National Rugby League
|Current season, competition or edition:|
2021 NRL season
|No. of teams||16|
|Country|| Australia |
|Melbourne Storm (4th title)|
|Most titles|| South Sydney Rabbitohs |
|TV partner(s)||Nine Network|
Sky Sport (NZ)
|Level on pyramid||1|
|International cup(s)||World Club Challenge|
The National Rugby League (NRL) is Australia's top-level domestic men's rugby league club competition. It contains clubs from the original Sydney club Rugby League competition, which had been running continuously since 1908. The NRL formed in the aftermath of the 1990s' Super League war as a joint partnership between the Australian governing body, the Australian Rugby League (ARL) and media giant News Corporation-controlled Super League, after both organisations ran premierships parallel to each other in 1997. This partnership was dissolved in February 2012, with control of the NRL going to the independently formed Australian Rugby League Commission.
NRL matches are played in Australia and New Zealand from March to October. The season culminates in the premiership-deciding game, the NRL Grand Final, traditionally one of Australia's most popular sporting events and one of the world's largest attended sporting championship games. In addition, the NRL premiers also play in the World Club Challenge, a pre-season match against the champions of the European Super League competition. The reigning premiers are the Melbourne Storm, having won their fourth premiership at the conclusion of the 2020 season.
Origin and establishment
The New South Wales Rugby League ran the major rugby league competition of New South Wales from its inception in 1908 until 1994. Following the introduction of a new format for interstate rugby league, the State of Origin series in 1980, the decade of the 1980s brought about expansion of the NSWRL premiership, with the introduction of commercial sponsorship, the Winfield Cup, and the addition of non-Sydney-based teams, Canberra and Illawarra in 1982. Although this move brought more interest in the competition statewide in New South Wales, it would spell the beginning of the demise of some of the traditional Sydney-based clubs as well as having a negative effect on the Brisbane Rugby League premiership. Following the 1983 season, Sydney foundation club Newtown Jets were ultimately forced to withdraw from the competition because of financial difficulties.
Further expansion of the league followed in 1988, with another three teams based outside Sydney introduced to the competition; the Newcastle Knights and the first two Queensland teams, the Brisbane Broncos and Gold Coast-Tweed Giants. The Brisbane and Newcastle sides proved to be successful and popular and paved the way towards a push for a truly national competition. This was attempted in 1995 with control of the premiership passing from the NSWRFL to the Australian Rugby League (ARL), who invited four more teams from outside NSW to participate in 1995. Ultimately this competition failed, but in its demise the National Rugby League was born, incorporating the traditional Sydney clubs, successfully coercing the Sydney market to follow the newly created national competition.
The prospect of a truly national rugby league competition in addition to the introduction of pay television in Australia attracted the attention of global media organisation, News Corporation, and it followed that professional rugby league was shaken to its very foundations in the mid-1990s with the advent of the Super League war. Initially a conflict over broadcasting rights, it became a dispute as to who controlled the sport and which traditional clubs would survive into the new national era, as News Limited formed their own Super League and admitted some former ARL clubs, poaching players from the original ARL league with high salaries. With twenty-two teams of highly varying quality playing in two competitions that year, crowd attendances and corporate sponsorships were spread very thinly, and many teams found themselves in financial difficulty. The ARL undertook moves to invite the traditional clubs that had moved to the Super League competition back into a re-unified competition. Following a period of negotiation with News Corporation, on 23 September 1997 the ARL announced that it was forming a new company to conduct the competition in 1998. On 7 October News' Manaaki Ranginui announced that he was confident that there would be a single competition in 1998. On 19 December, representatives of clubs affiliated with the Australian Rugby League gathered at the Sydney Football Stadium to decide whether to accept News Limited's offer of a settlement – eventually voting in favour by 36 votes to 4. As a result, in the following months the National Rugby League, jointly owned by the ARL and News Limited, was formed.
