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Rugby League

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A rugby league player rolls the ball back to his team-mate.

Rugby League began in 1895. It is different from Rugby Union as they both have different governing bodies and different laws and rules. One of the rules that separated the two bodies was that there used to be a life-time ban for playing in the League if you were Union registered, even if you played as an amateur. Rugby Union is played with 15 players, line-outs, scrums, rucks and mauls. Rugby League is played with 13 players on the pitch for each team and while it still has scrums, it does not have line-outs or mauls.

In the 19th Century, arguments over the issue of broken time payments took place in the Rugby Union. At that time there were no full-time teams and players worked as well as played for a team and often had to take time off from their work to play the game. Soon after the separation from the Rugby Union the Rugby League took off and new teams were formed in the northern English counties of Yorkshire and Lancashire, followed not long after by Australia. It is now played in:

It is also played in France where up to 20 years ago it was illegal to play Rugby League.

The game of Rugby League is a fast hard hitting game that is played over 80 minutes. This is played in two 40 minute halves and requires strength, courage and fantastic fitness. There are four leagues in the English game:

  • The Super League
  • National League One
  • National League Two
  • National League Three

The team which wins the National League One play-off gets the opportunity to play in the Super League while the team that finishes the season at the bottom of the Super League gets relegated and has to try to regain promotion next season1.

The Australian game is different as the team who are at the bottom of the National Rugby League (NRL) gets the wooden spoon but remain in the top league.

Wage Cap

The wage cap was brought in four years ago and levels the playing field between the big clubs who can get 10,000 people at a home game and the smaller clubs who might get about 6,000. It was introduced to stop smaller clubs from going bust while trying to keep up with the big clubs who could afford to sign the big stars of Rugby League (not just from the Super League but also from Australia and New Zealand) that demanded big wages as well. By implementing the wage cap it made a more competitive and exciting league. Any of the big clubs that break the wage cap face losing points and also a penalty of heavy fines.


A coach can pick an 18-man squad but only 13 are allowed to start the game. Each player has their own position. The positions are:


Shirt numbers: 1, 22, 27, 31

Instead of joining the defensive line, fullbacks drop back behind it in case the attacking team kick over the line or the kick from the last tackle crosses the defensive line. Fullbacks need to be good tacklers and very good catchers.

Wings/Wing Three Quarters

Shirt numbers:

  • Right Wing: 2, 32, 17
  • Left Wing: 5, 27

The wingers are the fastest men on the pitch. Their job is to take passes and score tries.

Centre's/Centre Three Quarters

Shirt numbers:

  • Left Centre: 4, 23
  • Right Centre: 3, 20

Centres need have an overall view of the play. They also need power as they produce the attacking opportunities and work in defence as well.

Halfback/Scrum Half

Shirt numbers: 7, 25

Scrum halves are the smallest players on the field and decide how the team will attack if and when the ball is kicked. They also make sure the other members of the team are in the right attacking positions.

Stand Off

Shirt numbers: 6, 15

A very skillful player who will be involved in most of the passing.

Prop Forwards

Shirt numbers: 8, 14, 28, 24, 29, 18, 26

These are the biggest players who can weigh up to 15 stone2 and are in the centre line where their main job is to stop attacks coming down the middle of the field.


Shirt numbers: 13, 9

The hooker is in the centre and faces the opposition's props and second row. He is also responsible for organising the defence and normally takes the role of dummy-half in attacks.

Second Row Forwards

Shirt numbers: 12, 10, 11, 19

Second row-ers are faster and more skillful than props and they face the three quarters. They are the strength of the team, not only in attack but also in defence.

Loose Forward/Lock Forward

Shirt numbers: 16, 30

The lock forwards have to be the fittest players on the team as their task is to cover all of the field in both attack and defensive positions and slot into passing links or the kick option.

