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Rugby league
Lance hohaia running into the defence (rugby league).jpg
An attacking player attempts to evade two defenders
Highest governing body Rugby League International Federation
Nickname(s) Football, Footy, League, Rugby
First played 1845, Rugby football rules codified in England
7 September 1895, post schism
Contact Full
Team members 17 (13 on field + 4 interchange)
Mixed gender Single
Categorization Outdoor
Equipment Football
Venue Rugby league playing field

Rugby league football,[1] usually called simply rugby league,[2][3][4] is a full-contact form of football, played with a prolate spheroid ball[5] by two teams of thirteen players on a rectangular grass field.[6] One of the two codes of rugby football, over the decades following rugby league's split from the Rugby Football Union in 1895 its rules have been changed, resulting in a faster, more spectator friendly sport.[7][8][9][10]

Frequently cited as the toughest and most physically demanding of any team sport in the world,[11] the primary aim in rugby league is to carry or kick the ball towards the opponent's goal line where points can be scored by grounding the ball; this is called a try.[6] After scoring a try, the team is allowed the chance to try at goal with a conversion - a kick for further points.[6] The opposing team will attempt to stop the attacking side gaining points by preventing their progress up the field by tackling the player carrying the ball.[6]

Rugby league is most prominent in Australia, England, New Zealand and Papua New Guinea, being the national sport in the last.[12] New Zealand are the current World Cup holders as of 2008. France and Wales also have professional teams. The United States is set to have a professional rugby league competition by 2010 or 2011. The game is played at a semi-professional and amateur level in several other countries, such as Samoa, Tonga, Serbia, Fiji, Ireland, Scotland, Russia, Lebanon, Germany, Japan, the United States, Malta and Jamaica.



Rugby league takes its name from the bodies that split to create a new form of rugby football, distinct from that run by the Rugby Football Unions in England, Australia and New Zealand between 1895 and 1908.

The first of these, initially called the 'Northern Rugby Football Union', was established in 1895 as a breakaway faction of England's Rugby Football Union (RFU). Both organisations played the game under the same rules at first, although the Northern Union began to modify rules almost immediately, thus creating a new form of rugby football. Similar breakaway factions split from RFU-affiliated unions in Australia and New Zealand in 1907 and 1908, renaming themselves "rugby football leagues" and introducing Northern Union rules.[13] In 1922, the Northern Union also changed its name to the Rugby Football League[14] and thus over time the sport itself became known as "rugby league" football.


The roots of rugby league 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 football codes and two separate schisms in football history.

In 19th century England, football was most prominently played in private schools. Each school had its own rules based on whatever playing field 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. Rugby football had its origins at Rugby School, Warwickshire, England.

In 1895, a schism in Rugby football resulted in the formation of the Northern Rugby Football Union (NRFU).[15] Although many factors played a part in the split, including the success of working class northern teams, 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 (coal miners, mill workers etc.) who could not afford to play without this compensation, in contrast to southern teams who had other sources of income to sustain the amateur principle. There were similar movements in other countries. In 1895 a decree by the RFU banning the playing of rugby at grounds where entrance fees were charged led to the famous meeting on 29 August 1895. Twenty-two clubs (plus Stockport who negotiated by telephone) met at The George Hotel, Huddersfield in the West Riding of Yorkshire and formed the "Northern Rugby Football Union".[16] Within fifteen years of that first meeting in Huddersfield, more than 200 RFU clubs had left to join the rugby revolution.

In 1897, the line-out was abolished[17] and in 1898 professionalism introduced.[18]

In 1906, the Northern Union changed its rules, reducing teams from 15 to 13 a side and replacing the ruck formed after every tackle with the play the ball.[19]

A similar schism occurred in Sydney, Australia. There on the 8th August 1907 the New South Wales Rugby Football League was founded at Bateman's Hotel in George St.[20] Rugby league then went on to displace rugby union as the primary football code in New South Wales and Queensland.[21]

In 1954 around 120,000 spectators watched the Challenge Cup final in England, setting a new record for attendance at a rugby football match of either code.[20] Also in 1954 the Rugby League World Cup, the first for either code of rugby, was formed at the instigation of the French.

