An attacking player attempts to evade two defenders
|Highest governing body||Rugby League International Federation|
|Nicknames||Footy, The Greatest Game of All|
|First played||7 September 1895, post schism, England|
|Type||Outdoor team sport|
|Venue||Rugby league playing field|
Rugby league football, usually called rugby league, or simply league is a full contact sport played by two teams of thirteen players on a rectangular 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 with the purpose of producing a faster, more entertaining game for spectators. It is frequently cited as the toughest, most physically demanding of team sports.
In rugby league points are scored by carrying or kicking the ball down the field, until it can be moved past the opponents' designated goal line and touched to the ground; this is called a try, and is the primary method of scoring. 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. In addition to tries, points can be scored by kicking goals. After each try, the scoring team gains a free kick to try at goal with a conversion for further points. Kicks at goal may also be awarded for penalties, and field goals can be attempted at any time during general play.
Rugby league is among the most popular sports in Northern England, Australia, New Zealand, France, Tonga and Papua New Guinea, where it is the national sport. The European Super League and Australasian National Rugby League (NRL) 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 first Rugby League World Cup was held in France in 1954; the current holders are Australia.
Rugby league football takes its name from the bodies that split to create a new form of rugby football, distinct from that run by the Rugby Football Unions, in Britain, Australia and New Zealand between 1895 and 1908.
The first of these, the Northern Rugby Football Union, was established in 1895 as a breakaway faction of England's Rugby Football Union (RFU). Both organisations played the game under the same rules at first, although the Northern Union began to modify rules almost immediately, thus creating a new faster paced form of rugby football. Similar breakaway factions split from RFU-affiliated unions in Australia and New Zealand in 1907 and 1908, renaming themselves "rugby football leagues" and introducing Northern Union rules. In 1922, the Northern Union also changed its name to the Rugby Football League and thus over time the sport itself became known as "rugby league" football.
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. In 1895, a decree by the RFU banning the playing of rugby at grounds where entrance fees were charged led to twenty-two clubs (including Stockport who negotiated by telephone) meeting at the George Hotel, Huddersfield on 29 August 1895 and forming 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 1897, the line-out was abolished and in 1898 professionalism introduced. In 1906, the Northern Union changed its rules, reducing teams from 15 to 13 a side and replacing the ruck formed after every tackle with the play the ball.
A similar schism to that which occurred in England took place 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 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 upfield, 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. Teammates therefore have to remain on-side by not moving ahead of the player with the ball. However the ball may be kicked ahead for teammates, but again, if they are in front of the kicker, when the ball is kicked, 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.
Players on the field are divided into forwards and backs, although the game's rules apply to all players the same way. Each position has a designated number to identify himself from other players. These numbers help to identify which position a person is playing. The system of numbering players is different depending on which country the match is played in. In Australia and New Zealand, each player is usually given a number corresponding to their playing position on the field. However, since 1996 European teams have been able to grant players specific squad numbers, which they keep in irrelevance to the position they play, similarly to association football.
Interchanges (generally referred to as "The Bench") are allowed in the sport, and are typically used when a player gets tired or injured, although they can also be used tactically. Each team is currently allowed four substitutes, and in Australia and New Zealand, these players occupy shirt numbers 14 to 22. There are no limitations on what players must occupy these interchangeable slots, and interchanged players may re-enter the field of play again following a second interchange. Generally, twelve interchanges are allowed in any game from each team, although in the National Rugby League, this was reduced to ten prior to the 2008 season. If a team has to interchange a player due to the Blood Bin rule or due to injury, and this was the result of misconduct from the opposing team, the compromised team does not have to use one of its allocated interchanges to take the player in question off the field.
The backs are generally smaller, faster and more agile than the forwards. They are often the most creative and evasive players on the field, relying on running, kicking and handling skills, as well as tactics and set plays, to break the defensive line, instead of brute force. Generally forwards do the majority of the work (hit-ups/tackling).
Usually, the stand-off half and scrum-half are a team's creative unit or 'playmakers'. During the interactions between a team's 'key' players (stand-off half, scrum-half, fullback, loose-forward, and nine), the stand-off half and scrum-half will usually be involved in most passing moves.
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 assigned as follows:
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) France, (5) Fiji, (6) Wales,(7) Papua New Guinea,(8) Samoa, (9) Ireland, (10) USA, (11) Scotland, (12) Italy (13) Tonga, and (14) Cook Islands. (20) Lebanon, (15) Russia and (25) South Africa have previously contested in World Cups. The current World Champions are Australia, who won the 2013 Rugby League World Cup.
