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Rugby league positions: Wikis


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A rugby league team consists of thirteen players on the field with four substitutes on the bench. Players are divided into two general categories: "forwards" and "backs".

Forwards are generally chosen for their size and strength. They are expected to run with the ball and attack, and to make many tackles. Forwards are often required to do a lot of hard work such as making openings for the backs and gaining metres in field position.

Backs are usually smaller and faster, but a big player who can run can be of advantage in the backs. Their roles require speed and ball-playing skills (rather than brute strength) to take advantage of the field position gained by the forwards.



The numbering of positions is standardised. The starting side will wear the numbers corresponding to their positions, only changing in the case of substitutions and position shifts during the game. In some competitions, such as Super League, players are issued with a squad number to use all season, no matter what positions they play in.

The chart below shows these numbers alongside the usual names for their positions. The placement of the positions in the chart represents the normal structure during a scrum. Forwards are above the line, and backs below.

Rugby League positions

The laws of the game define the positions and numbers as:[1]

  • 1 Full Back
  • 2 Right Wing Threequarter
  • 3 Right Centre Threequarter
  • 4 Left Centre Threequarter
  • 5 Left Wing Threequarter
  • 6 Stand-off Half or Five-eighth
  • 7 Scrum Half
  • 8 Prop
  • 9 Hooker
  • 10 Front Row Forward
  • 11 Second Row Forward
  • 12 Second Row Forward
  • 13 Lock Forward

Scrums only form a small part of game time. For most of the game other formations are used. When the team is defending, players are often spread across the field in a single line, with the fullback and sometimes a couple of other players back behind the rest as a second line of defence. When the team is attacking, players are placed according to the attack strategy being used.

In addition to the thirteen on-field players, there are four substitutes. Usually, they will be numbered 14, 15, 16 and 17. Each player normally keeps their number for the whole game, regardless of which position they play in. That is, if player number 14 replaces the fullback (for example), they will wear the number 14 for the whole game. They do not change shirts to display the number 1.

Prior to 1989, most Australian teams, with the exception of the international team, used a different numbering system. The numbers for the backs were the same, but the lock/loose forward would be number 8, the second rowers were 9 and 10, the prop forwards were 11 and 13 and the hooker was 12.


There are some differences in rugby league position terminology depending on geographical location. Five-eighth, half back and lock are terms used in the Southern Hemisphere countries. The same positions are known as stand-off, scrum-half and loose forward in the Northern Hemisphere. The terms wing three quarter and centre three quarter are sometimes used instead of winger and centre.

(In this article, positions with differing titles have been indicated as: "Northern hemisphere name"/"Southern hemisphere name".)


Generally, the backline consists of smaller and faster players. Backs are often the most creative and evasive players on the field, preferring fine kicking, passing or manoeuvring skills, tactics and/or set plays to breach the defensive line in favour of brute force. The term "outside backs" is often used to refer to the centres and wings (positioned towards the outer edges of the field), while "the halves" refers to the halfback and five-eighth.



Numbered 1, This position calls for all-round ball-playing ability and speed. The fullback is the last line of defence, standing behind the main line of defenders. Fullbacks must be able to chase down and tackle any player who breaks the first line of defence and catch kicks made by the attacking side. As they are typically positioned behind the first line of defence and have a view of the entire line, good fullbacks will give orders to the other defending players, alerting them to fill possible holes and weaknesses in the line. Their role in attack is usually as a support player to take an offload and keep the ball alive, or to provide an overlap or a different angle of attack in the centre of the field. From their position behind the main line of players, good fullbacks watch for both teams' defensive deficiencies and offensive opportunities as they appear throughout a game.

