About Rugby League

Overview

Rugby league football, usually called rugby league, is a full contact sport played by two teams of thirteen players on a rectangular grass field. One of the two codes of rugby football, it originated in England in 1895 as a split from the Rugby Football Union over the issue of payments to players. Its rules gradually changed to produce a more entertaining game for spectators. It is frequently cited as the toughest, most physically demanding of team sports.

Points get scored by carrying or kicking a ball down a field, crossing the ball over the opponent’s designated goal line and grounding the ball; this is called a try. After a try, the scoring team gains a free kick to try at goal with a conversion – a kick for further points. The opposing team attempts to stop the attacking side gaining points by preventing their progress up the field by tackling the player carrying the ball.

The game holds a significant place in the culture and heritage of Northern England, Eastern Australia, New Zealand, Southern France and Papua New Guinea. The European Super League and Australasian National Rugby League are the premier club competitions. Rugby league is played internationally, predominantly by European, Australasian and Pacific countries, and is governed by the Rugby League International Federation. The current World Cup holders are New Zealand.

The History of Rugby

In 1895, a schism in Rugby football 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 affluent 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”. Within fifteen years of that first meeting in Huddersfield, more than 200 RFU clubs had left to join the rugby revolution.

In 1906, the Northern Union changed its rules, reducing teams from 15 to 13 a side and replacing the scrum formed after every tackle with the play the ball. A similar schism occurred in Sydney, Australia. There on 8 August 1907 the New South Wales Rugby Football League was founded at Bateman’s Hotel in George Street. Rugby league then went on to displace rugby union as the primary football code in New South Wales and Queensland.

On 5 May 1954 over 100,000 (official figure 102,569) spectators watched the 1953–54 Challenge Cup final at Odsal Stadium, Bradford, England, setting a new record for attendance at a rugby football match of either code. 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.
1967 saw the first professional Sunday matches of rugby league played.
The first sponsors, Joshua Tetley and John Player, entered the game for the 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 as the sport’s flagship competition and since that time has set record TV ratings and crowd figures.

The Rules of Rugby League

The objective in rugby league is to score more points through tries, goals (also known as conversions) 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, and a team will usually attempt to score one by running and kicking the ball further up-field, 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, or drop goal, is only worth one point and is gained by dropping and then kicking the ball on the half volley between the uprights in open play.

Field position is crucial in rugby league, achieved by running with or kicking the ball. Passing in rugby league may only be in a backward or sideways direction. Team-mates therefore have to remain on-side by not moving ahead of the player with the ball. However the ball may be kicked ahead for team-mates, 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. The ball can also be turned over by going over the sideline.

International Rugby League

Rugby league is played in over 30 nations throughout the world, 27 are ranked by the RLIF and a further 11 are unranked. The strongest rugby league nations are Australia, England and New Zealand. The Rugby League World Cup is the highest form of representative rugby league and currently features 14 teams (ordered by RLIF rank) (1) Australia, (2) New Zealand, (3) England, (4) Papua New Guinea, (5) France, (6) Wales, (7) Fiji, (8) Samoa, (9) Tonga, (10) Scotland, (11) USA, (12) Ireland, (13) Italy and (16) Cook Islands. (14) Lebanon, (17) Russia and (22) South Africa have previously contested in World Cups. Rugby league is currently the national sport of 2 countries Papua New Guinea and the Cook Islands.

The Rugby League European Federation are responsible for developing rugby league in Europe and the Northern Hemisphere, while the Asia Pacific Rugby League Confederation are responsible for developing rugby league in the Asia-Pacific region.

The Rugby League European Cup and Rugby League Pacific Cup are both run by the RLEF and APRLC respectively and are used as a stepping stone to the Rugby League Four Nations with Australia, New Zealand and England, the 4th team is decided by who wins the Pacific and European Cup and rotates each year from Europe to the Pacific.

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. In Australia, rugby league is the dominant winter sport in the Australian Capital Territory, Queensland and New South Wales.

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.

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 nationwide.

Currently, two of the fourteen Super League teams in the northern hemisphere originate from outside of the sport’s traditional counties: London Broncos and Catalans Dragons. Over 40,000 players were registered by the RFL as of October 2008 with an overall participation rate in the game doubling in the last four years to well over 285,000 by late 2009.

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. However, after the Allied Forces were defeated by Germany in June 1940, 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. The sport was unbanned after the Liberation of Paris in August 1944 and the collapse of the Vichy regime, although it was still actively marginalised by the French authorities until the 1990s.

Despite this, the national side appeared in the finals of the 1954 and 1968 World Cups, and the country hosted the 1954 event. In 1996, a French team, Paris Saint-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.

In 2006, the Super League admitted the Catalans Dragons, a team from Perpignan in the southern Languedoc-Roussillon region. They have subsequently reached the 2007 Challenge Cup Final and made the play-offs of the 2008 Super League XIII 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.

The early 21st century has seen other countries take up the game and compete in international rugby league with efforts being made by the Rugby League European Federation to expand the game to new areas such as Germany, Sweden, Norway and Hungary to name a few.