In 1966, the International Board introduced a rule that a team in possession was allowed three play-the-balls and on the fourth tackle a scrum was to be formed. This was increased to six tackles in 1972 and in 1983 the scrum was replaced by a handover.[22]

1967 saw the first professional Sunday matches of rugby league played.

The first sponsors entered the game, Joshua Tetley and John Player, for Britain's 1971-72 Northern Rugby Football League season.

Television would have an enormous impact on the sport of rugby league in the 1990s when Rupert Murdoch's News Corporation sought worldwide broadcasting rights and refused to take no for an answer. The media giant's "Super League" movement saw big changes for the traditional administrators of the game. In Europe it resulted in a move from a winter sport to a summer one as the new Super League competition tried to expand its market. In Australasia, the Super League war resulted: long and costly legal battles and changing loyalties, causing significant damage to the code in an extremely competitive sporting market. In 1997 two competitions were run alongside each other in Australia, after which a peace deal in the form of the National Rugby League was formed. The NRL has since become recognised the sport's flagship competition.

In Australia in 2009, rugby league's popularity was confirmed as it had the highest television ratings of any football code.[23]


The objective in rugby league is to score more points through tries, goals and field goals (also known as drop goals) than the opposition within the 80 minutes of play. If after two halves of play, each consisting of forty minutes, the two teams are drawing, a draw may be declared, or the game may enter extra time under the golden point rule, depending on the relevant competition's format.

The try is the most common form of scoring[citation needed], and a team will usually attempt to score one by running and kicking the ball further upfield, or passing from player-to-player in order to manoeuvre around the opposition's defence. A try involves touching the ball to the ground on or beyond the defending team's goal-line and is worth four points. A goal is worth two points and may be gained from a conversion or a penalty. A field goal is only worth one point, and is gained by drop kicking the ball between the uprights in open play.

Passing in rugby league may only be in a backward or sideways direction. Teammates therefore have to remain on-side by not moving ahead of the player with the ball. However the ball may be kicked ahead for teammates, but again, if they are in front of the kicker they are deemed off-side. Tackling is a key component of rugby league play. Only the player holding the football may be tackled. A tackle is completed when that player's progress is halted, or he is put to ground. An attacking team gets a maximum of six tackles to progress up the field before possession is changed over. Ball control is also important in rugby league, as a fumble of the ball on the ground forces a handover, unless the ball is fumbled backwards.


Leeds Rhinos playing at the 2008 boxing day friendly against Wakefield Trinity Wildcats at Headingley Stadium

Players on the field are divided into forwards and backs, although the game's rules apply to all players the same way. Each position has a designated number to identify himself from other players. These numbers help to identify which position a person is playing. The system of numbering players is different depending on which country the match is played in. In Australia and New Zealand, each player is usually given a number corresponding to their playing position on the field. However, since 1996 European teams have been able to grant players specific squad numbers, which they keep in irrelevance to the position they play, similarly to association football.[24] This can mean that although only seventeen players can be announced in any rugby league squad, shirt numbers of 18 or higher are also used.[25]

Interchanges (generally referred to as "The Bench") are allowed in the sport, and are typically used when a player gets tired or injured, although they can also be used tactically. Each team is currently allowed four substitutes, and in Australia and New Zealand, these players occupy shirt numbers 14 to 17.[25] There are no limitations on what players must occupy these interchangeable slots, and interchanged players may re-enter the field of play again following a second interchange. Generally, twelve interchanges are allowed in any game from each team, although in the National Rugby League, this was reduced to ten prior to the 2008 season.[26] If a team has to interchange a player due to the Blood Bin rule or due to injury, and this was the result of misconduct from the opposing team, the compromised team does not have to use one of its allocated interchanges to take the player in question off the field.