It was announced that the inaugural National Rugby League (NRL) season of 1998 would have 20 teams competing, 19 remaining Super League and ARL teams plus the Melbourne Storm, who were created by Super League for their 1998 season. Clubs on both sides of the war were shut down. Super League decided to close the Hunter Mariners and the financially ruined Perth Reds, who were $10 million in debt at the end of 1997, while the ARL decided to close down the South Queensland Crushers, who were also in severe financial trouble. Additionally, at the end of 1998 the NRL decided to close down former Super League club, the Adelaide Rams and former ARL club, the Gold Coast Chargers, despite the Gold Coast franchise being one of the few clubs to make a profit during the Super League war.
One condition of the peace agreement between the ARL and News Limited was that there would be a 14-team competition in 2000. The 20 clubs that played in 1998 would be assessed on various items such as sponsorship, crowds, on-field success and the like. It was also announced that clubs that merged would receive a large sum of money, as well as a guaranteed position in the 2000 NRL Competition. The St. George Dragons and the Illawarra Steelers were the first clubs to take up the offer, forming the joint-venture St. George Illawarra Dragons at the end of the 1998 season.
The 1999 NRL Grand Final brought about a new official world record attendance for a game of rugby league. 107,999 spectators saw the Melbourne Storm defeat the newly created St. George Illawarra Dragons in the decider at Stadium Australia.
Balmain and Western Suburbs formed the joint-venture club, the Wests Tigers at the end of 1999, while North Sydney and Manly Warringah created the ill-fated Northern Eagles. As part of another image makeover, a number of teams also released new club logos. The most notable of these was the Sydney Roosters, dropping the City section of their name for the 2000 season and beyond. Souths were controversially axed from the competition at the end of 1999 for failing to meet the criteria.
This move was highly controversial and on 12 November 2000 about 80,000 marched in protest at their continued exclusion. South Sydney challenged the decision in the Federal Court claiming that the NRL agreement was exclusionary, intended to unfairly exclude South Sydney, and breached the Trade Practices Act. Justice Paul Finn ruled that the agreement did not specifically exclude any club and dismissed the Rabbitohs' claims for re-instatement into the national competition. Souths appealed this decision and were re-admitted into the competition in 2002.
The Auckland Warriors experienced much financial hardship in the early part of the decade, ultimately collapsing before being resurrected as the New Zealand Warriors for the 2001 season. They made the Grand Final in 2002 and then again in 2011, losing both encounters to the Sydney Roosters and the re-instated Manly Warringah Sea Eagles, respectively.
In 2001, Australia's largest telecommunications provider Telstra became naming rights sponsor of the NRL, with the competition's name becoming the NRL Telstra Premiership, while in 2002 David Gallop took over the CEO role from David Moffett, and the competition has become more and more popular each season.
In 2001 the NRL Grand Final started to be played on Sunday nights, a shift from the traditional Sunday afternoon slot used for over a decade prior.
2003–2010: Record popularity, expansion and centenary
The 2003 season was widely regarded as the most successful since the beginning of the National Rugby League in 1998. The Manly Warringah Rugby League Football Club took over the NRL licence from the Northern Eagles franchise, after the financial bankruptcy of the North Sydney faction made the joint-venture untenable. The Penrith Panthers rose from the bottom of the table to win the Premiership, while the Broncos returned to Suncorp Stadium mid-year. Season 2004 proved even more successful than 2003, with the North Queensland Cowboys going from 11th position in 2003 to 3rd in 2004, narrowly missing out on a maiden Grand Final berth.
Crowd average records were broken in 2003, 2004 and 2005. In 2005, the NRL reached record levels of popularity for its competition. Total crowds for the competition season almost reached the figures for the last year of the competition conducted by the ARL competition of 1995, prior to the Super League war. The average attendance record remained until 2010. From 2004 to 2005, there was a 39% increase in sponsorship, a 41% increase in merchandise royalties, and a 12% increase in playing participation. In 2005, Business Review Weekly ranked the NRL 497 in revenue of Australian private companies, with revenue of A$66.1m (+7%) with 35 employees. In 2004, Canterbury-Bankstown put a year of turmoil and disgrace at the aftermath of the alleged rape scandal to hold aloft the NRL trophy and give the Bulldogs their first premiership since 1995. In 2005, a record national audience of 4.1 million tuned in to watch the grand final between the Wests Tigers and the North Queensland Cowboys.
