Saturday, November 29, 2008

The Best Sport You've Never Heard Of: Rugby League

Rugby league is the best sport that North Americans have never heard of.

It is not quite the rugby that we are vaguely familiar with over here. That sort of rugby is actually called rugby union. It is also a great sport. Rugby league is a different thing, though.

The game is simple (much more so than rugby union). In league, two teams of thirteen players each try to score more points than the other by either moving the ball down the 100 meter, rectangular pitch, and across the try line (that is, into the end zone) and laying it down on the ground (called scoring a "try", worth four points), or kicking the ball through the uprights (either as a conversion kick after a "try" for two points, a drop goal [where the ball bounces off the ground prior to foot contact], or a penalty kick).

Each team, upon getting possession of the ball, has six tackles (equivalent to downs) to advance the ball as far as they can. As in football on the fourth down, often teams choose to punt the ball downfield after the fifth tackle.

Here's how the tackles work. Upon tackling the ball handler, defenders will then back away while the runner stands up, puts the ball down on the ground, and rolls it backwards to a teammate with his foot. The player behind him will then grab the ball and either run with it, or pass it, and so on for each player that handles the ball. The only trick is that there are no forward passes allowed. Passes must be either perfectly lateral, or backwards. However, players may kick the ball forward at any time, and any teammates who were parallel to or behind the kicker may run up and try to recover the ball before the defenders do.

There are no huddles, no real scrums, no rucking, the rules are relatively few - the action is non-stop and the players, wearing no, or hardly any, padding, move very quickly. It requires as much grace as it does toughness, as much finesse as it does brute strength, as much endurance as it does quickness, and as much quick-thinking as it does overall game sense. My guess is that rugby league players (along with the MMA guys) overall are probably the most fit athletes in professional sports.

I first got into rugby league visiting Australia a few years ago. I went to a packed pub with the Sony guys to watch the State of Origin match (Queensland against New South Wales - the State of Origin is sort of the equivalent of the Super Bowl). I ended up thinking, "this is the greatest thing I've ever seen". It had it all: blood, smashing, leaping, diving, spectacular passing and kicking, drama, everything.

It's why I got my satellite dish - so I could watch all the rugby league games on the Setanta Sports. Which I just spent the last nine months doing (the Rugby League World Cup, held once every four years, just ended, with New Zealand upsetting Australia to win the final for the first time ever).

Anyway, I don't really have any story to tell; I just wanted to plug rugby league, the best sport you've never heard of.

See ya,



RayCee said...

Hello Tal. I liked your summary of the game. You know the rules well. If you think it's a good game to watch, playing is even better. I played as a youth and was deemed by most as having a flair for it , but I didn't keep it up. I never lost the love for it though. My blog on the game is if you care to check it out. I did a four part article on the game's history. It's under "Rugby League's History" in the labels column. Keep on enjoying world sports best kept secret.

June said...

My Dad was a big fan in England and I am grateful for your explaination of the rules, etc. of the game. As a child I didn't understand it all but enjoyed the action. My Dad often said that the Americans were such "sissies" for needing all that football padding,when the Rugby players did the same and more with nothing but a tee shirt to protect them.

Tal said...
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Tal said...
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Tal said...


Just checked out your great page on rugby league. I could not agree more with you about Lockyer's "Man of the Match". I've actually been upset about it now for days - it makes no sense at all. I immediately wondered if the main sponsor got to choose the winner, and was an Australian company, and picked an Aussie for promotional purposes...other than that, I have no idea. It is ridiculous.

I'm not so sure Lockyer was a sore loser as much as just totally mortified that his team had blown it. It must have been a nightmare for them.

One other comment - Slater's a fantastic player, no doubt; but I'd take Thurston anyday on a team. I watched him all season, and his ability to set up plays and scores was totally breathtaking. I always find it incredible when a single player can dominate or control an entire game, and he does that. It reminds me of (from hockey) Red Wings's defenceman Chris Chelios in his heyday.

What did you think of Ganson awarding the penalty try?

RayCee said...

What did you think of Ganson awarding the penalty try?

Sorry for not getting back sooner. I thought it was fair. Foul play should never be given the benefit of the doubt, good attacking play should.