Rugby league

From New World Encyclopedia

A Rugby League Scrum
Rugby League
General Information
Originated 1895, Huddersfield, Yorkshire, England
World Governing Body Rugby League International Federation
International Rugby League
Test Nations Australia · Cook Islands · England · Fiji · France · Great Britain · New Zealand · Papua New Guinea · Russia · Samoa · South Africa · Tonga
Major Competitions The World Cup
The Tri-Nations
World Club Challenge
The Ashes
Challenge Cup
Domestic Rugby League
Major Competitions National Rugby League (Australasia)
Super League (Europe)
State of Origin (Australia)
French Rugby League Championship (France)
Bartercard Cup (New Zealand)

Rugby league football (usually shortened to rugby league, football, league) is a full-contact, outdoor sport played by two teams of 13 players each, with an oval ball on a rectangular grass field. It is one of the two main codes of rugby football, the other of which is rugby union. The code is most prominent in Great Britain, Australia, New Zealand, and France, where the sport is played professionally. In Papua New Guinea, rugby league is immensely popular and it is the only country where rugby league is the national sport. Rugby league is played to a lesser extent in several other countries, such as Russia, the United States, Samoa, South Africa, Tonga and Lebanon.

Rugby league takes its name from what was initially a breakaway faction of England's Rugby Football Union (RFU) known as the Northern Union when established in 1895. Both unions played rugby football under the same rules at first, until similar breakaway factions occurred from RFU-affiliated Rugby Unions in Australia and New Zealand in 1907 and 1908, and formed associations known as Rugby Football Leagues, introducing modified Northern Union rules to create a new form of rugby football. The Northern Union later changed its name to the Rugby Football League and thus, over time the sport itself became known as "rugby league." Over the following decades, the rules of both forms of rugby were gradually changed, and now rugby league and rugby union are distinctly different sports.

Worldwide the sport is governed by the Rugby League International Federation (RLIF). They are responsible for organizing international competitions, including the World Cup and Tri-Nations, as well as determining and overseeing the laws of the game and co-ordinating international development. The federation was founded in 1948 at a meeting in Bordeaux, France.[1]


A rugby league field

An adult-level rugby league match lasts for 80 minutes, consisting of two halves of 40 minutes each plus time added on for injury, and is controlled by a single referee, two touch judges, and in most professional matches, a television match official (TMO), commonly called the video referee.

The object of the game is that each team of thirteen players score as many points as possible; the team scoring the greater number of points is the winner of the match.

Points may be scored by either scoring a try or a goal. A try is scored when the ball is grounded within the in-goal area and is worth 4 points. A goal is scored by kicking the ball between the uprights and above the crossbar of the goal posts. There are 3 ways to score a goal: a drop goal (scored in open play where the ball must hit the ground immediately before it is kicked, i.e., a "drop kick"); a penalty goal (awarded after the opposing side infringes against the laws of rugby league and may be kicked from a stationary position on the ground or by a drop kick); or a conversion (awarded after a try has been scored) by either a drop kick or a place kick. A penalty or a conversion is worth 2 points and a dropped goal is worth 1 point.

A rugby league pitch is 100 meters in length and 68 meters wide, not including the in-goal area. The length of the in-goal area can vary but must be between 6 meters and 11 meters in length. The goal posts are situated on the center of the goal line with the upright posts placed 5.5 meters apart and the crossbar is placed 3 meters above the ground in an 'H' shape. The overall height of the goal posts should be 3.4 meters.[2]

A typical passage of rugby league takes the following form: the team in possession of the ball moves the ball up the field in an effort to ground the ball over the opponents' goal line in order to score a try until such time as the ball carrier is tackled. A tackle is completed when the ball or the ball-carrying arm of the player has touched the ground and a tackler is touching him. Every time a player is tackled, all defenders, apart from a maximum of two markers, have to retreat 10 meters from the play-the-ball area. The defending side may advance when the ball is rolled back by the foot of the player in possession of the ball. If they move forward early, or don’t retire far enough back, the defending team is penalized.

