This was originally written to introduce some American friends to rugby league, as their rugby league team qualified for the Rugby League World Cup quarter-finals, hence the slightly American slant to this.
As the mighty US Rugby League team has managed to qualify for the quarter-finals of the rugby league world cup, I felt it might be an idea to briefly cover the basics of the game for any new fans watching. The information is taken from here and here.
Somewhat worryingly, both of the rules pages start with the information that you’re trying to score more points than the other team, but I’m going to assume that you can guess that.
The very basic rules of the game are that each team is given six chances to score. Each chance ends with a tackle (a tackle is a completed tackle when the referee calls “held”). If, after six tackles, they have not scored, the ball is handed over to the other team who then get the chance to score with their six tackles.
There are 4 ways of scoring:
1 – A Try – A try is worth 4 points. Similar to a touchdown in American football, except you actually have to touch the ball down with control and downward pressure. I’ve highlighted those last words because if you don’t do them, the try will not be given, or awarded as the jargon has it, to your team.
2 – A Conversion – A conversion is worth 2 points. They can be scored only after the team has scored a try. The kick is taken from a position perpendicular to the goal line where the try was scored. The ball must pass between the goalposts and over the crossbar. If the team scores a conversion after a try, it is referred to as a converted try.
3 – A Penalty Kick – Also worth 2 points. Often just referred to as a penalty, this is one of the two options a team captain can take when the referee awards his team a penalty. The other option is to get another set of 6 tackles with which to try to score.
4 – A Drop Goal – worth 1 point. This is scored when the ball is kicked between the goalposts and over the cross bar in open play.
A match lasts 80 minutes, split up into 2 halves of 40 minutes. The time is kept by a separate time keeper who sounds a hooter to signal the end of each half. If you’re really unlucky and playing at one of the French stadiums, it sounds like an air-raid siren.
Both teams will have 13 players on the pitch at any one time. This will be the team you are cheering for. This team will be the opponents. As in ice hockey, there are rolling substitutions with no need for a stoppage in play. There is a limit on the number of these interchanges, with a maximum of 12 per team per game.
When passing the ball, it must go level or backwards. If the ball goes forwards, this is called a forward pass and the referee will award the other team a scrum and give them the ball. The rugby league scrum is formed of 6 players from each team. The scrum half puts the ball into the scrum, and the hooker from his team hooks the ball backwards to gain possession of the ball for his team.
Scrums are also awarded for knock-ons. A knock-on is when the ball is dropped forwards by a player and hits the ground or another player.
Don’t worry if you’re not sure whether that’s happened, because the referees wear microphones and have a set of hand-signals that they use to indicate what is going on. This has been handily summarised here:
The offside rule does nothing but cause everyone headaches but basically, the defending team have to be 10 meters away from the attacking team when they play the ball after the tackle, and the person on the attacking team receiving the ball from the play the ball must be directly behind their team-mate.
Obstruction is when one of the attacking team runs across the line of a defender trying to tackle their team-mate.
Tackles are not allowed to be above shoulder height. Above that is a high tackle.
For something like that or other foul play that is deserving of more than a penalty to the opposition, a referee can give one of 3 punishments:
1 – A yellow card – the offender has to spend 10 minutes in the sin bin. Their team has to play the 10 minutes with 12 players.
2 – A red card – the offender is sent off and cannot play for the rest of the match. Their team has to play the rest of the match with 12 players.
3 – The player is put on report – while better for the team in the short run, the player gets to stay on the pitch and carry on playing, it means the disciplinary panel will look at the offence and decide what punishment is appropriate. This can be anything from nothing to a 4 match ban.
I think that covers the important things.
For your interest and delectation may I also recommend this article which explains why everyone that loves an underdog will be rooting for the US.