The 2006 NRL Grand Final was won by the Brisbane Broncos over the Melbourne Storm, 15–8. The matchup was a significant milestone in the history of the NRL, as two interstate teams (teams not from New South Wales, the "heartland" of the NRL) contested the grand final for the first time. In the city of Melbourne, whose team was playing in their second grand final, the game's television ratings were higher than in Sydney where the game was played. Crowds were down on 2005, however were better than any other year prior to that.
In its tenth season the NRL returned to having a club based on the Gold Coast, Queensland with the inclusion of the Gold Coast Titans. The Titans were the first professional sporting team to occupy the Gold Coast since 1998, when the Gold Coast Chargers were one of the teams removed during the NRL's rationalisation process between the end of the Super League war and the 2000 season.
The 2007 season saw the return of Monday Night Football and the inclusion of two Friday night games. Both of which turned out to be ratings successes. Another change from the previous seasons was a reduction in the number of byes per team in the season. With an odd number of teams contesting between 2002 and 2006, the draw meant that at least one team would have to have a bye each weekend. With the inclusion of the 16th team for the 2007 season, the National Rugby League had the option of reverting to back to the system used between 2000 and 2001 where every team played each round. That system was not used however, with teams were given just a single bye during the year, grouped in periods that will assist clubs around representative fixtures.
The opening round saw two matches at Brisbane's Suncorp Stadium, the first featuring reigning champions Brisbane against fellow Queensland side North Queensland, while the second match featured the new club, the Gold Coast playing St. George Illawarra. The weather during the middle of the season was less than ideal, with cyclonic conditions severely affecting many NRL games played in Sydney and Newcastle.
The 2007 finals series saw the South Sydney Rabbitohs return to finals football for the first time in decades. The season culminated on 30 September 2007, with the Grand Final contested between Manly and Melbourne. Melbourne won the title 34–8 and the Grand Final achieved the honour of being the most watched television show in Australia in 2007.
Throughout 2008, the NRL celebrated 100 years since rugby league was introduced into Australia, with several initiatives to recognise the important milestone, including an extensive marketing campaign called the 'Centenary of Rugby League'. The competition began in March, with a special Heritage round held in mid-April, coinciding with the first round of competition played in 1908.
At a Gala event on 17 April 2008 the Team of the Century was announced, being:
For the second year in a row, the Grand Final was played between the Melbourne Storm and the Manly Warringah Sea Eagles, in the NRL's first ever twilight decider. The Sea Eagles took out the premiership game 40–0, setting the record for the highest winning margin in a Grand Final (although the club formerly known as St. George Dragons were beaten 38–0 in 1975 and using the modern point scale of 4-point tries, this would amount to 46–0.) Furthermore, it was the first time a team had been kept scoreless in a Grand Final since 1978.
The 2009 season marked the beginning of the second century of rugby league in Australia. The Grand Final that year was played between the Parramatta Eels and once again Melbourne Storm. Melbourne defeated Parramatta 23 – 16 to win the premiership to make it two premierships out of the last four grand finals for the Storm.
In 2010 the Inaugural All Stars Match was held on 13 February, in conjunction with the Sorry Day reconciliation anniversary to promote rugby league's long association and involvement with the Aboriginal community. The first match saw the Indigenous All Stars beat the NRL All Stars 16–12. The success of this event has seen it become a recurring fixture on the rugby league calendar with Queensland awarded the hosting rights for the next three years.
The 29th State of Origin series was also played featuring the world's first live free-to-air 3D TV broadcast. Queensland later made further history by winning an unprecedented fifth series in a row, and winning the 2010 series by a scoreline of 3–0, their first Origin whitewash since 1995.
During the 2010 finals series, the second qualifying match between the Wests Tigers and Sydney Roosters became the first McIntyre System final to go into extra time, with the One Hundred Minute Epic described in media circles as one of the greatest of the modern era.
2010–present: Establishment of the ARLC
After several years of preparation and build up, on 14 December 2010 the Australian Rugby League and News Corporation agreed upon a constitutional framework paving the way for the establishment of a new and independent commission to govern the sport in Australia. The negotiations of such a framework became drawn out over establishing details, primarily of sponsorship, media rights, funding of state bodies, funding of the Melbourne Storm, debate over News Ltd private ownership of clubs, and also of individual appointments to the new body. The 2011 Grand Final was contested between the Manly Sea Eagles and the New Zealand Warriors. This was the second grand final involving the New Zealand Warriors. Manly recorded a 24–10 win claiming their second premiership under head coach Des Hasler.