After six tackles the ball must be handed over to the other team, so the team in possession of the ball will normally kick the ball downfield to gain better field position after the fifth tackle. This process repeats until one team makes a mistake that violates the Laws of the game, moves off the field of play or a try or goal is scored.

The ball may be passed from one player to another as long as the ball does not travel forward. Rugby league is one of the few ball games where the ball cannot be passed forward. Any team mate nearer the opposition goal than the ball carrier is offside and out of the game, and must not interfere with play, meaning that American football-style blocking is forbidden.

If the ball goes into touch (out of the field of play), the game restarts with a scrum. A scrum is formed by the designated forwards binding together in three rows. The scrum then 'engages' with the opposition team so that the player's heads are interlocked with those of the other side's front row. The scrum half from the team that did not infringe then throws the ball into the tunnel created in the space between the two sets of front rowers' legs. Both teams may then try to compete for the ball by trying to hook the ball backwards with their feet. If the game stops due to an infringement, play restarts with either a scrum, free kick or penalty kick (depending on the severity of the infringement) to the non-infringing team.

The attacking team may score by kicking the ball between the posts and above the cross-bar. The ball may only be kicked from the ground: either from a place kick following the award of a penalty or from a drop kick in open play. A successful penalty kick is worth two points and a successful drop kick at goal is worth one point.

The attacking team may also score by grounding the ball in the in-goal area. This is called a "try" and is worth four points. After scoring a try, the attacking team are awarded a free kick at goal, called a conversion, worth two points if successful, from a point directly in line with where the try was scored, and any distance away from the posts along that line.

Tries are the main form of scoring, and the primary aim of most teams is to score tries. Drop goals and penalty kicks are usually augmenters, a safer option against a steadfast defense or to punish ill-disciplined opposition. On some (usually rare) occasions, a team may be awarded a penalty try, if their opponents commit a foul which is deemed by the referee to have illegally prevented a try, or if they have persistently stopped play close to the try line through foul play.

Player Positions and shirt numbers are as follows: BACKS

Rugby league position (shirt numbers)
(1) Fullback
(2) Right Wing Threequarter
(3) Right Center Threequarter
(4) Left Center Threequarter
(5) Left Wing Threequarter
(6) Five-eighth
(7) Scrum Half or Halfback
(8) Front Row Prop Forward
(9) Hooker
(10) Front Row Prop Forward
(11) Second Row Forward
(12) Second Row Forward
(13) Lock Forward


Players on the field are divided into forwards and backs. Each position has a designated number, 1 to 13. Numbers 14 to 17 are given to players starting on the bench, who will come into the game as substitutes for 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. Typically the bench is comprised of three forward substitutes and a hooker/halves substitute.


The backs are generally smaller, faster and more agile than their forward counterparts. They are often the most creative and evasive players on the field, preferring fine kicking, passing or maneuvring skills, tactics and/or set plays to break the defensive line instead of brute force.

  • The title of full back (numbered 1) comes from the full back'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 full back will typically make runs into the attack or support a runner in anticipation of a pass out of the tackle. Full backs can play a role in attack similar to a half back or Five-Eighth and the fact that the full back 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 while allowing them to retain their attacking role.
  • The wing three-quarters or wings]] (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 (fifth) tackle to cover the left and right sides of the field for kicks while the full back covers the middle.
  • The centers or 'center 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 and create attacking opportunities for their team and defend those of the opposition. Along with the wingers, the centers score plenty of tries throughout a season.
  • The Halves:
    • The stand off or '5/8th' (numbered 6) is often 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-eighth and the half back; only that the half back usually receives the ball first. In the early years the half back gave the ball to the backs while the five eighth gave it to the forwards. The half back position is named after the role or location of the player with respect to the scrum during the scrum.
    • The scrum half or 'half back' (numbered 7) is the player who directs the game and is usually one of the smaller 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 with their passes 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 forwards' two responsibilities can be broken into 'normal play' and 'scrum play'. 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:
    • The props (numbered 8 and 10) are normally the largest players on field (they typically weigh over 15 stones (100 kg or 220 pounds) in the open age/senior game). They are positioned in the center of the line. The prop will be an 'enforcer', dissuading the opposition from attacking the center of the defensive line and in attack give the team momentum by taking the ball up to the defense aggressively.
    • The hooker (numbered 9) is most likely to play the role of dummy-half. In defense the hooker usually defends in the middle of the line against the opposition's props and second-rowers. The hooker will be responsible for organizing the defense 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. He needs to have a very good knowledge of the game and the players around him.
  • The second-row forwards (numbered 11 and 12) The modern day second row is very similar to a center 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 defense when the ball is passed out to the wings. Good second-rowers combine the skills and responsibilities of props and centers in the course of the game.
  • The lock or lock forward (numbered 13) 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 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 to have the skills of a five eighth and to play a similar role in the team.