The game is particularly popular in the nations of the South Pacific. Rugby League is the 3rd most attended sport in Australia  and neighbouring Papua New Guinea is the only country to have rugby league as its national sport. This has led to officials from that country lobbying to have a team admitted to the National Rugby League, Australia's elite club competition which also features a team from Auckland, New Zealand's biggest city. The popularity of the code in New Zealand has led to the possibility of another team from the South Island entering the competition as well. Rugby league is the dominant winter sport in the eastern Australian states of New South Wales, Queensland and Australian Capital Territory, The game is also among the predominant sports of Tonga and is played in other Pacific nations such as Samoa and the Cook Islands. In Australia, and indeed the rest of the region, the annual State of Origin series ranks among the most popular sporting events.
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 fourth team being decided by who wins the Pacific and European Cup, and rotates each year from Europe to the Pacific.
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. Currently, two of the fourteen Super League teams are based outside of these traditional counties: London Broncos and Catalans Dragons. 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. 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.
The two most prominent fully professional leagues are the Australasian National Rugby League and the European Super League and to a lesser extent the semi professional French Elite One Championship and Elite Two Championship. Domestic semi professional leagues exist below the NRL and Super League, especially on a state or county level, in Australia the Queensland Cup (which includes a team from Papua New Guinea) and NSW Cup, which provides players to various NRL teams. In the United Kingdom below Super League is the Championship and Championship 1. The Fiji National Rugby League Competition also runs semi professional teams. In other countries the game is played at an amateur level.
|AUS/ NZL/ PNG||National Rugby League (NRL)||16||1908||2013||Sydney Roosters||Manly-Warringah Sea Eagles||A-Grade|
|VB New South Wales Cup||13||2008||2013||Cronulla Sharks||Windsor Wolves||1st Tier|
|Intrust Super Cup||12||2008||2012||Wynnum Manly Seagulls||Redcliffe Dolphins|
|NRL Holden Cup U20's (NYC)||16||2007||2013||Penrith Panthers||New Zealand Warriors||Youth|
|CAN||British Columbia Rugby League (BCRLC)||6||2012||2013||Surrey Beavers||Kelowna Crows||1st Tier|
|Ontario Rugby League (ORL)||4||2010||2013||Toronto City Saints||Toronto Centruions|
|COK||Cook Island League||4||2010||2010||Avatiu Eels||Unknown||1st Tier|
|CZE||Czech Republic Rugby League First Division||4||2011||2013||Lokomotiva Beroun||'Zemni Stavby Vrchlabi||1st Division|
|Czech Republic Rugby League Second Division||4||2012||2013||Chrudim Angels||'Slavia Hradec Kralove||2nd Division|
|ENG/ FRA||European Super League (ESL)||14||1996||2013||Wigan Warriors||Warrington Wolves||A-Grade|
|ENG/ WAL||Kingstone Press Championship||10||2003||2012||Sheffield Eagles||Featherstone Rovers||1st Tier|
|Kingstone Press Championship 1||10||2003||2012||Doncaster RLFC||Barrow Raiders||2nd Tier|
|FIJ||Fiji National Rugby League (FNRL)||14||2010||2012||Makoi Bulldogs||Sabeto Roosters||1st Tier|
|FRA||Le Championnat de France Elite Un||10||2002||2012-13||Pia XIII||Saint Estève XIII||1st Tier|
|GER||Rugby League Deutschland||8||2010||2010||Rheinland RLFC||Unknown||1st Tier|
|IRE||Leinster Rugby League Competition||4||2010||2010||Dublin City Exiles||Unknown||1st Tier|
|Munster Rugby League Competition||6||2010||2010||Treaty City Titans||Unknown|
|ITA||Italian iRFleague||4||2010||2010||Gladiators Roma||I Magnifici Firenze||1st Tier|
|JAM||Jamaica Championship||8||2010||2010||Vauxhall Vultures||Unknown||1st Tier|