The backs are generally smaller, faster and more agile than the forwards. They are often the most creative and evasive players on the field, relying on running, kicking and handling skills, as well as tactics and set plays, to break the defensive line, instead of brute force. Generally forwards do the majority of the work (hit-ups/tackling). They help to create advantages for the backs by winning the ball in rucks and scrums. Since there is no blocking in rugby like in American Football, the forwards are the back-up support and are the ones who "win" the ball back.

  • The title of fullback (numbered 1) comes from the fullback's defensive position where the player drops out of the defensive line to cover the rear from kicks and runners breaking the line. They therefore usually are good ball catchers and clinical tacklers. In attack the fullback will typically make runs into the attack or support a runner in anticipation of a 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 does not have to defend in the first defensive line means that a coach can keep a playmaker from the tackling responsibilities of the first line whilst allowing them to retain their attacking role.
  • The wings or "wing three quarters" (numbered 2 and 5) are normally the fastest players in a team and play on the far left and right fringes of the field (the wings). 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" (numbered 3 and 4) 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 to create attacking opportunities for their team and defend those of the opposition. Along with the wingers, the centres score plenty of tries throughout a season.

Usually, the stand-off-half and scrum-half, are a team's creative-unit or 'playmakers'. During the interactions between a team's 'key' players (stand-off-half, scrum-half, full-back, loose forward, and hooker), the stand-off-half and scrum-half will usually be involved in most passing moves.

  • The stand-off-half or 'pivot' or '5/8th' (numbered 6): There is not much difference between the stand-off-half and the scrum-half, in that both players may operate in front of the pack during 'Forward-Play' (as Prime Receiver [7] and Shadow Receiver [6], one on each side of the ruck, or both on same side of the ruck), and both players may operate in front of the backs during 'Back-Play' (as Prime Pivot [6] and Shadow Pivot [7], one on each side of the ruck / pack, or both on same side of the ruck / pack). The stand-off-half position is named with regard to the role / location of the player in respect to the scrum.
  • The scrum-half or 'half-back' (numbered 7): There is not much difference between the scrum-half and the stand-off-half, in that both players may operate in front of the pack during 'Forward-Play' (as Prime Receiver [7] and Shadow Receiver [6], one on each side of the ruck, or both on same side of the ruck). Both players may operate in front of the backs during 'Back-Play' (as Prime Pivot [6] and Shadow Pivot [7], one on each side of the ruck / pack, or both on same side of the ruck / pack). The scrum-half position is named with regard to the role / location of the player in respect to the scrum.


Rugby league is notable for its hard physical play

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:

  • The props or front-row forwards (numbered 8 and 10) are normally the largest players on field (male props typically weigh over 15 stone (210 lb; 95 kg) in the open age/senior 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 to the defence aggressively.
  • The hooker (numbered 9) 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 starting the play from every play-the-ball by either passing the ball to the right player, or, at opportune moments, running from dummy-half. 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. The hooker is always involved in the play and needs to be very fit. They need to have a very good knowledge of the game and the players around them.
  • The second row forwards (numbered 11 and 12) The modern day second row is very similar to a centre and 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 defence when the ball is passed out to the wings. Good second-rowers combine the skills and responsibilities of props and centres in the course of the game.
  • The loose forward or the lock (numbered 13) is the only forward in the third (last) row of the scrum. They are usually one of the fittest players on the field, covering the entire field on both attacking and defending 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/locks to have the skills of a Stand-off/five eighth and to play a similar role in the team.

