Can You Play Rugby League And Union?

New Zealand’s Sonny Bill Williams during the 2019 Rugby World Cup match at Oita Stadium, Japan

Rugby league and union are both great games and players of both codes possess many of the same skills, notably tackling, passing, kicking and ball running. However, the games have distinct differences that can present a steep learning curve for players looking to play both codes. It’s time to find out if you should play both forms of rugby or if trying to play league and union at the same time will hurt your athletic development.

Can you play rugby league and union?

You can play both rugby league and union, backline players are going to find it much easier than forwards due to the skill differences between the sports. However if you have goals of becoming a professional you should specialise in one form of rugby in your mid teens, ideally before 16.

Playing both forms of rugby can be great for your development as a rugby player and an overall athlete. 

In rugby union you are going to develop your 1 on 1 tackling ability and how to make textbook low tackles. While in league you are going to become an expert at making ball and all tackles and ensuring the ball runner ends up on their back.

Rugby union can also help you develop a strong kicking game. Kicking is a major part of union where it is used regularly to win field possession. Playing union will turn you into a kicking maestro and you will learn to perform a variety of kicks such as touchfinders, up and unders and even banana kicks.

Playing rugby league is going to significantly improve your ball running skills particularly if you are a forward. If you are a forward in union you may only average a couple of runs per game. This workload will be doubled if not tripled if you play league where forwards are expected to take double digit hitups per match.

Rugby league will improve your conditioning. With the absence of lineouts, contested scrums and a breakdown the game is played at a much faster pace and combined with the fact that players have to run 10m backwards to get onside you need to be damn fit to get through a season of league. Union players can give themselves a nice cardio bump by playing league.

I recommend aspiring rugby players play both codes throughout their youth and then when they are between 14-16 decide to specialise in one form of rugby.

Do Rugby Union Players Play Rugby League?

Many rugby union players particularly from Australia and New Zealand where both codes are popular have played rugby league during their childhood or teens. Kurtley Beale is a famous example. Athletes often play league to get extra game time and give themselves another avenue to win a professional contract.

In Australia and New Zealand both forms of rugby are popular and you will find many professionals from both codes have played both league and union growing up.

What type of rugby you play often depends on where you grew up, what school you attend and your family’s preference. For example in Sydney, Australia rugby union is much more popular than league on the North Shore while in Western Sydney the opposite is true.

Whether you attend a union or league school can have a big impact on your choice of rugby as certain schools will only play one code of rugby. 

Many players blur these cultural lines and end up playing both sports. Kurtley Beale is a great example. Beale grew up in Mount Druitt in Western Sydney which is a rugby league stronghold. Beale started off playing league for Western City Tigers who have produced a number of top NRL players including the Jennings brothers.

After winning a scholarship to a famed rugby union high school, Joeys on Sydney’s North Shore Beale started playing union until finally giving up league as a 16 year old.

Here Is A Highlight Of Kurtley Beale Playing For Joeys

Many rugby players will play both sports to give themselves an increased chance of scoring a professional contract. Your chances of signing a deal are higher if you have scouts from two sports interested in you rather one. Now instead union clubs checking you out you also have league clubs scouting you.

Do Rugby Union Or Rugby League Players Earn More?

Rugby union players earn more than league players, in the French top 14 players earn on average $302,000 while in the NRL players make $254,000. The highest paid union player, Charles Piutau earns $1.35 million per year while the highest paid league player, Daly Cherry-Evans earns $950,000 per year.

Rugby union salaries are substantially higher than league salaries. This is largely due to the fact that league is most popular in Australia where players earn the highest salaries whereas union is most popular in England and France. England and France both have bigger populations, economies and a stronger currency than Australia. These factors allow union athletes to pull in higher salaries.

Can Rugby League Players Play For England?

Rugby league players can play rugby union for England if they register as a union athlete, Sam Burgess is an example. However, due to the differences between the sports league players are at a disadvantage compared to union players who have more experience and are therefore unlikely to be selected.

Even though rugby league players can play for England they are unlikely to put their hand up for selection after Sam Burgess’s experiment with union went horribly wrong. Burgess was heavily criticised for his poor performance while playing for England at the 2015 World Cup and was partially blamed for their embarrassing exit during the group stage. 

Burgess, a league forward attempted to transition to league as a centre but was unfamiliar with the correct positioning which often left England’s defence vulnerable and negatively affected their attacking plays.

Former England halfback Dawson criticised Burgess stating, “The way the game went in the second half there was nothing for him to do. If you’re going to be really picky, positionally he wasn’t great. He played like a six rather than a 12. There are things that instinctively he doesn’t know what to do.” 

The players who make the best transition from rugby union to league are typically centres and wingers as the positions are most similar between the two sports. A number of Australian league superstars have gone on to have strong union careers. The most successful have been Israel Folau who is considered one of the best players in the world and Lote Tuqiri who was a world class winger in his prime.


You can play both rugby union and league at the same time. Both sports compliment each other and will take your overall rugby game to a new height while also making you a better athlete.

All aspiring rugby players should play both codes as children before focusing on form of game in their mid teens. Many of your favourite professional players particularly from Australia and New Zealand grew up playing both league and union such as Kurtley Beale and Israel Folau, it certainly didn’t hurt their careers.

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