|LIB||Lebanon Championship||6||2010||2011||LAU Immortals||Unknown||1st Tier|
|NED||Netherlands Grand Prix||4||2008||2012||Nootdorp Panthers||Capelle Spartans||1st Tier|
|NZL||National Zonal Competition||7||1908||2012||Akarana Falcons||Counties Manukau Stingrays||1st Tier|
|NOR||Norway Championship||6||2011||2012||Olso Capitals||Unknown||1st Tier|
|PNG||PNG Digicel Cup||10||1989||2012||Goroka Lahanis||Port Moresby Vipers||1st Tier|
|SAM||Samoan Championship||6||2010||2010||Marist Saints||Unknown||1st Tier|
|SCO||Scotland Conference First Division||10||2004||2012||Edinburgh Eagles||Aberdeen Warriors||1st Tier|
|SRB||Serbian Rugby League Championship||6||2002||2013||Dorćol||Red Star Belgrade||1st Tier|
|6||2011||2013||White Rabbits||Radnički Belgrade||2nd Tier|
|5||2013||2013||Military Academy||Vojvoda||3rd Tier|
|RSA||South Africa Protea Cup||8||2010||2011||Wildcats||Hurricanes||1st Tier|
|South Africa Rhino Cup||5||2010||2012||Bears||TUKS RL|
|TON||TNRL Global Insurance Cup||19||2006||2012||Lapaha Knights||Mu'a Saints||1st Tier|
|USA||American National Rugby League (AMNRL)||8||1998||2013||Connecticut Wildcats||New York Knights||1st Tier|
|USA Rugby League (USARL)||15||2011||2012||Jacksonville Axemen||Boston Thirteens|
|WAL||South Wales Championship||6||2010||2011||Unknown||Unknown||1st Tier|
|North Wales Championship||5||Unknown||Unknown||1st Tier|
|Year||Tournament||Current Holder||Next Held Year|
|2013||Rugby League World Cup||Australia||2017|
|2013||ANZAC Day Test||Australia||2014|
|2013||Colonial Cup||United States||2014|
|Pacific Cup||2009||Papua New Guinea|
|Atlantic Cup||2011||Great Britain|
|Baskerville Shield||2007||Great Britain|
|Milan Kosanovic Cup||2011||Russia|
|Euro Med Challenge||2009||Morocco|
|All Stars Match||2013||Indigenous All Stars|
|State of Origin||2014||NSW|
|City vs Country Origin||2014||Country|
|War of the Roses||2003||Yorkshire|
|PNG Origin||2010||PNG Internationals|
|Fiji Origin||2010||Western Conference|
|Lebanon Origin||2010||Liban Espoir|
|Bundesland of Origin||2009||Bavaria|
|Serbian Origin||2013||Serbia Country|
|Czech Republic Origin||2010||Moravia|
While rugby league does not enjoy the same international profile as rugby union or soccer, mostly due to the game only being played at the highest level in Australia/New Zealand (NRL) and in UK/France (Super League), the game continues to attract large numbers to both international and domestic competitions.
The top five attendances for rugby league test matches (International) are:
|2013 World Cup Final||30 November 2013||Australia def. New Zealand 34-2||Old Trafford||Manchester||74,468|
|1992 World Cup Final||24 October 1992||Australia def. Great Britain 10-6||Wembley Stadium||London||73,631|
|1932 Ashes series, Game 1||6 June 1932||England def. Australia 8-6||Sydney Cricket Ground||Sydney||70,204|
|1962 Ashes series, Game 1||9 June 1962||Great Britain def. Australia 31-12||Sydney Cricket Ground||Sydney||70,174|
|1958 Ashes series, Game 1||14 June 1958||Australia def. Great Britain 25-8||Sydney Cricket Ground||Sydney||68,777|
The top five attendances for domestic based rugby league matches are:
|1999 NRL Grand Final||26 September 1999||Melbourne def. St George Illawarra 20-18||Stadium Australia||Sydney||107,556|
|1999 NRL season Round 1||6 March 1999||Newcastle def Manly-Warringah 41-18
Parramatta def. St George Illawarra 20-10
|1954 Challenge Cup Final replay||5 May 1954||Warrington def. Halifax 8-4||Odsal Stadium||Bradford||102,569*|
|1985 Challenge Cup Final||4 May 1985||Wigan def. Hull 28-24||Wembley Stadium||London||99,801|
|1966 Challenge Cup Final||21 May 1966||St Helens def. Wigan 21-2||Wembley Stadium||London||98,536|
* The official attendance of the 1954 Challenge Cup Final rePlay was 102,569. Unofficial estimates put the attendance as high as 120,000.
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