How Is Rugby League Played And Scored?

Rugby league is a fast-paced, exhilarating sport that combines elements of strength, speed, and strategy. For newcomers to the game, understanding the rules, gameplay, and scoring can be a bit overwhelming. In this comprehensive guide, we will break down the basics of how rugby league is played and scored, answering fundamental questions to help you watch and enjoy a game of rugby league with confidence.

  1. What Is Rugby League?

Rugby league, often referred to simply as “rugby,” is a full-contact sport that originated in England in the early 20th century as a breakaway version of rugby union. It is played with two teams, each consisting of thirteen players. The primary objective of the game is to score more points than the opposing team by advancing the ball down the field and grounding it behind the opponent’s try line.

  1. Field and Equipment

The rugby league field is rectangular, typically 100 meters (approximately 109 yards) long and 70 meters (about 77 yards) wide. The playing surface is typically grass, and the field is divided into two halves, with each team defending one half.

Players wear uniforms consisting of jerseys, shorts, and boots with molded cleats. Protective equipment typically includes mouthguards and, occasionally, headgear. Players do not wear pads or helmets as seen in American football.

  1. Basic Rules and Gameplay

Rugby league is known for its continuous, fast-paced action. The game is played in two 40-minute halves, with a brief halftime interval.

Here are some fundamental rules and aspects of gameplay:

  • Kickoff: The game begins with a kickoff from the center of the field. The receiving team must catch the ball and attempt to advance it downfield.
  • Tackles and Downs: In rugby league, a team has six “downs” or “tackles” to advance the ball 10 meters down the field. Players are tackled when an opposing player brings them to the ground. The attacking team must then play the ball to restart the tackle count.
  • Scrum: If the ball goes out of bounds, a scrum is formed to restart play. This involves a contest between the forwards of both teams to gain possession of the ball.
  • The Play-the-Ball: When tackled, the player on the attacking team must place the ball on the ground and use their foot to play it backward to a teammate. This action restarts the tackle count.
  • Passing: The ball is moved downfield through passing from player to player. Forward passes are not allowed.
  • Kicking: Teams can also gain territory by kicking the ball downfield, with the intention of regaining possession or pinning the opposing team deep in their own territory.
  • Scoring: Points can be scored by grounding the ball behind the opposing team’s try line. A try is worth four points, followed by a conversion attempt worth two points. Drop goals (field goals) are worth one point.
  1. Team Positions

In rugby league, players are typically categorized into different positions based on their roles on the field:

  • Fullback: The fullback is a versatile player responsible for fielding kicks, launching counterattacks, and supporting the backline.
  • Wingers: Wingers are usually the fastest players on the team, often tasked with finishing attacking plays by scoring tries.
  • Centers: Centers are strong runners and reliable defenders who form part of the backline and aim to break the opposition’s defensive line.
  • Halfbacks: Halfbacks are the playmakers of the team, responsible for organizing attacking plays, passing, and kicking.
  • Five-Eighths: Five-eighths are creative and versatile players who support the halfbacks and are involved in both attacking and defensive plays.
  • Forwards: Forwards are the engine room of the team, responsible for making hard yards, tackling, and winning the physical battles. They are divided into:
    • Props: Props are typically the biggest and strongest players, responsible for gaining meters and providing stability in the scrums and tackles.
    • Hooker: The hooker is the player who feeds the ball into the scrum and plays a crucial role in organizing the forwards in attacking and defensive situations.
    • Second Row: Second-row forwards are a combination of size and agility, contributing both in attack and defense.
    • Lock: The lock is often the most versatile forward, responsible for supporting the halves and linking forwards and backs.
  1. Scoring in Rugby League

Scoring in rugby league is achieved through a combination of tries, conversions, and drop goals (field goals). Here’s how it works:

  • Tries: A try is scored when a player grounds the ball behind the opposing team’s try line. It’s worth four points.
  • Conversions: After a try, the scoring team has the opportunity to attempt a conversion. The conversion is a kick at goal from a spot aligned with where the try was scored. It’s worth two points if successful.
  • Penalty Goals: Penalty goals are awarded when the opposition commits an infringement, and the team chooses to kick for goal. A penalty goal is worth two points.
  • Drop Goals (Field Goals): A drop goal, also known as a field goal, is scored by kicking the ball through the uprights from open play. It’s worth one point.
  1. Common Penalties and Infringements

In rugby league, there are several common penalties and infringements that can result in free kicks or penalties for the opposing team. Some examples include:

  • Offside: Players must be behind the ball or behind the player carrying the ball. If they encroach on this space before the ball is played, it’s considered offside.
  • High Tackles: Tackling above the shoulders or with excessive force is considered a high tackle and results in a penalty.
  • Knock-On: When a player loses the ball forward (towards the opposition’s try line), it’s called a knock-on, and play is stopped.
  • Obstruction: Deliberately blocking an opponent or obstructing their path is an infringement and results in a penalty.
  • Off-the-Ball Incidents: Acts of foul play away from the ball, such as late tackles or punching, can lead to penalties or send-offs.
  • Dangerous Tackles: Tackles that are excessively high or that lift and drive an opponent into the ground dangerously can result in penalties and disciplinary action.
  1. Scrums and Set Plays

Rugby league features set plays, which are structured moves that teams use to gain an advantage. These often involve scrums, lineouts, and tap restarts.

  • Scrums: A scrum is a method of restarting play after a minor infringement or when the ball goes out of bounds. The forwards from each team bind together and contest for the ball. The team that wins the scrum gains possession.
  • Lineouts: Lineouts are less common in rugby league but are used in certain situations, such as when the ball goes out of bounds. Players from each team line up, and the ball is thrown in, with the aim of gaining possession.
  • Tap Restarts: Instead of a scrum or lineout, play can be restarted with a tap restart. A player taps the ball with their foot and plays it to a teammate, restarting the tackle count.
  1. Winning Strategies

Rugby league is a game of strategy, teamwork, and physical prowess. Winning strategies often involve elements such as:

  • Ball Movement: Teams use passing and running plays to advance the ball downfield and create opportunities to score tries.
  • Kicking Game: Accurate kicking can pin the opposition deep in their territory, create scoring chances, and disrupt the opposition’s defensive line.
  • Defense: Solid defensive structures and effective tackling are crucial to prevent the opposition from scoring.
  • Set Plays: Teams have set plays and tactics for specific situations, such as scrums, lineouts, and tap restarts.
  • Game Management: Teams must manage the clock, make strategic decisions, and adapt to the evolving circumstances of the match.
  1. The Role of the Referee

The referee plays a central role in rugby league. They enforce the rules, make decisions on infringements and penalties, and ensure fair play. The referee communicates with players, team captains, and touch judges to maintain order on the field.

  1. Rugby League Competitions

Rugby league is played at both professional and amateur levels, with numerous competitions around the world. Some of the most prominent competitions include:

  • National Rugby League (NRL): The top-level professional rugby league competition in Australia, featuring teams from various states and territories.
  • Super League: The top-level professional rugby league competition in the United Kingdom and parts of Europe.
  • State of Origin: A series of annual representative matches between teams from the Australian states of New South Wales and Queensland.
  • Rugby League World Cup: An international competition featuring national teams from around the world.


Rugby league is a thrilling and physically demanding sport that offers a unique combination of skill, strategy, and athleticism. Understanding the basic rules and gameplay, positions, scoring, and common penalties will enhance your enjoyment of the game. As you watch matches and become more familiar with rugby league, you’ll develop a deeper appreciation for the athleticism and strategic brilliance of the players. So grab your favorite team’s jersey, sit back, and enjoy the action-packed world of rugby league.

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