Rugby league worldwide

The 2006 NRL Grand Final between Brisbane Broncos and Melbourne Storm at Olympic Stadium, Sydney

Rugby league is played in more than 50 countries worldwide. The strongest rugby league nations are England, Australia and New Zealand, who contest the Rugby League Tri-Nations most years. Rugby league is the national sport of Papua New Guinea,[27] and is also played professionally in France, and Wales. It is due to be played professionally in the United States by 2010.[28]

The current World Champions are New Zealand, who won the 2008 Rugby League World Cup. Prior to this, Australia had won every world cup since 1975.[29][30]

In Australia, rugby league is the dominant winter sport in Queensland and New South Wales.[31]

A game between Leeds Rhinos and Hull F.C. academy sides in England, May 2009

In England, rugby league has traditionally been associated with the northern counties of Yorkshire, Lancashire and Cumbria where the game originated although its popularity has also increased elsewhere.[32][33][34] Figures published by the Rugby Football League showed an 81% increase in women playing the sport in the twelve months prior to October 2008, as well as an increase in juniors of both genders.[35] Despite this, all but two of the thirteen British Super League teams originate from the sport's traditional counties. No professional team currently exists in either Scotland or Northern Ireland, although the Challenge Cup final has been held in Edinburgh's Murrayfield Stadium twice, as well as the 2009 Magic Weekend.[36] Over 40,000 players were registered by the RFL as of October 2008.[35]

France first played rugby league as late as 1934, where in the five years prior to World War II, the sport's popularity increased as Frenchmen became disenchanted with the state of French rugby union in the 1930s.[37] However, after the Allied Forces were defeated by Germany in June 1940 following the Battle of France, the Vichy regime in the south seized assets belonging to rugby league authorities and clubs, and banned the sport for its association with the left-wing Popular Front government that had governed France before the War.[37] The sport was unbanned after the Liberation of Paris in August 1944 initiated the collapse of the Vichy regime, although it was still actively marginalised by the French authorities until the 1990s.[37] Despite this, the national side appeared in both finals of the 1954 and 1968 World Cups, and the country hosted in 1954 event.[38][39] In 1996, a French team, Paris St-Germain was one of eleven teams which formed the new European Super League, although the club was dissolved in 1997 due to its failure to run at a profit and poor attendances.[40] In 2006, the Super League admitted the Catalans Dragons, a team from Perpignan in the southern Languedoc-Roussillon region.[41] They have subsequently reached the 2007 Challenge Cup Final, and made the play-offs of the 2008 Super League season. The success of the 'Dragons' in Super League has initiated a renaissance in French rugby league, with new-found enthusiasm for the sport in the south of the country where most of the Elite One Championship teams are based.

Early 21st century developments have seen countries such as Germany, Lebanon, Malta, Russia, Spain, the Czech Republic, Jamaica, and others take up the game and compete in international rugby league tournaments or matches, with efforts being made by the Rugby League European Federation to expand the game to new areas. 2008-09 has seen development of teams in northern Europe, especially Scandinavia. Initial plans for this Nordic group of countries will see these teams establish a regional playing platform. The first specific example of a rugby league tournament in this area of Europe came in 2009, when a rugby league nines tournament was held in Norway featuring teams from the host country, Germany, Sweden, and Denmark, as well as three rugby union teams.[42]

In the United States, the country's first fully professional league, the National Rugby League USA, is due to be launched in 2010 or 2011, with the aim of building the sport's profile in the country, and providing more talent for the national team.[28]

Domestic competitions

Each country has its own governing body which runs and regulates its rugby league competitions, such as round-robin leagues or cup tournaments. The two most prominent fully professional leagues in the rugby league world are the Australian National Rugby League, in which a professional New Zealand team also plays, and the engage Super League, which consists of professional teams from England, plus one from France and another from Wales. Domestic leagues exist below the NRL and Super League, especially on a state or county level, and semi-professional and amateur leagues exist in many other countries most notably the Queensland Cup and NSW Cup which feed players into NRL teams, the Co-operative Championship which is a semi professional rugby league competition that involves mostly English teams and one team from France.The Championship One is the third tier of British rugby league which has 10 teams from England plus one from Wales. The AMNRL , which is an amateur/semi professional rugby league competition in the United States. The Elite One Championship which is a semi professional rugby league competition in France and the Russian Championship which features a team in the Challenge Cup.

