Rugby League rules

Learning the basics of Rugby League

Rugby League has a reputation for being far easier to understand than Rugby Union largely because there are far fewer rules and the rule book is smaller. If you want to understand Rugby League's basics then read on...

On the Rugby League pitch

  • The pitch is rectangular in shape with a set of H-shaped posts at each end situate on the goal or try line.
  • A Rugby League match is 80 minutes long and consists of two 40 minutes halves with the sides changing ends (the direction in which they attack) after half-time.
  • Rugby League teams field 13 players on the pitch and are allowed four reserves on the bench.

Aim of Rugby League and scoring

The basic aim is naturally to score more points than your opponents. Points are scored in Rugby League on the following basis:

  • ‘Try’4 points. A try is scored when the ball is grounded over the try line of the opposing team.
  • ‘Conversion’2 points. Following a try a team is given an extra opportunity to score points by kicking the ball from a position directly related to where the try was scored. To score these ‘extra’ two points, the kicker must get the ball through the uprights of the posts and above the crossbar.
  • ‘Drop goal’1 point. Scored by drop kicking the ball so that it passes between the posts and above the crossbar.
  • ‘Penalty goal’ 2 points. After an infringement, the team awarded a penalty can take a kick at goal and will gain two points if successful.

Basics of Rugby League

The game starts with a kick-off as one team kicks the ball into the opposition half and then attempts to gain possession. The team in possession then attempt to move the ball up the pitch by passing it to hand or kicking it.

There are rules concerning how the ball must be passed and for how long teams are able to keep possession before it passes to their opponents. The most basic rules are:

  • The ball when passed by hand has to be passed backwards.
  • Player can pass the ball as many times as they like until one of them is tackled (brought down legally and held) in possession.
  • Teams have possession of the ball for six tackles or plays. On the sixth play, teams usually elect to kick the ball long down the field to gain territory. If they do not kick, after the sixth tackle the ball is ‘handed over’ to the other team.
  • When tackled, the ball carrier plays the ball backwards by foot along the ground to a teammate behind them.
  • When a player has been tackled, his opponent must release him to enable him to play the ball.
  • A scrum, consisting of six players per team is used to re-start the game after the ball has been ‘knocked-on’ or fumbled forward or when a forward pass has occurred. A scrum is also formed when a player is tackled into touch or when the ball is kicked into touch. Scrums are not contested like they are in Rugby Union.
  • Players can be ruled offside if they are in front of a teammate who is in possession and they are deemed to be interfering with play. Players are not allowed to touch the ball if they were further up the field than a teammate who has kicked the ball upfield i.e. only players who are behind the player kicking the ball are allowed to touch it.
  • Penalties can be awarded in other circumstances such as high tackles, hitting an opponent, tripping, kicking the ball when a player is attempting to pick it up, using foul or abusive language. Offenders can be given a yellow or red card, a yellow resulting in a 10 minute spell in the sin-bin to cool off.

There are of course a number of other laws and rules in Rugby League that we haven’t covered here in our attempt not to baffle you from the outset, but the more you watch or play the game, the more clear these other rules will become. Good luck getting to grips with Rugby League.

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