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Rugby league

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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, rugby, football or league) is a full-contact team sport played with a prolate spheroid-shaped ball by two teams of thirteen on a rectangular grass field. Rugby league is one of the two major codes of rugby football, the other being rugby union. The league code is most prominent in Great Britain, Australia, New Zealand, and France, where the sport is played professionally. Rugby league is also immensely popular in Papua New Guinea where it is considered the national sport and many national players figure prominently in the Australian Rugby League. The game is played to a lesser extent in several other countries, such as Russia, the United States 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 in 1922 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.


The grass 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, as is was widely known, had its main origins at Rugby School, Warwickshire, England.

In 1895 rugby football was 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 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-one clubs (plus Stockport who negotiated by telephone) met at The George Hotel in Huddersfield, in the West Riding of Yorkshire, and formed the "Northern Rugby Football Union". Within fifteen years, more than 200 RFU clubs had left to join the rugby revolution.


Players on 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. Each side is allowed 12 substitutions per game. (For 2008, in the National Rugby League, each side may use up to 10 substitutions.)


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 manoeuvring skills, tactics and/or set plays to break the defensive line instead of brute force.

  • 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 and 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.
  • The Halves:
    • The stand-off or '5/8th' (numbered 6) is often the most skilful 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 halfback; only that the halfback usually receives the ball first. In the early years the halfback gave the ball to the backs while the five-eighth gave it to the forwards. The halfback position is named after the role or location of the player with respect to the scrum during the scrum. To understand the halfback or any other player's role in the scrum, see Rugby league positions.
    • The scrum-half or 'halfback' (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'. 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:
    • The props (numbered 8 and 10) are normally the largest players on field (they typically weigh over 15 stones (100 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. 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 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 (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 to have the skills of a five eighth and to play a similar role in the team.

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. Australia, where it is a winter sport, is generally thought to be the strongest of the three. Rugby league is most popular in England, Australia, New Zealand, and France and it is recognised as the national sport in Papua New Guinea.

A National Rugby League game in Brisbane, Australia.

Australia has won every world cup since 1975. Until November 25, 2005, they had also not lost an international tournament or series of any kind for twenty seven years until they lost to New Zealand in the final of the 2005 Tri-Nations Series 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 (Yorkshire, Lancashire and Cumberland).

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 Two. 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 29, 2007, made it to the Challenge Cup final, being the first non-English team to do so.

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

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