A full-time professional domestic league – the National Rugby League USA – is also being planned for the United States of America. It is due to start its first professional season in 2010 or 2011, with a hope of tapping into the country's already well-established support for American football, which is generally similar to rugby league in principle.[43]

Both Australia and Europe have their own domestic cup tournaments, the most prominent of which is the Rugby Football League's Challenge Cup, contested by amateur and professional teams across Europe. In Australia, the Rugby League State of Origin series is a domestic tournament, played between New South Wales and Queensland teams. Australia also has a one-match City vs Country Origin annually. There are also plenty of other other amateur and semi-professional competitions in such countries as Samoa, Tonga, Serbia, Fiji, Ireland, Georgia, Scotland, Russia, Lebanon, Germany, Japan, the United States, Malta and Jamaica.

See also



  1. ^ Collins, Tony (1998). Rugby's great split: class, culture, and the origins of Rugby League football. Routledge. ISBN 0714648671, 9780714648675. 
  2. ^ RLEF. "What is Rugby League?". Rugby League European Federation. Retrieved 2009-07-28. 
  3. ^ RLWC08. "The LIF". Retrieved 2009-07-28. 
  4. ^ RLIF, 2004: 51
  5. ^ RLIF, 2004: 8
  6. ^ a b c d Dept. Recreation and Sport. "Dimensions for Rugby League". Government of Western Australia. Retrieved 2009-07-28. 
  7. ^ Middleton, David (2008-Mar). League of Legends: 100 Years of Rugby League in Australia. National Museum of Australia. pp. 27. ISBN ISBN 9781876944643. , quote: "When rugby league cast itself free of an arrogant rugby union 100 years ago, it did so with a sense of re-invention. It was not just about creating better conditions for the players but about striving to produce a better game; a more entertaining brand that would appeal to the masses."
  8. ^ Crego, Robert (2003). Sports and games of the 18th and 19th centuries. Greenwood Publishing Group. pp. 102. ISBN 0313316104, 9780313316104. 
  9. ^ Ingham, Bernard (2008-08-20). "Turned off by the insidious world of sport". Yorkshire Post (Johnston Press Digital Publishing). Retrieved 2009-09-21. 
  10. ^ Ian, Thomsen (28 October 1995). "Australia Faces England at Wembley : A Final of Rugby Favorites". The New York Times ( Retrieved 2009-11-05. 
  11. ^ Meares, Peter (2003). Legends of Australian sport: The Inside Story. Australia: University of Queensland Press. pp. 132. ISBN 0702234109, 9780702234101. 
  12. ^ AAP (2009-06-29). "Three killed in State of Origin celebrations". (Television New Zealand Limited). Retrieved 2009-07-05. 
  13. ^ Why Rugby League?, Crusaders Rugby League
  14. ^ Spracklen, Karl (2001). 'Black Pearl, Black Diamonds' Exploring racial identities in rugby league. Routledge. pp. 72. ISBN 0415246296, 9780415246293. 
  15. ^ Fagan, Sean (2008). League of Legends: 100 Years of Rugby League in Australia. National Museum of Australia. pp. vii. ISBN ISBN 9781876944643. 
  16. ^ Groeneveld, Margaret (2007). Matters of the heart: The business of English rugby league. Berghahn Books. pp. 27. ISBN 184545054X, 9781845450540. 
  17. ^ Tony Collins, Rugby League in Twentieth Century Britain (2006), p.6
  18. ^ Tony Collins, Rugby League in Twentieth Century Britain, p.5 (2006)
  19. ^ Tony Collins, Rugby League in Twentieth Century Britain (2006), p.6, quote:"in 1906 the number of players in a team was reduced to thirteen and an orderly play-the-ball, whereby a tackled player had to get to his feet and roll the ball behind him with his foot, was introduced. These two changes completed the break from the playing rules of rugby union and marked the birth of rugby league as a distinct sport with its own unique rules".