Rugby League Field

A Rugby League field should be 100m in length with a width of 68m and an in-goal area of about 6m and 11m. It will have lines marked out from the in goal area - 10m, 20m, 30m, 40m and a halfway line. This should be the same on both halves of the field.

Object of the Game

The object of the game could not be easier to explain. Within the 80 minutes (two 40 minutes halves) you have to score more points than the opposition team. You can do this by scoring a try, which is when you cross the opposition's in-goal area and ground the ball, which is worth four points. If you score a try then you earn the right to kick a conversion depending on where the ball is touched down. If the ball is grounded in the corner the kick is taken 5m from the touchline. If it is grounded under the posts it is taken 10m out in front of the posts. This is worth two points.

There are two ways in which you can gain points from a penalty. If you don't want to take a tap penalty, which happens when you tap the ball with your foot and pass to a team mate to run at the opposition's line, you can kick the penalty. This is worth two points. You can also attempt a drop goal where you drop the ball to the ground, point of the ball first, and after the ball has bounced you kick it with the foot. This is mostly done if the scores are tied and time is running out.

Playing the Game

Starting the Game

Before the kick-off, a coin is tossed by the referee and the home captain gets the choice of heads or tails. Depending on how the coin lands the winner gets to decide which end they start from and if they are defending or attacking first.


At the kick-off, the defending team kick the ball to you and you have six tackles to get to the try line. This is done by passing the ball from left to right or right to left3 or passing it to your forwards or second row that push up the centre to gain you ground before the sixth tackle. When you are tackled on the last tackle you must hand the ball over to the defending team.

After you have been tackled you need to place the ball on the ground while keeping hold of it. You then roll it behind you while moving your foot over the top of the ball. The player doesn't need to count the number of tackles as the referee will call what tackle you are on. If it gets to the fifth tackle the attacking team will kick the ball down to the defending team's half and chase the ball. Kickers will attempt to kick the ball behind the defending team's posts. This is because one mistake by the defending team can let a chasing attacker score a touchdown, or get a repeat set of six tackles if a member of the defending team picks the ball up in the in goal area and fails to get out, is tackled, or is pushed over the dead ball line. Attackers can also kick the ball out before the corner flag which means that the defending team becomes the attacking team but they will have to scrum down on their 10m line and get from there into the other team's half.


The main objective of the defending team is to make it as hard as possible for the attacking team to make it into the defending half of the field. This is done by going into the tackle hard which will hopefully force an error from the attacking player. When the player is tackled, instead of putting them on the ground you push them as far back as possible because the tackle is not complete until the ball-carrying arm hits the floor or the referee calls 'held'. The defending team must also give the attackers 10m of distance.


If the defending player does not secure the arms of the opponent in the tackle it will give the attacker a chance to pass the ball out and carry on the attack. It is important if you are going to secure the arms and there is another member of your team also in the tackle you do not remove the ball from the attacker's arm because this will result in a penalty going against you for stealing.


Knock-on - This occurs when an attacking player who is carrying the ball drops it and the ball moves forward. A knock-on can also occur if the ball is kicked to you, strikes your hand and then goes forward. If control was lost while putting the ball on the ground to play this is also deemed a knock-on and the opponents get a scrum.

High tackle - If a member of the defending team's arm goes above the shoulder, hitting the neck or face of the attacker.

Stealing - If two defenders make a tackle and there is enough deliberate contact on the ball to make it come loose. If it comes loose under the pressure of a tackle, play should continue.

Incorrect play of the ball - After the player has been tackled they then have to get up and put the ball on the ground. They then keep one hand on top of the ball and roll it while moving the foot over the top of it and play it behind them. If the referee doesn't think that there was enough of an effort to roll the foot over the top of the ball or if the player hasn't got off a vertical base to play the ball, the referee will give the player a penalty.

Forward pass - After the play of the ball, the scrum half will pass the ball. It is important the ball goes behind the scrum half although they may choose to use the flat pass4. Care should be taken with this because if missed it can be judged as going forward.

