There are few tougher sports in the world than rugby league, a 13-a-side game that only came into existence because a pay revolt in the sport of rugby union in 1895. Some rugby union players in the north of England could not afford to continue playing without receiving compensation for the time that they had to take off work and, when the Rugby Football Union refused to budge on its amateur status, 21 northern teams broke away to form the Northern Rugby Football Union.
It did not take long for the new body to make significant rule changes. In 1897, the Northern Rugby Football Union ditched the lineout and, 12 months later, it introduced professionalism. In 1906, the Northern Rugby Football Union reduced the sides from 15 to 13 players and replaced the ruck formed after every tackle with the play the ball.
History repeated itself in Australia in 1907 when a similar disagreement to that which occurred in England took place. The New South Wales Rugby Football League was founded and rugby league went on to usurp rugby union as the primary football code in New South Wales and Queensland.
Rugby league is a much less sophisticated sport than rugby union but its relatively straightforward rules, devised to produce a fast, entertaining spectacle, means that its matches feature lots of tries and scoring chances.
Rugby league teams score four points per try, two points per goal – either converted after a try or kicked after the award of a penalty – and one point per drop goal. Rugby league fans argue that their favourite sport’s scoring system is superior to that of rugby union because it encourages sides to go for tries over penalty goals.
Which countries have embraced rugby league?
Rugby league has not infiltrated as many countries as rugby union but it is popular in several nations, including Australia, the Cook Islands, England, Fiji, France, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, Samoa and Tonga.
Papua New Guinea is the only country in the world in which rugby league is the national sport. Australian soldiers introduced rugby league to Papua New Guinea during World War Two and now there are nearly 300 clubs and more than 15,000 players across the country. Papua New Guinea’s national rugby league team is nicknamed the Kumuls after the bird of paradise, which is one of the country’s symbols, and they have been a constant on the international stage since 1975.
Where would one go to find a good game of rugby league?
The National Rugby League contested in Australia and New Zealand and the Super League played in England and France are the best club rugby league competitions in the world.
The National Rugby League is regarded as the finest club rugby league tournament of all. Sixteen teams – 15 from Australia, including eight from the greater Sydney region, and one from New Zealand – compete for the National Rugby League premiership across 201 matches, the last of which is the Grand Final at ANZ Stadium, the Olympic Games venue.
The Super League does not quite have the same strength in depth of the National Rugby League but, assisted by some top-quality imports from Australia and New Zealand, the European competition’s top sides are more than a match for their Australasian counterparts. This is demonstrated by the close results of the annual World Club Challenge between the reigning National Rugby League and Super League champions.
International rugby league is a bit of a fizzer – Australia could field two or three teams capable of beating the likes of England and New Zealand – but the State of Origin series between New South Wales and Queensland is a treat. Billed as mate against mate, state against state, Origin takes place in the middle of the National Rugby League season and is, according to most unbiased Australian sports fans, the greatest rivalry in the sports-mad country. Queensland’s domination in recent years has been remarkable, with the Maroons beating the Blues in seven consecutive series.
What are the best rugby league bets?
Any side can beat another side in the National Rugby League because its salary cap ensures that all of the 16 teams are competitive. This means that head-to-head betting is every bit as popular as line betting, with it being surprisingly rare for all eight National Rugby League match favourites to win in the same round. Every week, punters steam into the short-priced sides and, more often than not, the bookmakers come out on top. One rarely sees a poor bookmaker that bets on the National Rugby League. It is a bookmaker’s benefit.
There is much less equity in the Super League, resulting in a much less competitive tournament and a large number of hot favourites. Super League punters often have little choice but to dabble in line betting, with many games featuring double-digit handicaps. And once lines get above 10, the possibility of bad beats because of ease offs increases.
Betting on the total number of points in rugby league matches is becoming increasingly popular, with punters turning into amateur meteorologists because wet weather tends to reduce points tallies greatly. A common State of Origin game bet is under the total points line, regardless of the weather forecast. Origin matches are known for their ferocious defence and low penalty counts, which reduce the opportunities for teams to build momentum and kick goals.
First try scorer is a popular rugby union exotic but it is tougher to pick the first try scorer in a rugby league game. This is because rugby league is less structured than rugby union and, during the course of a season, it is likely that most regular starters will cross for at least one try. Some rugby union forwards can go years without scoring points.