A traditional rugby union kit consists of a colored jersey, shorts, long socks and boots with studs (or cleats). Although the Rugby League International Federation's rules stipulate "Protective clothing may be worn provided it contains nothing of a rigid or dangerous nature," most players wear little or no padding or protective equipment.[2] Players also may opt to wear a mouthguard.

Rugby League shirt and shorts

Rugby league shirts (or jerseys) need to be able to take plenty of tugging and pulling. They also need to be lightweight, comfortable and strong–all at the same time. Modern shirts use new lightweight water-resistant, synthetic fibers.

The back of a jersey will usually have the player's position number and sometimes their surname printed above it. The team logo traditionally will be placed on one side of the upper chest. Sponsor logos and club competition logos may also be included in the design. Most rugby teams will have two jersey designs, one for home games and a different design for away games. Rugby shorts are traditionally made of cotton.

Boots (cleats)

Generally there are two types of boots (or cleats) worn: the 8 stud or the 6 stud. The 8 stud is most often worn by the forwards to provide them with extra grip for scrummaging. The 6 stud is worn by backs as it allows for more agility and quicker movement around the field. Field conditions are also a determining factor in the choice of football boots worn by players.


An essential part of the safety equipment needed for rugby is the mouthguard. It protects the teeth and gums and can reduce both damage around the jaw and the chances of getting a concussion. The best mouthguards are made by a dentist. A mold of the mouth is first taken and then the mouthguard is cast around this mold, providing a tight fit in the mouth and around the teeth. Unmolded rubber mouthguards, which one can mold in hot water, are also available.


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 nineteenth century England, 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 categorized 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, as is widely known, had its main origins at Rugby School, Warwickshire, England.

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, 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 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 August 29, 1895. Twenty-one clubs (plus Stockport who negotiated by telephone) met at The George Hotel in Huddersfield, West Riding of Yorkshire and formed the Northern Rugby Union. Within 15 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'.

Rugby league worldwide

Rugby league is played in more than 30 countries, though it is most commonly played in the United Kingdom (predominantly northern England), Australia and New Zealand. Rugby League is a winter sport in Australia, however, new foundations in the sport have brought rugby league to a summer game in the UK. Rugby league is also recognized as the national sport in Papua New Guinea.

A National Rugby League game in Brisbane, Australia.

Australia has won every Rugby League World Cup since 1975. Until November 25, 2005, they had also not lost an international tournament or series of any kind for 27 years until they lost to New Zealand in the final of the 2005 Rugby League Tri-Nations at Elland Road in Leeds.

In the United Kingdom, rugby league has traditionally struggled to become accepted outside of the "heartland" towns of northern England where the game originated (Lancashire, Yorkshire and Cumberland). The balance is changing with the advent of Super League on Sky Sports. The Super League's expansion policy helped to establish a team in London, Harlequins RL.

The game is also attempting expansion in Europe. Despite having had many strong teams historically, rugby à treize in France has struggled to compete with rugby union since the Vichy government banned the sport and illegally seized all their assets during World War II. However the French reached the finals of the 1954 and 1968 Rugby League World Cups. In 2006, the Super League admitted the Catalans Dragons, who on July 29th, 2007, made it to the Challenge Cup final, being the first non-English team to do so.

Early 21st century developments have seen Georgia, Netherlands, Germany, Estonia, Malta, Serbia, Argentina, Jamaica, Samoa, Tonga and others take part in international rugby league tournaments or matches.

