Rugby league in Australia

Rugby league in Australia

Sport overview
country = Australia
sport = Rugby league

imagesize = 260px
caption =
union = Australian Rugby League
nickname = The Kangaroos
first = 1907, Sydney, New South Wales
registered = 172,000 (total)
58,200 (adult)
clubs =
match = 107,558 - 1999 NRL Grand Final
league =
national1 =
club1 = National Rugby League
club2 = Queensland Cup
club3 = NSWRL Premier League
club4 = NSWRL Jim Beam Cup
club5 =
club6 =
club7 =
club8 =
club9 =

Rugby league is one of the most popular team sports in Australia. It is the dominant winter sport in the states of New South Wales and Queensland, which comprise around half of the country's population. The elite club competition is the National Rugby League (NRL), which (as of 2007) features ten teams from New South Wales, three teams from Queensland, and one team each from Victoria, Australian Capital Territory and New Zealand.

Australia has a rich history of rugby league, first taking up the sport in 1908 alongside people in Britain and New Zealand. The country has been dominant over the other rugby league-playing nations for many years, but enjoys a strong rivalry with New Zealand.

"League", as it is commonly known is traditionally seen as a "working man's sport" with its roots in the working class communities of the northern English counties of Lancashire and Yorkshire while rugby union has a more middle/upper class image with its roots in the prestigious "upper crust" British public schools system (Eton, Harrow, etc). The Australian Rugby League, the sport's governing body in Australia, is working on ways to expand rugby league's popularity across political and social borders.


"Main Article: History of rugby league"

A similar schism to that which occurred in Great Britain, and for similar reasons, opened up in the rugby union establishment of Australia, seeing the term "rugby league" first used for the new game as in the rest of the world. In 1907, at the instigation of the famous test cricketer Victor Trumper, at a meeting in Bateman's Crystal Hotel in Sydney, New South Wales, the New South Wales Rugby Football League (NSWRFL) was formed as a professional organisation. Players were immediately recruited for the new game, and despite the threat of immediate and lifetime expulsion from the rugby union, the NSWRFL managed to recruit Herbert "Dally" Messenger, the most famous rugby footballer in Sydney at that time.

In 2008, the centenary year of rugby league in Australia was celebrated, with 2008 World Cup being held and the Royal Australian Mint launching a series of uncirculated coins in November 2007 to commemorate the occasion.

Governing body

The Australian Rugby League is the governing body for the sport of rugby league in Australia and also conducts all representative rugby league, including the national team and the annual State of Origin competition. The Australian Rugby League's major club competition, the National Rugby League is conducted under a partnership agreement with News Limited.

Club competitions

The elite professional rugby league club competition in Australia is the National Rugby League (NRL). Underneath the NRL, semi-professional competitions are run in both New South Wales and Queensland based on the former New South Wales Rugby League premiership, Metropolitan Cup and Brisbane Rugby League competitions. These competitions are the major feeder competitions for the NRL competition. Alongside these mainly metropolitan-based competitions country rugby league bodies run competitions throughout rural Queensland and NSW. Amateur competitions are run in other states, particularly in Victoria and Western Australia.

National Rugby League

The NRL's Telstra Premiership is contested by 15 teams from Australia (3 from Queensland, 10 from New South Wales, 1 from Victoria and 1 from the Australian Capital Territory) as well as 1 team from New Zealand. The NRL is the result of a merger between the Australian Rugby League and Super League competitions in 1998.


Rugby league attendances saw their best year in 1995 (the year before Australia's Super League War, with total attendances reaching 3,061,893. 6 clubs averaged over 20,000 in that year, a feat still unmatched. This was a large increase on the previous years and was no doubt due to the formation of several new clubs and the renaming of the competition, from the New South Wales Rugby League (NSWRL) to the Australian Rugby league (ARL).

The year of 1996 was a turbulent one for Australian rugby league and saw what may be the largest decrease in attendance ever (2,450,776, down 611,117 down from 1995) in the ARL. This crowd decrease is attributed to the poor publicity surrounding the ongoing court cases related to Super League.