Off-side - This occurs if the defending team fail to make the 10m, which will be at the side of the referee.

Markers not square - When the attacking player plays the ball two defenders are allowed to stand in front of the attacking player but they must be one behind the other.

Back-chatting the referee - If a penalty goes against your team only the captain may ask the referee about the penalty. If another member of the team questions the referee at length about it, the referee can give a penalty which allows a kick up field and easy yards.

Interference at the play of the ball - This occurs if a player, after the tackle is completed, makes any contact with the opponent or holds the opponent down until their defence is back in position. The referee will also deem interference if there is an attempt to remove the ball before the player in attack has played the ball.

Obstruction - On the sixth tackle, when the attackers kick the ball the defenders are allowed to move in the same direction but are not allowed to intentionally block the attacking players, run or hold them back by their shirts, or grab their arms.

A Flop - This occurs when an attacking player is tackled and a defending player then falls on top of them.

40/20 - A 40/20 is a test of a kicker's skill and accuracy. To get a 40/20 the kicker has to kick the ball from their 40m line to the attackers 20m line. If they are successful they get rewarded with a scrum on the 10m line.

Dangerous tackles - Players are not allowed to pick up an attacking player above the vertical base and drop them on their head or neck. Tackles not allowed also include swinging arms that connect with the attacking player's neck and also grapple tackles. The referee can put any of these offences on report. This is signalled by crossing both his arms in front of his chest or by crossing his hands above his head. Players can also be sin binned, or even sent off the field.

Referee's signals

Try scored - If a try is given, the referee will extend his arm and point to where the try was scored. The referee will also give a sharp blow of his whistle.

No try - Referees indicate this by crossing both arms across the chest or by moving their hands backwards and forwards in a criss-crossing action.

Incorrect play the ball - The referee will look like he is playing an imaginary ball to indicate that the player has not used the correct technique.

Goal/conversion - The referee's hand will be raised above his head. This will be accompanied by a loud blast on the whistle.

Fifth tackle - The referee will raise his arm clearly above his head with all five fingers of his hand spread.

Penalty - The referee will raise his arm to shoulder height and point to the team who has been awarded the penalty.

Dissent - The referee will raise his arm to indicate a penalty and with the other hand tap his mouth.

Offside - The referee will raise one arm to indicate the penalty has been given to the team he is pointing to and the other hand is extended to show the player who is offside.

Forward pass - One arm is extended in front of the referee's body to show the ball has gone forward.

Knock-on - Both hands are extended in front of the referee's body with the palms of the hand showing.

Scrum - The referee will raise his arms and bend his fingers of both hands. He then pushes the fingers together and then extends the arm to point to the team who puts the ball in at the scrum.

Play On - The referee will raise both hands palms open.

Head high challenge - The hands are raised in front of the head (from the chin to the forehead).

Obstruction - Both arms are held in front of the chest, one above the other with the fists clenched.

Zero tackle - The referee clenches his fist and raises it in the air then he moves it from side to side.

Stop the clock - Both hands are raised above the head.

Handover on the sixth tackle - The referee will raise a fist in the air and point to the team who will receive the ball. The referee will shout 'handover' to the player with the ball.

Incident on report - The referee will raise both arms above his head and cross them.

Holding down a tackled player - Both arms are lowered and are pushing downwards.


If a player gets a yellow card they are sent to the sin bin and will miss ten minutes of the game. If a player gets a red card they will take no further part in the game.

Disciplinary Board

If a player has been put on report the disciplinary board will have a look at the offence and the board members then will make up their mind if the player is guilty of the offence and what punishment should be given. The punishment varies from a fine, to a period of suspension, or exclusion from the game. Players can appeal within 30 days but in doing so could face a bigger fine or longer suspensions.

1Many clubs have not been able to do this.2About 95kg.3This is normally referred to as giving the ball width.4This is when the player runs and the scrum half passes when the player is almost at the side of them.

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