A rugby league football 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, to attack, and to make tackles. Forwards are often required to make openings for the backs and improving in field position. Backs are usually smaller and faster, though a big, fast player can be of advantage in the backs. Their roles require speed and ball-playing skills, rather than just strength, to take advantage of the field position gained by the forwards.
The numbering of positions is standardised. The starting side normally 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 positions and the numbers are defined by the game's laws as:
There are some different names used in different parts of the world. Lock, five-eighth and halfback are used in Australia, New Zealand and some surrounding countries. The same positions are known as loose forward, stand-off and scrum half respectively in the Northern Hemisphere, where halfbacks refers to both the stand-off and scrum half. Numbers 8 and 10 are both usually referred to as props but are occasionally called "front row forwards".
(In this article, positions with differing titles have been indicated as: "Northern hemisphere name" / "Australia & New Zealand name".)
The chart below shows these numbers alongside the names most commonly used for their positions. The chart shows a typical formation during a scrum. Forwards are above the line and backs below.
|Rugby league positions|
Generally, the backline consists of smaller and faster players. A University of Technology, Sydney study of the movement patterns of a team's players in games during the 2010 NRL season compared forwards and backs. It found that the mean total distances covered and the average number of occurrences in high-intensity running (> 18 km/h) was higher for backs than forwards.
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. Defensively, fullbacks must be able to chase and tackle any player who breaks the first line of defence, and must be able to catch kicks made by the attacking side. Their role in attack is usually as a support player but they can also come into the line to create an extra man in attack. Fullbacks that feature in their respective nations' rugby league halls of fame are France's Puig Aubert, Australia's Clive Churchill and Charles Fraser, Great Britain/Wales' Jim Sullivan and New Zealand's Des White.
The threequarters consist of the wings and centres. They are usually positioned closer to the edges of the field. The term "outside backs" is sometimes used to refer to the centres, wings and fullback.
Also known as wingers. There are two wings in a rugby league team, numbered 2 and 5, positioned on each side of the field. They generally are among the fastest players in a team, with the speed to finish an attacking move. Players who hold records for most tries are usually wingers. Wingers that feature in their respective nations' rugby league halls of fame are Great Britain's Billy Batten, Australia's Brian Bevan, John Ferguson Ken Irvine, Harold Horder and Brian Carlson, South Africa's Tom van Vollenhoven, Great Britain's Billy Boston and Clive Sullivan and France's Raymond Contrastin and Maurice Voron.
There are two centres, right and left, numbered 3 and 4 respectively. They are usually positioned outside the halves and inside the wings. They often need to be some of the fastest players on the pitch, usually providing the pass to the winger for him to finish off a move. Centres that feature in their respective nations' rugby league halls of fame are France's Max Rousié, England's Eric Ashton, Harold Wagstaff and Neil Fox, Wales' Gus Risman and Australia's Reg Gasnier, H "Dally" Messenger Dave Brown, Jim Craig, Bob Fulton and Mal Meninga.
There are two half backs (frequently referred to as 'the halves' in Australasia) - the stand-off half back (or five-eighth) numbered 6 and the scrum half (or halfback) numbered 7. Positioned more centrally in attack, near the forwards, they direct the ball in attack and are usually two of their team's main decision-makers.
Numbered 6, the stand-off half (or five-eighth) is usually responsible for directing the ball to the rest of the team in attack (hence the nickname 'pivot') and is often a strong kicker. Stand-off halves that feature in their respective nations' rugby league halls of fame are England's Roger Millward, Australia's Brad Fittler, Darren Lockyer, Laurie Daley, Wally Lewis, Albert Rosenfeld and Vic Hey, and New Zealand's George Menzies and Benji Marshall.
Numbered 7, the scrum half (or half back) is usually involved in directing his team's play and is likely to be a very good passer. The position is sometimes referred to as "first receiver" as halfbacks are often positioned so as to be the first to receive the football from the dummy-half after a play-the-ball. This makes them important decision-makers in attack. Scrum halves are often short and fast over a short distance and should also be very capable handlers of the ball. Scrum half backs that feature in their respective nations' rugby league halls of fame are England's Alex Murphy and Jonty Parkin, France's Jean Dop, Australia's Keith Holman, Duncan Thompson, Peter Sterling, Chris McKivat, Alan Langer, Andrew Johns and Ricky Stuart and New Zealand's Stacey Jones.