The Rugby League World Cup has become more popular with the emergence of the tri-nations consisting of Great Britain, Australia and New Zealand.

Major Tournaments


Rugby league
Sport Rugby league
Founded 1954
No. of teams 16 (Finals)
Continent International (Rugby League International Federation)
Most recent champion(s) Flag of Australia Australia

The Rugby League World Cup is contested by the national rugby league teams of the member nations of the sport's global governing body, the Rugby League International Federation (RLIF). Since the inaugral tournament in France in 1954, the Rugby League World Cup has been contested twelve times with seventeen different national teams competing, but only two nations have won the championship–Australia and Great Britian. Australia has won the Rugby League World Cup nine times including six consecutive World Cups between 1975 and 2000, establishing itself as the most dominent international team in rugby league. The next tournament will be contested in Australia in 2008.[3]

Several different formats have been used to determine the winner of the Rugby League World Cup including Pool Play with the top team or teams advancing to a series of finals. From 1954 until 1972 (and again in 1977) the Rugby League World Cup competition only featured four teams, Australia, Britain, France and New Zealand; the RLIF therefore adopted a league style format where each team would play each other and whichever two teams sat atop of the table after the completion of all matches would play off for the championship.

Australia, France and New Zealand are the only nations who have appeared at every Rugby League World Cup from 1954 to 2000. England and Wales also have been at all, but participated under the banner of Great Britain from the majority of the earlier tournaments.

The following table shows the results of all Rugby League World Cups from 1954 to 2000.

Year Host Winner Final Score Runner-up Final venue Final crowd
1954 France Flag of the United Kingdom.svg
Great Britain
16 - 12 Flag of France.svg
Parc des Princes, Paris 30,368
1957 Australia Flag of Australia.svg
- Flag of the United Kingdom.svg
Great Britain
Sydney Cricket Ground, Sydney 30,675
1960 United Kingdom Flag of the United Kingdom.svg
Great Britain
10 - 3 Flag of Australia.svg
Odsal Stadium, Bradford 32,733
1968 Australia
New Zealand
Flag of Australia.svg
20 - 2 Flag of France.svg
Sydney Cricket Ground, Sydney 54,290
1970 United Kingdom Flag of Australia.svg
12 - 7 Flag of the United Kingdom.svg
Great Britain
Headingley, Leeds 18,776
1972 France Flag of the United Kingdom.svg
Great Britain
10 - 10 Flag of Australia.svg
Stade de Gerland, Lyon 4,500
1975 Worldwide Flag of Australia.svg
25 - 0 Flag of England.svg
Headingley, Leeds 7,727
1977 Australia
New Zealand
Flag of Australia.svg
13 - 12 Flag of the United Kingdom.svg
Great Britain
Sydney Cricket Ground, Sydney 24,457
1985-1988 Worldwide Flag of Australia.svg
25 - 12 Flag of New Zealand.svg
New Zealand
Eden Park, Auckland 47,363
1989-1992 Worldwide Flag of Australia.svg
10 - 6 Flag of the United Kingdom.svg
Great Britain
Wembley Stadium, London 73,631
1995 United Kingdom Flag of Australia.svg
16 - 8 Flag of England.svg
Wembley Stadium, London 66,540
2000 United Kingdom Flag of Australia.svg
40 - 12 Flag of New Zealand.svg
New Zealand
Old Trafford, Manchester 44,329
2008 Australia Suncorp Stadium, Brisbane


In addition to the Rugby League World Cup, the major Rugby League playing nations also support strong domestic club competitions. These domestic competions include National Rugby League (Australasia), Super League (Europe), the French Rugby League Championship (France) and the Bartercard Cup (New Zealand).

ISBN links support NWE through referral fees

  1. Rugby League International Federation Rugby League International Federation, Retrieved September 30, 2007.
  2. 2.0 2.1 The International Laws of the Game The Rugby League International Federation, Retrieved September 30, 2007.
  3. "rugby." Encyclopædia Britannica. 2007. Encyclopædia Britannica Online.

External links

All links retrieved December 22, 2022.


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