What Is The Ruck In Rugby League?

If you have just started your rugby league career or only recently started catching some matches on TV you will have noticed that there are many terms used in the game which you don’t find in your everyday lexicon. One of those words is ruck. In this article we will tell you everything you need to know about rucks in rugby league.

What is the ruck in rugby league?

The ruck is the passage of play from the time a player has been tackled and the referee has called held, to the time the player has played the ball. During this passage defenders have to release the attacker. The attacker then stands up and must hook the ball between his legs.

Why Is There A Ruck In Rugby League?

The ruck in rugby league exists to allow the attacking and defending side to reset their lines and provide the two teams with space so they can best display their skills. If there was no ruck in rugby league the game would turn into a giant dog pile and a game of hot potato.


Rucks in rugby league are a leftover of an old tradition. Back in the day rucks in rugby union and league were very similar where packs of forwards would contest the ball and try to drive over and hook the ball in an effort to win position. Rugby league officials decided the ruck slowed down the game and limited exciting attacking play. They kept modifying the ruck until it resembles what you see now.

The major benefit of the ruck is that it separates the two sides as the defending side is forced to stand 10m behind the ruck. This separation gives the attacking side the ability to get up ahead of steam, spread the ball across the field and run some plays. This makes the game attack friendly and very exciting to watch as line breaks and big runs leading to great tries are commonplace.

The ruck also allows a clear count of possessions to occur. In rugby league each team gets 6 tackles to attack before they have to hand the ball over to the defending side. The ruck is used as a clear way to separate between each tackle. For example a player runs with the ball on tackle 1 he gets brought to the ground. He then stands up and plays the ball at the ruck. This is now the start of tackle 2.

Technically rugby league does not need a ruck. Instead of a ruck the tackled player could take a tap or simply pass the ball. The ruck is a leftover relic of its league’s rugby union roots. 

What Is A Ruck Infringement In Rugby League?

The most common ruck infringement in rugby league is the defending players not allowing the tackled player to stand up and play the ball. Another common infringement is the two markers not standing square. These infringements result in penalties.

The defending side will do everything they can do to slow down the play the ball. By slowing down the ruck the defending side can establish their defensive line, plugging any holes that may have opened while also giving their players a few valuable seconds of rest.

To slow down the play ball players will use lots of different tricks such as turning the tackled player onto their back, putting their entire body weight on the tackled player and slowly getting back to their feet when the referee calls held. Oftentimes the defending side will push these tricks too far and the referee will penalise them for not letting the attacking player stand and play the ball.

When the attacking playing is playing the ball two defending players are allowed to stand at the ruck. They must stand square to give the attacking side an opportunity to get past them. The defenders will try to see how far they can stand away from the ruck before the referee penalises them as the less square they stand the easier it is for them to tackle the attacking side.

The defending players at the ruck must give the attacker player ample room to play the ball. The defenders will often crowd the attacker as he is playing the ball in an effort to force him into dropping the ball which constitutes a knock on and turnover. If the defending players get too close the referee will penalise them. You sometimes see attacking players taking advantage of defenders who are accidentally standing too close by playing the ball sloppily on purpose and claiming they were impeded by the defenders. Sometimes the referees fall for this trick other times they don’t bite and award a turnover.

Why Do Rugby League Players Wiggle?

Rugby league players wiggle in an effort to win a penalty for their side. The wiggle is to blatantly show the referee that they want to stand up and play the ball but the defending side is preventing them which is illegal. 

The wiggle used to be incredibly popular in rugby league in the late 90s and early 2000s as the referees were susceptible to being swayed by the movement and were rewarding the attacking side with penalties. However, as the wiggle became more and more popular it became a story of the boy who cried wolf as referees stopped believing players and stopped giving out penalties. This has resulted in the exaggerated movement declining in rugby league but you still do occasionally see players trying their luck.

What Is A Chicken Wing Tackle In Rugby League?

A chicken wing tackle is a wrestling move which became popular in rugby league where the tackler will grab under the attacker’s armpit or around the arm and extend the arm behind the player’s back. The goal is to force the attacker to fall to his back to slow down the ruck.

The chicken wing tackle became popular in the mid 2000s when the coach of the Melbourne Storm Craig Bellamy brought in wrestling and Brazilian Jiu Jitsu coaches in an effort to teach his players how to turn attackers to their backs when they were being tackled. The thought process was that a player who has been tackled onto his back is much slower at playing the ball, which gives the defending side more time to reset their defensive line, making it harder for the attacking side to score. The other rugby league clubs took notice and started copying the Storm. Before long chicken wing tackles were everywhere.

The chicken wing is a common move in wrestling and places a tremendous amount of stress on the arm and shoulder. To relieve the stress the athlete will turn to their back. The only problem is that in rugby league players are often being tackled by multiple players so it is physically impossible for them to turn to their back and relieve the pressure. The result is players just end up getting injured arms and shoulders. 

As these injuries started piling up and it became obvious that this was a tactic being used by rugby league players the referees stepped in and the move was banned.

What Is The Difference Between A Ruck And A Scrum In Rugby League?

A ruck occurs after a player is tackled while a scrum occurs after a player has knocked the ball on. A ruck involves 3 players, while a scrum involves 12. During a ruck the tackled player stands and hooks the ball between his legs while the defenders aren’t allowed to touch him.

In a scrum the two forward packs will bind together with each other and against their opposition. The halfback will feed the ball into the scrum and the hooker or second row will hook the ball. Then the halfback will pick the ball up from the back of the scrum.


The ruck is a strange term for the period of a rugby league match starting from when a player has been tackled and finishing when he plays the ball through his legs. This may look like a simple process but the ruck has a profound impact on the game with the attacking side constantly trying to speed up the play the ball while the defending side is looking for ways to slow it down. Whichever side can control the ruck in rugby league will often win the match.

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