A rugby league forward pack consists of players who tend to be bigger and stronger than backs, and generally rely more on their 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 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 just used for props.
The hooker, numbered 9, packs in the middle of the scrum's front row. The position is named because of the traditional role of "hooking" the ball back with the foot when it entered the scrum. It is usually the hooker who plays in the dummy half position, receiving the ball from the play-the-ball and continuing his team's attack by passing the ball to a team-mate or by running himself.
There are two props, numbered 8 and 10, who pack into the front row of the scrum on either side of the hooker. Sometimes called 'bookends' in Australasia, the props are often the two heaviest players on a team. Primarily, in attack their size and strength are used for running directly into the defensive line, as a kind of "battering ram" to simply gain metres. Similarly, props are relied upon to defend against such running from the opposition's forwards. Prop forwards that feature in their respective nations' rugby league halls of fame are Australia's Arthur Beetson, Duncan Hall and Frank Burge, and New Zealand's Cliff Johnson.
Three forwards make up the back row of the scrum: Two second-rowers and a loose forward. All three may be referred to as back-rowers.
Second-row forwards are numbered 11 and 12, and make up the second row of the scrum. Second-row forwards support the front rowers while attacking. Second-row forwards that feature in their respective nations' rugby league halls of fame are New Zealand's Mark Graham, Australia's Norm Provan, George Treweek and Harry Bath, France's Jean Galia, Great Britain/England's Martin Hodgson.
Numbered 13, the loose forward (or lock) packs behind the two second-rows in the scrum. From an attacking scrum they will sometimes pick the ball up themselves and run or pass. Some notable professional loose forwards have also played at stand-off, as the roles can be similar. Loose forwards that feature in their respective nations' rugby league halls of fame are Great Britain's Ellery Hanley, Australia's Ron Coote, John Raper and Wally Prigg, Great Britain's Vince Karalius, New Zealand's Charlie Seeling
In addition to the thirteen on-field players, there are a maximum of four substitutes (or interchange players) who start the game on their team's bench. 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, he will wear the number 14 for the whole game, and not change shirts to display the number 1.
The rules governing if and when a replacement can be used have varied over the history of the game; currently they can be used for any reason by their coach - typically because of injury, to manage fatigue, for tactical reasons or due to poor performance. Leagues in different countries have had different rules on how many substitutions or interchanges can be made in a game. Under the rules of Australia's National Rugby League ten interchanges are permitted per team in each game. Additionally, if a player is injured due to foul play attracting a penalty, then his team is given a free interchange.
As well as their positions, players' roles may be referred to by a range of other terms.
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 attacking team's dummy-half.
The acting halfback, acting half or dummy half is the player who stands behind the play-the-ball and collects the ball, before passing or running with the ball. The hooker has become almost synonymous with the dummy half role. However, any player of any position can play the role at any time and this often happens during a game, particularly when the hooker is the player tackled.
The first receiver is the name given to the first player to receive the ball off the ruck, i.e. from the dummy-half.
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 can play in a number of different positions is often referred to as a 'utility player', or 'utility forward' or 'utility back'.
Although any player can attempt his team's kicks at goal (penalty kicks or conversions), most teams will have specific players who will train extensively at kicking, and will often use only one player to take goal kicks during a game.
The captain is the on-field leader of a team and a point of contact between the referee and a team, and can be a player of any position. Some of the captain's responsibilities are stipulated in the laws.
Before a match, the two teams' captains toss a coin with the referee. The captain that wins the toss can decide to kick off or can choose which end of the field to defend. The captain that loses the toss then takes the other of the alternatives.
When a 'specialist' player (hooker or scrum half, for example) persistently breaks the laws, the referee should inform the player's captain when issuing a final caution, so the captain may choose to move him to another position.
The captains are also responsible for appointing a substitute should a referee suffer an injury during a game.
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