The Rules of Rugby League

  • The Pitch – The game is played on a rectangular pitch usually twice as long as it is wide with a set of H-shaped posts at each end. These posts are on the goal line, the aim of the game being to ground the ball over the goal line and before the dead ball line which is normally six to eleven metres beyond the goal line. The pitch is marked with horizontal lines ten metres apart, with the half-way line lying fifty metres from each goal line. There are two lines running perpendicular to this which are ten metres in from each of the sidelines.
  • Main Rules – The game begins with one team kicking the ball to the other team from the centre of the pitch. The team that receives the ball now become the attacking team and must try to move up the pitch by passing the ball backwards from the hands or kicking it forwards.
  • On and Off-side – Only players who were behind the kicker at the time they kicked the ball may interfere with the ball, i.e. a player can not kick the ball forwards to another player in order to gain ground. The ball must be passed only backwards from the hands, any player who is in front of one of their team mates who is carrying the ball is off side. Any player who is between an opponent with the ball and any member of the opposing team is also off-side and may not interfere with the ball or any player.
  • Tackling – Players are allowed to obstruct an opponent who is holding or attempting to kick the ball. Interfering with or obstructing a player who is not in possession of the ball is a foul. A tackle can only be made in the field of play which is the stretch between the goal lines. A tackle can be defined as the ball-carrier being held by an opponent in the field of play and the ball touching the ground, or causing the player being tackled being brought top ground. The player must be held, so lifting a player up and dropping them does not count as a tackle, neither does simply knocking them over. If the player with the ball fails to pass before they are successfully brought to the ground then a tackle has been made. Once tackled, the player must be given a chance to stand and play the ball, the opposing team cannot interfere with the ball.
  • Playing the ball – After a tackle the entire defending team must retreat ten metres back from the player with the ball with the exception of two players who are called markers. The player then rolls the ball backwards through their legs (while standing).

After five tackles the attacking team must kick the ball, if they fail to do this and are tackled a sixth time the ball is passed to the opponents who play the ball back to their team in order to make an attack.

  • Touch – If the ball crosses the sideline or a player carrying the ball puts a foot over the line (in to touch), then the ball is said to have gone in to touch. Play is restarted ten metres in from the side line and an uncontested scrum takes place.
  • 40/20 Rule – If the ball is kicked into touch from within 40 metres of the kicking team’s try line, and bounces off the pitch in the 20 metre area of the opposing team’s half, then the kicking side is awarded the ball to put in at the resulting scrum. This rewards a team for accurate kicking from a defensive position.
  • Scoring – There are three ways in which a team can score points. A drop goal, sometimes called a field goal, is scored by drop kicking the ball so it is propelled on the full through the posts above the cross-bar. In open play this scores one point. A try is scored by grounding the ball over the try or goal line of the opposing team. The ball does not need to be carried over the line, but a try is not awarded if a player or the ball crosses the dead ball line which is set up to 22 metres beyond the try line. A conversion kick is taken following a try being scored. The ball is kicked from in front of where the try was scored while looking down the pitch (i.e. a conversion for a try scored in the corner will be more difficult to make than for one scored directly in front of the posts). Two points are awarded if the ball passes between the goal-posts above the cross bar. The ball is usually kicked from a rest known as a kicking tee but can also be drop kicked where the ball is dropped from the hands, must be allowed to touch the ground and then kicked. This is a major difference to Rugby Union where conversions can only be taken by kicking the ball from the ground.
  • Knock-on – This refers to when a player touches the ball and it moves forward not in his control and then touches the ground.
  • Second Movement – This is an offence and is characterised by a player trying to move over the try line once they have been taken to ground. It can be an issue of great contention as it may not always be clear whether a player is tackled to the ground but their momentum took them over the line, making the try valid, or whether they in fact wriggled forwards over the line once they had been tackled. Slow-motion replays are obviously very useful for play at high levels, but this is not always available and the decision is left for the referee to make from what he or she saw.
  • The Scrum – This is one of the most common images of rugby, two teams of players bound tightly to each other trying to force the opponents off the ball to gain ground and possession. The reality tends to be less disciplined and a lot goes on outside the view of the referee. A scrum is formed when the ball goes into touch, a knock-on occurs, when the ball is passed forward or when the players are in a position too dangerous for play to continue.

Scrums are intended to spread play by removing the forwards from open play. The five forwards from each team form a pack consisting of a row of three at the front, two behind and one person behind this pair. The two packs bind onto each other with the two front rows of each pack leaning on each other with their shoulders touching. The players stand with their upper bodies parallel to the ground so as when the move towards each other their heads do not clash, but fit in between the player’s heads of the opposing pack. Scrums are not contested like in rugby union, and so the packs push only enough to support each other. If the scrum moves along the pitch it must be restarted.

  • Fouls and penalties – A serious offence such as hitting another player, a high tackle, kicking the ball whilst an opponent is trying to collect it from the ground or offensive language will lead to a penalty being awarded to the other team and may also result in the offending player being given a yellow or red card. There is also a sin-bin where offending players are effectively sent to cool-off for ten minutes after an outburst or act of dangerous play.
  • Blood-bin – This is a means of players receiving medical attention without being substituted off the pitch permanently. Any player who has a bleeding wound must leave the pitch, for a maximum of ten minutes, until the bleeding stops.