  20. ^ a b Baker, Andrew (1995-08-20). "100 years of rugby league: From the great divide to the Super era". Independent, The ( Retrieved 2009-09-25. 
  21. ^ Jupp, James (2001). The Australian People: An Encyclopedia of the Nation, Its People and Their Origins. Cambridge University Press. pp. 342 & 343. ISBN 0521807891, 9780521807890. 
  22. ^ Collins, Tony (2006-04-18). Rugby League in Twentieth Century Britain (1 ed.). Routledge. pp. 113–114. ISBN 978-0415396158. 
  23. ^ Newstalk ZB (2009-12-21). "League becomes Australia's top sport". TVNZ (New Zealand: Television New Zealand Limited). Retrieved 2009-12-24. 
  24. ^ 'history of the sport' in 1996, theRFL, 
  25. ^ a b 'rugby league playing guide' squad numbers, This is rugby, 
  26. ^ "League rule changes for 2008". (League Unlimited). Retrieved 2009-06-18. 
  27. ^ Wilde, Charles. "'Turning sex into a game': Gogodala men's response to the AIDS epidemic and condom promotion in rural Papua New Guinea".;col1. Retrieved 2009-07-04. 
  28. ^ a b "NRL 2010". (NRL USA). Retrieved 2009-06-16. 
  29. ^ Wilson, Andy. "Rugby league World Cup final: New Zealand end Australia invincibility with 34-20 win". Retrieved 2009-07-04. 
  30. ^ "World Cup". Retrieved 2009-07-04. 
  31. ^ David Rowe, 'Rugby League in Australia: the Super League Saga', Journal of Sport & Social Issues, Vol. 21, No. 2, pp. 221-226 (1997)
  32. ^ "Interest growing in Conference". BBC Sport. 2008-12-14. Retrieved 2008-12-14. 
  33. ^ "Rugby League Activity". Active Surrey. 2008-12-14. Retrieved 2008-12-14. 
  34. ^ "Engage Super League Attracts Strong Viewing in 2008". Rugby Football League. 2008-12-14. Retrieved 2008-12-14. 
  35. ^ a b "National Campaign Launched". England Rugby League. 2008-12-14. Retrieved 2008-12-14. 
  36. ^ "Murrayfield Stadium". (Rugby League Project). Retrieved 2009-06-15. 
  37. ^ a b c "French rugby league fights for rights". (BBC News). 2002-10-08. Retrieved 2009-07-18. 
  38. ^ "Rugby League Planet - 1954 Rugby League World Cup". Retrieved 2009-07-18. 
  39. ^ "Rugby League Planet - 1968 Rugby League World Cup". Retrieved 2009-07-18. 
  40. ^ "Step Back in Time: Catalans (H)". ( Retrieved 2009-07-18. 
  41. ^ "French join Super League". (BBC Sport). 2004-05-26. Retrieved 2009-07-18. 
  42. ^ Gordon, James. "All go in Norway". Retrieved 2009-06-15. 
  43. ^ "Gridiron (NFL American football) and Rugby". Retrieved 2009-07-18. 


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Rugby League is a ball sport. Two teams of thirteen players play against each other. The ball used is oval in shape. The field is a rectangle shape. It is 100 metres long and 70 metres wide. It is played for 80 minutes (40 minutes aside).

A try is scored when a player scores or touches the ball down in the in-goal area. A try is worth 4 points and if its converted (the goal kicker kicks the ball in between the top of the goal post), the team gets an extra 2 points. Another method of scoring points is through drop goals which are worth 1 point, or penalty goals which are worth 2 points. The countries that play it the most are Australia, Ireland*, England*, Fiji, France, Great Britain*, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, Russia, Samoa, Scotland*, Lebanon, Tonga and Wales*.

  • note Great Britain (the "British Lions" team) broke up at the beginning of the 2008 season into England, Ireland, Scotland, and Wales and all be able to be granted full membership into the top tier.
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