When the SL competition was introduced in 1997 and played alongside the ARL competition it attracted 1,111,189. The ARL for the same year saw slightly higher attendances of 1,308,824. Subsequent years of 1998, in which the merger of the SL and ARL formed the National Rugby League (NRL) and 1999 also saw increases.

The year 2000 saw club mergers and "relegations" from the NRL. The effective slashing of clubs from the first grade rugby league competition was mimicked in the slashing of crowd figures as fans became disgruntled by the club they had supported for many years being torn apart.

Crowd figures did not improve until 2003, with an increase of 249,317 on the previous year, 2002. Figures increased again in 2004 and 2005. The aggregate crowd for 2005 was 2,964,288 and the average crowd figure for regular season matches was 16,468, the highest ever recorded, and 34,710 for playoffs. In 2006, attendance slightly dipped to 2,808,235. An average of 15,601 for regular season matches and 34,163 for playoffs, which was still an improvement on 2004 figures.

In 2007, the number of teams competing in first grade rugby league in Australia will increase for the first time since 2002 with the re-introduction of a team from the Gold Coast. [] (Statistics do not include finals)

Queensland Wizard Cup

Queensland Wizard Cup is a statewide competition that is made up of 11 teams, most of which are from South East Queensland. It is run by the Queensland Rugby League. It began in 1996 and is the Queensland equivalent of the New South Wales Premier League. North Queensland field a lower grade side known as the "Young Guns" in the competition, and the Broncos, Storm, Raiders, Rabbitohs, and the Titans all use sides in the competition as feeder sides for their first grade teams.

New South Wales Premier League

"Main Article: NSWRL Premier League"

The NSWRL Premier League is a second-tier, development level competition formerly known as Reserve Grade which ran concurrently with the NSWRL Premiership prior to the establishment of the NRL. The competition became known as the NSWRL Premier League in 2003 and, while it continues to be contested by reserve squads of NSW-based NRL teams, also includes sides representing teams that once competed at the first grade level in the NSWRL Premiership but do not field teams in the NRL competition. From 2007 the competition will expand to include a New Zealand-based side, Auckland Lions.

New South Wales Jim Beam Cup

The NSWRL Jim Beam Cup is a semi-professional development level competition in New South Wales run jointly by the NSW Rugby League (NSWRL) and the New South Wales Country Rugby League (CRL). The competition is run concurrently with the NRL and comprises 12 teams drawn from both the Sydney metropolitan area and the NSW Central Coast, north of Sydney. In 2007, new teams from Sydney and the south coast of NSW will enter the competition. The competition is named after its major sponsor, Jim Beam, and is an expanded version of the former Metropolitan Cup and Second Division competitions. In 2008 the competition will also include a Western Australian-based side, WA Reds.

Representative competitions

tate of Origin

The Rugby League State of Origin is an annual series of three interstate rugby league matches between the Queensland Maroons and the New South Wales Blues. The State of Origin series is one of Australia's premier sporting events, attracting a huge television audience and usually selling out the stadiums in which the games are played. Origin games are traditionally hyped to be the toughest, hardest-fought matches played in Australia, with both teams maintaining a fierce effort right to the end of the game.

Players are selected for the state in which they played their first senior football. Prior to 1980 players were selected for interstate matches on the basis of where they were playing their club football. In both 1980 and 1981 there were two interstate matches under the old selection rules and one "State of Origin" match.

The origin series phenomenon became such due to the marriage of the promotional series and the talents of one man - Wally Lewis. Wally was the Queensland captain and thus the captain of the 'underdog' (a term used to express the one who had least chance of winning). Australians, culturally, have always supported the underdog.

Wally won most 'man-of-the-match' awards during his playing time, giving him the title of 'king Wally". Hated by New South Wales and loved by Queensland this amazing player represented the tension that was the state of origin. He was a dominant player who knew how to orchestrate a game so that only he would know the outcome that would mostly occur in the last few seconds, and mostly in favour of Queensland.