On 10 February 2012, the independent commission, known as the Australian Rugby League Commission assumed control of all levels of the game, replacing former state based boards and assuming full control of the NRL from the NRL partnership (comprising the previous ARL board and News Limited). The current Chairman is Peter V'landys AM. The 2012 Grand Final involved the Canterbury Bankstown Bulldogs and the Melbourne Storm, this was the first time since 2008 that the first and second placed teams contested the Grand Final. The Melbourne Storm recorded a 14–4 victory thus achieving their second premiership and claiming some vengeance for the stripped premierships.
The 2013 season saw the resurgence of foundation clubs the Sydney Roosters and the South Sydney Rabbitohs with both clubs finishing first and second place respectively. The NRL was also left with a black eye after the Cronulla Sharks were caught using performance-enhancing substances by ASADA dating back to 2011. The 2013 Grand Final was played between the Sydney Roosters and the Manly Sea Eagles with the Roosters recording a 26–18 victory.
The 2014 season started with the introduction of the Auckland Nines and was marred by the handing down of a million dollar fine to the Cronulla Sharks for their role in the ASADA scandal while head coach Shane Flanagan was suspended for the entirety of the 2014 season. The 2014 Grand Final was contested by the South Sydney Rabbitohs and the Canterbury Bankstown Bulldogs. This was the Rabbitohs first grand final appearance since 1971. The Rabbitohs would break their 43-year premiership drought with a 30–6 victory.
The 2015 season saw the return of the Queensland juggernauts, The North Queensland Cowboys and the Brisbane Broncos who would finish inside the top four and contest the 2015 Grand Final. The 2015 Grand Final is considered by many to be the greatest grand final of all time as a high intensity match ended in dramatic circumstances when the Cowboys scored as the full-time siren sounded. Johnathan Thurston would miss the conversion from the sideline as the ball hit the post thus sending the match into golden point, the first golden point grand final. Ben Hunt would drop the ball on the kick-off and hand the Cowboys the chance to win which was converted as Johnathan Thurston successfully kicked a field goal to win the match 17–16.
The 2016 season saw the Melbourne Storm return to the minor premiership position while the Canberra Raiders returned to the top four for the first time since the 2003. The Cronulla Sharks and reigning premiers North Queensland would fill out the top four. The season continued a trend of the minor premiership not being decided to the final round, the fourth consecutive year. The 2016 Grand Final was contested between the Melbourne Storm and the Cronulla Sharks, it was the Cronulla Sharks fourth grand final appearance while it was the seventh for the Storm. The match was a tight affair and was not settled until after the siren had sounded. The Cronulla Sharks claimed their first premiership ending a famous 49-year drought by a score of 14–12.
Following the success generated by the 2017 Women's Rugby League World Cup, a national women's league was established, and the first season commenced in September 2018 comprising four clubs aligned to existing NRL clubs.
On 22 March 2020, during the COVID-19 pandemic, the NRL became one of the last major sports in the world to continue playing games. The other major Australian football code, the Australian Football League (AFL), announced suspension of their season on that day. AFL's decision came as the Australian federal government announced a ban on "non essential" travel and closing of pubs, clubs and other venues. AFL leaders commented "As a community and as a code we all need to take the unprecedented and required actions to get through this together." However, the NRL announced it would be moving forward with their season. The decision prompted a wave of condemnation online, including from Australian personalities and sport people. The following day after Queensland closed its borders, the NRL announced that the season would have to be suspended indefinitely. It has been said that some teams may not survive this period without income, as many have described it as a financial catastrophe.
On 9 April 2020, ARL Commissioner Wayne Pearce announced the NRL would return on May 28. The announcement came under heavy criticism from the Government of New South Wales and health officials, with Premier Gladys Berejiklian saying she had not approved a return. However, the NRL released documents signed by NSW Police Commissioner Mick Fuller, showing approval for the NRL to continue without crowds. The competition ended up kicking off on that date, with the Parramatta Eels defeating the Brisbane Broncos 34–6 at Suncorp Stadium behind closed doors. The match drew the highest TV ratings for a regular season game since 2014.
