What is Rugby League?


As one of the few northerners in Southampton University I thought it important to write an article on a sport that few southerners enjoy. I am, of course talking about Rugby League (League). Many people are unaware that there are in fact two opposing codes of rugby, both played professionally all over the world, but with very different sets of rules. Rugby Union (Union) is the more popular in the UK, and as a consequence League is often forget, I am going to attempt to right this wrong.

The history of Rugby League began in 1895 when, due to a series of disagreements with the Rugby Football Union (RFU) over player payments, 22 clubs split from the RFU to form the Northern Rugby Football Union. Although initially these clubs continued to play the rules of the RFU, they gradually changed the rules in order to make the game a better spectator sport.

The major rules differences include:

  • 13 players instead of 15, league does not have flankers.
  • Following a tackle the ball is heeled back after a tackle (“play the ball rule”) instead of a scrum.
  • Line-outs” are not played in league
  • Scoring is different, with tries worth 4, converted tries 6 and drop-goals 1.

In League, the attacking team is allowed 6 tackles before handing the ball to the other team, typically after 5 the ball is kicked to place it in a bad position for the opposing team. In League there is much more emphasis on keeping the ball in play for the majority of the game, keeping it in more interesting for spectators. In Union play regularly stops for scrums and line-outs, although League does retain the scrum, they are not contested instead just used as a means to restart play. Union is more focused on set pieces, where as in League the focus is more on simple attack and defense, making it far simpler game.

Just like Union, League has a domestic division, the Superleague which has 12 English teams, 1 Welsh and 1 French team. Each team plays each other twice, home and away, with the team finishing the top of the Superleague being awarded the League Leaders Shield. The top eight finishers qualify for the Superleague play-offs, with the final two teams competing in the grand final, played at Old Trafford in October, for the Superleague Trophy. League also have the Challenge Cup, the equivalent of Union’s Heineken Cup, which includes the majority European League teams, the final being played at Wembley in August.

The Superleague season begins on 12th and 13th February with “Millennium Magic weekend” where all 14 teams play a game at Cardiff’s Millennium Stadium. All 7 games will be shown on Sky Sports, so if you’re a union fan wishing to experience the opposing code, or simply someone wishing to try out another sport, watch and enjoy.


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