City vs Country Origin

City vs Country Origin is an annual Australian rugby league match that takes place in New South Wales between teams made up of NRL players representing 'City' (Sydney metropolitan area) and 'Country' (all areas in NSW outside the Sydney metropolitan area). The concept of an annual clash between a City and Country team originally started in 1911 with a Metropolitan side taking on a Country representative team. The concept became an annual event in 1930 and was played until 1997 when the concept was abandoned, being revived in the 2001 season.

Both sides were originally made up of the best players playing in the New South Wales Country Rugby League and the NSWRL Premiership. However, the increasing drain of players from rural areas to the NSWRL clubs led to the City side becoming increasingly dominant and the Country side uncompetitive. The 'origin rule' for player qualification being introduced in 1987 so players in NSWRL clubs originally from outside Sydney became eligible to represent Country.

Demographics of the game

The following subsections refer to data released by the Australian Sports Commission in the "Exercise, Recreation and Sport Surveys" of 2001 to 2004. These statistics relate to Australians aged 15 years and over.

Statistics relating to children have been sourced from the Australian Bureau of Statistics in the "Children's Participation in Cultural and Leisure Activities" publication of 2003. These statistics relate to Australian children aged 5 to 14 years.

Total participation

In 2006, a total of 371,557 Australians participated in rugby league. This was up from 223,204 in 2005. The total participants in NSW country was 109 000, up from 98 000 in 2005. A further 190,649 took part in "rugby league gala days", and 110,250 children participating in clinics. All up, "874,258 kids received a rugby league experience of some capacity in 2006." [] Participation in Victoria is slowly rising following the 2006/2007 seasons.

Women in rugby league

The vast majority of rugby league participants are male. Of the 172,000 participants in 2004, 95% (164,000) were male.

The Australian Women's Rugby League was formed in 1993, which only achieved affiliation with the Australian Rugby League in 1998. This is in contrast to the men's competition which has existed since 1908.

The lack of female-participation in Australian rugby league can mostly be attributed to the physical, body-on-body contact, as well as the nature and frequency of injuries. However, rugby league in Australia has in recent years suffered from poor rapport with women following several sex-related incidents involving professional players, including the Bulldogs sex scandal in 2003. The direct consequences of the allegations are not well studied, but it is generally considered that female participation in the sport has declined as a result of repeated allegations.

Several clubs made initiatives to counteract those negative publicities. For instance, in 2005 the Canterbury Bulldogs staged a luncheon for 300 of Sydney's corporate women to raise funds for the Breast Cancer Foundation, as well as skills development for school girls within the Canterbury-Bankstown district. This follows the increased number of female members to the boards of the National Rugby League and several of its clubs. Manly Sea Eagles also instituted several female directed initiatives, some of which were aimed towards increasing female spectator numbers.

Not all the perceptions of rugby league being a mostly man game are completely true. At a junior and local level there are many women involved in volunteering positions. Women form a very important part of the local club structures. However, it is not customary for women over the age of 11 to continue playing rugby league against the boys and the exclusively women's rugby league clubs have a relatively small profile in comparison to the local boys' clubs.


The vast majority (77%) of Rugby League players are aged between 18 and 24 years. The remaining participants are mainly aged between 25 and 34 years and 35 and 44 years.

What these figures do not include is the participation with people below the ages of 18. Statistics have shown previously that half of all injuries that occur in rugby league, occur to the ages of children under 15 years of age. Recent research by the University of New South Wales has shown that 23% of parents are likely to discourage their son from playing rugby league. In contrast, the next most discouraged sport was rugby union, with only 7.5% of parents willing to discourage the sport. This is despite recent research by Medibank annually since 2003 that puts other sports in Australia, such as Australian Rules Football and soccer as producing more major injuries.

The injury rates and the public perception of rugby league as a dangerous sport are most likely the catalysts for the introduction of several initiatives by the national rugby league and ARL development in recent years to curb the number of youth playing other sports. The specific initiatives over the years includes a Safe play code, Kids to kangaroos programmes and new forms of modified rugby league, such as, Mod league and Mini Footy to help young children prepare for the full rigours of the international code. Also with such introductions are the competitions aimed at school children such as Joey league, League of legends and League Sevens, which use modified rugby league rules such as Tag and Sevens.