The NRL consists of sixteen clubs: eight clubs based within Greater Sydney, two in regional New South Wales, three in Queensland and one each in Victoria, the Australian Capital Territory and New Zealand. The league operates on a single group system, with no divisions or conferences and no relegation and promotion from other leagues. St. George Illawarra Dragons and Wests Tigers have two locations indicated due to more than one ground being occupied by both teams.
A total of twenty-three clubs have played in the National Rugby League since its first season in 1998. For a list of all clubs past and present, see List of teams in the NSWRL/ARL/SL/NRL. For a complete list of all teams no longer competing in the NRL, see here.
Two of the teams currently in the NRL were founded in 1908, the first year of rugby league competition in Australia: the Sydney Roosters (founded as the 'Eastern Suburbs') and the South Sydney Rabbitohs. Foundation clubs the Western Suburbs Magpies and the Balmain Tigers have been competing as a merged entity, the Wests Tigers since the 2000 NRL season.
Eleven clubs have been members of the National Rugby League for every season since its inception in 1998. This group includes Brisbane, Canberra, Canterbury-Bankstown, Cronulla-Sutherland, Melbourne, New Zealand, Newcastle, North Queensland, Parramatta, Penrith and Sydney Roosters.
NRL venues – traditional and non-traditional
Since 1998 NRL clubs have played both trial matches and premiership season games in areas that do not have representation in the NRL in both Australia and New Zealand. Non-traditional venues that have been used include Central Coast Stadium (Gosford), Westpac Stadium (Wellington), Barlow Park (Cairns), TIO Stadium (Darwin), nib Stadium (Perth), Stadium Mackay (Mackay), Marley Brown Oval (Gladstone), Clive Berghofer Stadium (Toowoomba), Scully Park (Tamworth), Glen Willow Oval (Mudgee) and Eden Park (Auckland).
The NRL pre season typically begins in February and ends in early March. Clubs generally use this time to organise trial matches to test playing combinations. However, some clubs play for trophies: Easts and Wests play for the Foundation Cup while South Sydney and St. George Illawarra play for the Charity Shield. The trials are typically played in cities and towns that normally don't host NRL matches. In the past a World Seven's rugby league football tournament has been hosted, however this was scrapped due to injury concerns.
All Stars match
Beginning in 2010, the All Stars match has become a major fixture in the NRL preseason. The teams are chosen via public voting and the two sides play for the Arthur Beetson Trophy. In 2018, the game was temporarily removed from the calendar due to the World Cup being played the previous year citing an excessive player workload. The match returned in 2019 and was hosted in Melbourne with the Australian Indigenous All Stars taking on the New Zealand Maori All Stars.
In 2014, the inaugural rugby league nines tournament took place, featuring all sixteen NRL clubs. It was initially staged at Eden Park, Auckland, New Zealand. This two-day tournament has now become a regular fixture, taking place in February each year. Women's nines games were also fixtured alongside the main tournament between the Australian and New Zealand women's teams, however now feature the four NRLW teams. In 2018 the tournament was removed from the calendar due to the World Cup being played the previous year citing an excessive player workload, however, it was brought back in 2020.
World Club Challenge
The World Club Challenge is an annual pre-season match played between the champion of the National Rugby League and the champion of the Super League. The first match of its kind was the 1976 World Club Challenge and it was then played sporadically throughout the late 80s and 90s, including a one off Super League tournament in 1997, before becoming a regular annual pre-season fixture since 2000.
In 2015, the competition was expanded to include two exhibition games before the Challenge game. This expanded series, called the World Club Series, ran from 2015 to 2017. The first two Series saw the leagues’ champions joined by two invited teams from each league, resulting in a three-game series. Each invited team represented their league in a single game, played in the days leading up to the usual Challenge match. In 2017, only one invited team from each league participated, with the NRL citing tight schedules, distant travel and long seasons as an impediment to the Series. In 2018 the series was cancelled, with only the usual Challenge match played and has continued as a single match since.