See also: Fullback (rugby)

The threequarters

The threequarters, also known as outside backs, consist of the wingers and centres.[1] The threequarters are positioned closer to the edges of the field and are usually relied upon to breach the defensive line on their respective sides. The term "threequarters" originated as the tactics and player formations of rugby football developed in the 1880s.[2] The players positioned between the halves and the full back were known as the quarters; during the years in which is was usual for there to be three players positioned here, they were known collectively as the three quarters.[2] Later, the addition of a fourth player to the quarters became usual for teams.[2] As the formations developed, an additional player was placed between the halfback and the quarters.[2] Due to a semantic change for three quarters to mean 6/8ths, with halfback being 4/8ths, the position came to be known as the five-eighth.[2]


Also known as wingers. There are two wings in a rugby league side, numbered 2 and 5, positioned on each side of the field next to the sideline. They generally are among the the fastest players in a team, with the speed to finish an attacking move. The wings also should have good footwork, enabling them to make breaks through the defensive line and because many scoring opportunities can be in close proximity to defenders and the touch line, also necessitating good spacial awareness and body positioning. In defence, wingers are usually encouraged to mark their opposite man and not be drawn towards the play, leaving overlaps. Often, late in the tackle count, wingers will drop back to aid the fullback in retrieving a kick. Because of this, wingers often play a prominent role in dealing with breaks by attackers through the defensive line, working with the fullback in mounting a cover defence. It is important for wingers to have reliable handling, as they are required to deal with attacking kicks under pressure, as well as finishing off moves for their team.

See also: Winger (sport)


There are two centres, numbered 3 and 4. The centres run out wide just inside the wingers, and work with stand-off in creating attacking plays. They have to be fast and athletic, and need the ability to handle, pass and tackle well. There are a variety of different skills required of a centre - some are agile and attempt to evade defenders, while others rely more on speed and power and some are creative players who attempt to find an opening for their winger through good handling skills. Most top centres mix a combination of these attributes. Centres are usually the most dangerous attacking players on their teams, and the majority of attacking threat usually comes from this position. In defence, centres are responsible for ensuring that their team is not outnumbered down one side - a centre will call other defenders across if he feels that there is an overlap out wide.

In rugby league, centres are split onto the left and right sides, and they are partnered with their respective wingers in both attack and defence.

The position name "centre" comes from the time in the 1880s when there was just one player in between the two wingers.[2]

The halves

The halves, or half backs, are named thus as in 19th century rugby football they were positioned at the midpoint between the forwards and the three full backs used during that time.[2] Originally known as halfway backs in the 19th century, this was shortened in time.[2] The duo consists of the stand-off half (or five-eighth) and the scrum-half (or halfback). Positioned more centrally in offence, amongst the forwards, the halves direct the ball in attack and are the team's main decision-makers. They are also generally relied upon to do most of the team's kicking both in attack and for field position.


Numbered 6, the "stand-off half" or "five-eighth" (named thus as they are positioned between the half back and the three-quarters) is usually responsible for directing the ball to the rest of the team in attack (hence the nickname 'pivot') and should therefore be able to pass left and right-handed accurately. This player usually takes the ball as the second receiver in attacking moves and is responsible for distributing the ball to the backs, or for seizing an attacking opportunity by running himself. A good five-eighth is usually a good and accurate play kicker, has good communication with the halfback and the centres, is able to throw long cut-out passes and have the vision to create something in attack with the outside men. This player also needs to be quick and strong when running the ball, since they may be required to exploit gaps in the defensive line. They must be effective in making tackles as their position towards the middle of the field requires a heavy defensive workload.


Numbered 7, the halfback or scrum-half is often the smallest player on the field. Usually, the scrum-half determines the direction of the attack and dictates the play for his side. The position is crucial in the organization of play and a good scrum-half is one who uses options effectively. The scrum-half must be quick of mind, agile, have good vision of who and where the ball needs to go to and be able to pass and kick well. The halfback is the player who feeds the scrum and runs around to collect it. Usually the halfback is the first to receive the ball and set up attacks from a 'play the ball' late in the tackle count, and has well-developed kicking skills.

In defense, the scrum-half has no set role and because of their attacking importance, these players are usually positioned out wide and are not expected to take up much of the workload.


