain their attacking role.
  • The wings (or wing three quarters) are normally the fastest players in a team and play on the far left and right fringes of the field. Their main task is to receive passes and score tries. The wingers also drop back on the last tackle to cover the left and right sides of the field for kicks while the Fullback covers the middle.
  • The centres or centre three-quarters are positioned one in from the wings and together complete what is known as the three-quarter line. Usually the best mixture of power and vision, their main role is to try and create attacking opportunities and defensive duties. Along with the wingers the centres score plenty of tries throught a season.
  • The scrum half (or halfback) is the player who directs the game and are usually the smallest players on the pitch. The scrum half, along with the stand off together form the "creative unit" of the team. They will control the attack, deciding how the team attacks and if, when and where the ball is kicked. This player is also responsible for making sure all the other players are in the right position for an attacking move.
  • The stand off (or 5/8th) can sometimes be the most skillful player and main tactical kicker in the game (usually this role -'playmaker' - is either the scrum half or stand off depending on the coach's preferences). In interaction between the 'playmaker' positions (scrum half, stand off, loose forward and hooker), the stand off will usually be involved in most passing moves. There is not much difference between the five eigth and the halfback only that the halfback receives the ball first. In the early years the halfback gave the ball to the backs while the five eigh gave it to the forwards.

The half-back position is named after the rôle or location of the player with respect to the scrum during the scrum. To understand the half back or any other players role in the scrum, see rugby league positions.


The forwards' two responsibilities can be broken into 'normal play' and 'scrum play'. For information on a forward's role in the scrum see rugby league scrummage. Forward positions are traditionally named after the player's position in the scrum yet are equal with respect to 'normal play' with the exception of the hooker. Forward positions are traditionally broken into:

  • Front row forwards (two prop forwards and a hooker).
    • Props are normally the largest players on field and usually weigh over 100 kilograms or 15 stones in the men's game. They are positioned in the centre of the line. The prop will be an 'enforcer', dissuading the opposition from attacking the centre of the defensive line and in attack give the team momentum by taking the ball up aggressively.
    • The hooker is most likely to play the role of dummy-half In defence the hooker usually defends in the middle of the line against the opposition's props and second-rowers. The hooker will be responsible for organising the defence in the middle of the field. In attack as dummy-half this player is responsible for setting the play from every play-the-ball and passing the ball to the right player. It is vital that the hooker can pass very well. Traditionally, hookers 'hooked' the ball in the scrum. Hookers also make probably more tackles than any other player on the field.
  • Second row forwards, The second row is expected to be faster, more mobile and have more skills than the prop and will play amongst the three-quarters, providing strength in attack and defense when the ball is passed out to the wings. Good second rows combine the skills and responsibilities of props and centres in the course of the game.
  • The loose forward (or lock) is the only forward in the third (last) row of the scrum. They are usually the fittest players on the field, covering the entire field on offensive and defensive duties. Typically they are big ball-runners who can occasionally slot in as a passing link or kick option; it is not uncommon for loose forwards to have the skills of a five eighth and to play a similar role in the team.

For further information on player's positions, see rugby league positions.

Rugby league worldwide

Rugby league is played in more than 30 countries although only three of these play at a competative level. It is most commonly played in the north of England and Australia and some parts of New Zealand although the national sport of New Zealand is Rugby Union. Of these two areas Oceania is generally thought to be the stronger region. Rugby league is popular in the north of England, Australia, parts of New Zealand, and Papua New Guinea, where rugby league is recognised as the national sport.

In Europe, rugby league has struggled to become accepted outside of the "heartland" towns of northern England where the game originated. Despite having had many strong teams historically, rugby ŕ treize in France has struggled to compete with rugby union since the Vichy government banned the sport during World War Two. However, early 21st century developments have seen Georgia, Germany, Estonia, Malta, Serbia, Argentina, Jamaica, Samoa, Tonga and others take part in international rugby league tournaments or matches.

Australia have won every world cup since 1975. Until November 25, 2005, they had also not lost a tournament or series of any kind for nearly thirty years. This record was finally broken when they lost to New Zealand in the final of the 2005 Tri-Nations Series at Elland Road in Leeds. This dominance by Australia over such a long period highlighted the limited reality of rugby league as an international sport.

Rugby League playing nations

See also

  • Rugby league in 2006
  • List of official rugby league organisations
  • List of international rugby league teams
  • List of footballers (rugby league)
  • History of rugby league
  • Rugby League World Cup
  • Rugby League Tri-Nations
  • Super League (Europe)
  • Challenge Cup
  • National Rugby League
  • Rugby league nines
  • Rugby union
  • Rugby football
  • Rugby League State of Origin
  • Touch football - a completely non-contact version of rugby league
  • Tag Football (OzTag) - almost non-contact version of rugby league

External links

  • Rugby League - The best RL FORUMS on the web!
  • The World of Rugby League
  • Rugby League Review - If it's Rugby League, we've got it covered!
  • RugbyLeagueToday Forums
  • Laws of rugby league
  • Official site of premier Australasian league - National Rugby League
  • The Code13 Rugby League Forum
  • Official site of premier European league - Super League
  • Unofficial Rugby League news, stats and blogs
  • Rugby League photographs
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