As rugby league is a winter sport in Australasia, the NRL premiership season begins in early March, with games played every weekend (except for a bye round held at the end of June for the 2nd State of Origin game and internationals) for 25 weeks, until the start of September. In most rounds, one match is played on Thursday night, two on Friday night, three on Saturday and two on Sunday. Special themed weeks include ANZAC Round, Heritage Round, Women in League Round, Retro Round, Beanies for Brain Cancer round and Rivalry Round. Separate trophies between rival teams are also presented throughout the season. In 2019, the NRL introduced Magic Round, which featured all sixteen teams playing at Suncorp Stadium in Brisbane over the weekend. It was deemed a success and it's scheduled to comeback in 2020.
Teams receive two competition points for a win, and one point for a draw. The bye also receives two points; a loss, no points. Teams on the ladder are ranked by competition points, then match points differential (for and against) and points percentage are used to separate teams with equal competition points. At the end of the regular season, the club which is ranked highest on the ladder is declared minor premiers.
As well as playing for their club in the premiership, NRL players are regularly selected to play in a number of representative competitions that are conducted throughout each season. The representative season is generally considered to be a period of rugby league that runs from about the middle of April until the middle of July each year. Up until the 2017 season the fixtures took into account the following games:
- The annual Anzac Test between Australia and New Zealand (Early to mid April)
- The New South Wales City vs Country Origin match (Early to mid April, same weekend as the Anzac Test)
- The Pacific Tests, played on the same weekend as the Anzac Test and City vs Country Origin, these games feature matches placed between Fiji, Samoa, Papua New Guinea and Tonga
- The three match State of Origin series (June – July)
From 2018, the season was altered to create a shorter workload for players. A number of representative games were scrapped and timing changed therefore the representative season was changed to include:
- The Pacific Tests, played on the same weekend as the second State of Origin game
- The three match State of Origin series (June – July) with the second game featuring on a standalone weekend.
Other representative matches that can occur later in the year are:
- The Prime Minister's XIII match in Papua New Guinea
- The Four Nations tournament – Australia, New Zealand and England plus another qualifier
- The quadrennial World Cup tournament
- Additional test Matches between Australia and New Zealand.
- The Rugby League World Cup 9s
The eight highest placed teams at the end of the regular season compete in the finals series. The system consists of a number of games between the top eight teams over four weeks in September, until only two teams remain. These two teams then contest the Grand Final, which is usually played on the first Sunday of October. From 1998 to 2011, the NRL used the McIntyre Final Eight System but with the introduction of the ARLC, it was decided to change to the current format which was perceived as fairer for teams finishing in the Top 4.
The NRL Grand Final, which determines the season's premiers, is one of Australia's major sporting events and is one of the largest attended club championship events in the world. Since 1999 it has been contested at Sydney's Stadium Australia, which was the primary athletics venue for the 2000 Summer Olympic Games. The first year it was held at Stadium Australia, the NRL Grand Final broke the record for attendance at an Australian rugby league game, with 107,999 people attending.
The Grand Final had traditionally been played on Sunday afternoons, shifting to 8 pm in 2001, then to 7 pm thereafter. However, from 2008, a compromise was reached between official broadcaster Nine Network's preferred starting time and the afternoon starting time of 3 pm, with the Grand Final beginning at 5 pm AEST.
Each year the NRL Grand Final Breakfast, a function that is attended by both teams, hundreds of guests and screened live on Australian television is held during the week before the game.
The game itself is usually preceded by an opening ceremony featuring entertainment and the singing of the national anthem by well-known Australasian and international musical acts. After the pre-game entertainment it is traditional for the NRL trophy to be delivered to the field by an Australian Army helicopter shortly before kick off.
At the conclusion of the Grand Final there is a presentation ceremony where the winning team are awarded premiership rings. The player judged to be the man-of-the-match by the Australian national team selectors is awarded the prestigious Clive Churchill Medal and the Prime Minister of Australia is typically on-hand to hand the trophy to the winning captain.
|Stadium||Location||Country||Highest attendance||Average attendance|
Note – Melbourne Storm were stripped of their 2007, 2009 premiership titles and their 2006, 2007, 2008 minor premiership titles due to their breach of the salary cap. The titles were withheld by the NRL rather than awarding them to the runners up.