A rugby league forward pack consists of players who tend to be bigger and stronger than backs, and generally rely more on brute strength to fulfil their roles than play-making skills. The forwards also form and contest scrums, while the backs stay out of them.

The front row

The front row of the scrum includes the hooker with the two props on either side. All three may be referred to as front-rowers, but this term is most commonly used for prop forwards.


The hooker, numbered 9, packs in the middle of the scrum's front row. The hooker's primary responsibility is to operate at the dummy half (see below) position, starting the play by handing the ball onto a team mate or by running himself. As virtually every play begins with the hooker, vision and passing skills are essential. Hookers are almost always the smallest of the forwards as their modern role closely resembles that of a backline player. The play-making role of the hooker has encouraged some teams to play a scrum-half in this role, and indeed many hookers are converted halfbacks.

Because of the hooker's position in the middle of the field, a high defensive workload is required. Many teams employ an additional hooker as one of their substitutes to ensure high standards of distribution throughout the game. Often, the substitute hooker has greater acceleration with the aim of providing impact by running from the dummy-half position.


There are two props, numbered 8 and 10, who pack in to the front row of the scrum on either side of the hooker. Sometimes referred to as the "bookends", the props are often the two heaviest players on a team. Props often run directly into the defensive line, trying to force their way through defenders rather than between or around them. They are expected to make “the hard yards”; going forward while being gang-tackled by several opposition players. Similarly, they are relied upon to defend against such running from the opposition's forwards.

Tactically prop forwards may either go down quickly when tackled and look for a quick 'play the ball', or try to stand up in the tackle, fend off defenders and offload the ball to a supporting player. Few prop forwards now play the full game time of 80 minutes - they are regularly substituted to keep them fresh.

When scrums were competitive their strength was key in winning possession. In the modern game their strength is more useful in the tackle or as a ball carrier. However, it is still possible for an alert prop to help a team win a scrum against the feed by striking for the ball in conjunction with a drive from the rest of the pack. Formerly, striking for the ball was primarily the responsibility of the hooker.

The back row

The remaining three forwards make up the back row of the scrum: Two second-rowers and a loose or lock forward. All three may be referred to as back-rowers.

Second-row forward

Second-row forwards are numbered 11 and 12, and make up the second row of the scrum. They are mobile, active players who make a lot of runs and do a lot of tackling, and often play a large role in setting the pace of the game. Second row forwards are frequently the tallest players in a rugby league team.

There are different styles of play amongst second-rows. Some are quick, elusive players who can run out wide alongside the centres. Indeed, some second rowers are converted centres. There are also powerful, industrious second-rowers who serve as the workhorses of the team. Operating just off the middle of the line, often at second or third receiver, they are involved in seemingly everything – most tackles, taking the ball up, or supporting any break. Some teams like to send a good offloading second rower running down the same side as the dangerous running centres and wingers who feed off the space provided.

Loose forward

Numbered 13, the loose forward or lock makes up the final 'row' of players in the scrum, "locking" the two second-rowers in place.

A lock forward has the broadest role of any of the forwards. In defence their role is often to fill in any gaps on the defensive line and to work hard to make as many tackles as possible. As well as co-ordinating the defensive effort in the forwards, in attack they will often be a creative player with the vision and skill to set up play from first receiver, and provide another option for the half-backs. From an attacking scrum they will sometimes pick the ball up themselves and run or pass, taking pressure from the halfback/scrum half. Loose forwards are also usually strong running players. Many notable locks, such as Brad Fittler or Paul Sculthorpe in recent years, have also played at five-eighth, as the roles can be very similar. However, some teams may prefer to simply employ an additional second-rower in this position in order to ensure defensive stability.


A maximum of four substitutes (or interchange players) is allowed - they do not start the game on the field, and the rules governing if and when a replacement can be used have varied over the history of the game. Currently they may replace any injured player or, more often, be used for a tactical substitution by the team's coach.


As well as their positions, players' roles may be referred to by a range of other terms.