New South Wales and Queensland account for almost 85% (145,300) of the 172,000 people playing rugby league nationally; 85,800 of which are from NSW and 59,500 from QLD. However, per capita figures show that Queensland and the Northern Territory rate ahead of New South Wales participation figures, making Queensland and the Northern Territory the largest participators per capita of rugby league in Australia.Fact|date=February 2007

Rugby league enjoys only minor participation in other states of Australia due to competition with Australia's other premier football league, the Australian Football League and the high junior level participation rates of soccer. Victoria and Western Australia have roughly an equal number of participants with Western Australia higher per capita. South Australia has the lowest participation levels for mainland Australia and Tasmania has, by far, the least participants for rugby league in the entire nation.

The reasons for such division between the states of Australia is certainly due to the promotion of Australian rules football, in the late-19th and early-20th centuries. In those times, Australia Rules Football was expanding through out southern and western Australia. Today, participation in Australian Rules Football in New South Wales and Queensland is still relatively low compared to the other states and territories of Australia. In recent times, West Australian, Matthew Petersen is one of the rare non-Queensland or New South Wales players to play in the NRL.

State based participation within Australian sports normally show a larger amount of participation in the regional or rural areas of that state, commonly called "country" as opposed to the capital of that state. Participation in rugby league bucks this trend with most of its participation coming from capital cities of Australia, the largest being Sydney and Brisbane.

The national team

The Australian national rugby league team represents Australia at rugby league. Since 7 July 1994 the team's nickname has been the Kangaroos. Prior to that the Australian team was only referred to as the Kangaroos when on tours of Great Britain or France. They are administered by the Australian Rugby League.

In popular culture

Rugby league has occasionally been featured in popular Australian culture. References can be found in film, such as Footy Legends, starring Ahn Do and the 2007 released The Final Winter, the story of the Newtown Jets, starring Matthew Johns. "In Search of the Holy Grail" also starring Matthew Johns' Footy Show spin-off character, Reg Reagan featured in the Newcastle Film Festival. Several popular TV and radio shows like The Footy Show and Roy and HG's State of Origin commentary feature the game. There are also many video games featuring the NRL sold worldwide.

Media coverage

Due to the widespread interest in rugby league games played, including the State of Origin series, match results, scorelines and reports of injuries to key players, are comprehensively carried by many Australian newspapers. These include the major national daily newspapers; in general match results and reports are published on the weekend of the game and on Mondays, and commentary continues throughout the week, with rugby league-related stories usually to be found in the sporting section of the major newspapers every week-day.

All premiership games are broadcast on television, either free-to-air or cable. Online, the ABC, as well as major newsgroups provide articles on Rugby League, bylined in general by a reporter who is exclusively a sports correspondent. The official publication for the NRL is "Big League". Interest in rugby league is highest in the eastern states; as well, many of the large number of Australian expatriates living and working overseas are avidly interested in the season's games, and are able to ensure that they are kept up-to-date by accessing on-line versions of stories provided by major media organisations.

A list of major newspapers which publish rugby league-related stories includes The Australian, The Courier-Mail, Daily Telegraph, The Sydney Morning Herald, Herald Sun and The Age. Matches are broadcast on both Channel 9, Foxtel and in New Zealand by Sky TV.

ee also

* Rugby league in New South Wales
* Rugby league in Queensland
* Rugby league in Victoria
* Sport in Australia
* Australian Rugby League Hall of Fame
* Australian Rugby League
* National Rugby League
* List of Australian rugby league stadiums by capacity

External links

* [ SportScan - Rugby League Search]
* [ The Founding of Rugby League in Australia & New Zealand]
* [ Sports research databases]


* [ National Rugby League Statistics]
* [ Involvement and participation in sports and physical activities - 2003]
* [ Exercise, Recreation and Sports Surveys]
* [ Participation demographics of organised sport in Australia]
* [ Sports Attendance, Australia - 2002]
* [ Australian History]
* [ Rugby league image makeover]
* [ - Medibank Injury Report]
* [ Google-Video - 25 years of State of Origin NSW vs QLD]

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