The on-field leader of a team and a point of contact between the referee and a team. The responsibilities of a side's captain (sometimes referred to as its "skipper"), such as deciding the course of action when awarded a penalty by the referee, may vary depending upon the level of independence they are granted by their team's coach. Several responsibilities are enshrined in the Laws of the Game.

Before a match, the captains of both teams meet with the referee for a coin toss.[3] The captain that wins the coin toss may decide either to kick off or which end of the playing field they wish to start on.[3] The captain that doesn't win the toss can decide the remaining alternatives.[3]

If a player or team is persistently penalised for the same offence, the referee may choose to issue the captain of that team with a final caution. If this is not adhered to, the referee will often send the offending player to the sin-bin. Also, during bad-tempered matches or incidents the referee may speak to both captains in an attempt to calm the situation down.[4][5]

Traditionally, the captains were responsible in appointing a substitute should a referee suffer an injury during a game.[6] However, in the modern professional game, reserve officials are present at matches.


Following a tackle, the defending team may position two players - known as markers - at the play-the-ball to stand one behind the other facing the tackled player and the dummy-half from the attacking team.


The acting halfback, acting half or dummy-half is the name given to the player who stands behind the play-the-ball and collects the ball, restarting the play. The hooker has become almost synonymous with the dummy-half role, and the two terms are often used interchangeably. However any player of any position can play the role of dummy-half at any time - this often happens, given the speed of modern rugby league which can move the position of the ruck area greatly after every play.

When the tackled player plays the ball by rolling it back with the foot, the dummy-half’s job is to pick it up and make a decision about the next play. Usually this means selecting which teammate will be the "first receiver" and passing off the ground. Sometimes, though, dummy-halves will pick the ball up and run themselves if they see an opportunity.

First receiver

The first receiver is the name given to the first player to receive the ball off the ruck, i.e. from the dummy-half.[7]

Second receiver

If the ball is passed immediately by the first receiver, then the player catching it is sometimes referred to as the second receiver.


A player who may be used to fill in a number of positions is often referred to as a 'utility player'.

Notable Players by Position

Position Notable Player 1 Notable Player 2 Notable Player 3 Notable Player 4 Notable Player 5
Fullback Darren Lockyer Australia Puig Aubert France Clive Churchill Australia Jim Sullivan Wales Graeme Langlands Australia
Wing Ken Irvine Australia Martin Offiah England Brian Bevan Australia Billy Boston Wales Tom van Vollenhoven South Africa
Centre Mal Meninga Australia Harold Wagstaff England Dally Messenger Australia Gus Risman Wales Reg Gasnier Australia
5/8th Wally Lewis Australia Garry Schofield England Bob Fulton Australia Iestyn Harris Wales Laurie Daley Australia
Halfback Allan Langer Australia Stacey Jones New Zealand Andy Gregory England Peter Sterling Australia Andrew Johns Australia
Prop Arthur Beetson Australia Ruben Wiki New Zealand Cliff Watson England Glenn LazarusAustralia Shane Webcke Australia
Hooker Noel Kelly Australia Max Krilich Australia Keiron Cunningham Wales Steve Walters Australia Terry Newton England
2nd Row Gorden Tallis Australia Hugh McGahan New Zealand Denis Betts England Harry Bath Australia Norm Provan Australia
Lock Bradley Clyde Australia Andrew Farrell England Ellery Hanley England Wally Prigg Australia Johnny Raper Australia

See also



  1. ^ a b RLIF, 2004: 9
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h Trueman, Nigel (2006). "Player positions". Archived from the original on 2010-01-05. Retrieved 5 January 2010. 
  3. ^ a b c RLIF, 2004: 11
  4. ^ RLIF, 2004: 38
  5. ^ RLIF, 2004: 42
  6. ^ RLIF, 2004: 41
  7. ^ Spillane, Debbie (1993-04-17). "No face balls in red zone". The Sun-Herald (Fairfax Digital): pp. 54. Retrieved 2009-10-06. 



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