NOTE: These stats NRL era only (1998 to present) Ranking: Teams are ranked in order of premierships won, grand final runners up then minor premierships won. To see the complete list of premiers in Australian Rugby League, see List of NRL Premiers
|Rank||Team||Premiership years||Runner-up years||Minor Premiers years|
|1||Sydney Roosters||4 (2002, 2013, 2018, 2019)||4 (2000, 2003, 2004, 2010)||5 (2004, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2018)|
|2||Melbourne Storm||4 (1999, 2007*, 2009*, 2012, 2017, 2020)||4 (2006, 2008, 2016, 2018)||4 (2006*, 2007*, 2008*, 2011, 2016, 2017, 2019)|
|3||Brisbane Broncos||3 (1998, 2000, 2006)||1 (2015)||2 (1998, 2000)|
|4||Manly Warringah Sea Eagles||2 (2008, 2011)||2 (2007, 2013)||0|
|5||Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs||1 (2004)||3 (1998, 2012, 2014)||1 (2012)|
|6||North Queensland Cowboys||1 (2015)||2 (2005, 2017)||0|
|7||St. George Illawarra Dragons||1 (2010)||1 (1999)||2 (2009, 2010)|
|8||Penrith Panthers||1 (2003)||1 (2020)||2 (2003, 2020)|
|9||Cronulla-Sutherland Sharks||1 (2016)||0||1 (1999)|
|10||Newcastle Knights||1 (2001)||0||0|
|Wests Tigers||1 (2005)||0||0|
|South Sydney Rabbitohs||1 (2014)||0||0|
|13||Parramatta Eels||0||2 (2001, 2009)||2 (2001, 2005)|
|14||New Zealand Warriors||0||2 (2002, 2011)||1 (2002)|
|15||Canberra Raiders||0||1 (2019)||0|
|16||Gold Coast Titans||0||0||0|
National Rugby League footballers are among Australasia's most famous athletes, commanding multimillion-dollar playing contracts and sponsorship deals. Each club in the NRL has a "top squad" of twenty-five players, who are signed under a salary cap. For the most part, the players who play in NRL matches are sourced from these top squads. During a season the need may arise for a club to use players outside these 25, in which case players are usually sourced from the club's corresponding NRL Under-20s team or a feeder club in the New South Wales Cup or Queensland Cup.
In the recent years, the influence of Polynesian players on the NRL has grown, with figures from the 2011 season showing that 35% of NRL players and over 45% of NRL Under-20s players are of Polynesian background. This increase in Polynesian players has been blamed for the decline of Indigenous players, dropping from 21% in the 1990s to 11% for the 2009 season.
The first Indigenous Australian to play in the NSWRL/NRL was New South Wales Rugby League premiership player George Green, who debuted in 1909. Since that time, many high-profile indigenous athletes have played in the competition, including Arthur Beetson (the first Aboriginal person to captain an Australian national team in any sport) and former Test match representatives Johnathan Thurston and Greg Inglis.
At the elite level of the game, Indigenous Australians represented 35% of the roster for the Kangaroos, 21% of players at the 2012 State of Origin series, 12% of NRL players and a further 8% of the NRL Under-20s players. By way of comparison, 2.3% of the Australian population identified themselves as Indigenous in the 2006 Australian census.
To celebrate the strong Indigenous ties to the game, the NRL holds a preseason All Stars game, featuring a team made up of Indigenous Australians playing a publicly voted team consisting of the non-Indigenous players, and an Indigenous Leadership Group has formed, consisting of the game's elite Indigenous players. The Leadership Group hosts regular multi-day camps where all Indigenous NRL players are invited to learn more about Indigenous culture.
A salary cap was introduced to the NSWRL in 1990 to even the playing field of teams in the Winfield Cup. As of 2013 the club grant is $7.1 million which covers the salary cap of $5.85 million and a minimum wage for $80,000 for the top twenty-five players at each club. The salary cap will increase to $6.3 million in 2014, $6.55 million in 2015, $6.8 million by 2016 and $7 million in 2017.
The cap is actively policed and penalties for clubs found to have breached the NRL salary cap regulations include fines of lesser of half the amount involved or $500,000 and/or deduction of premiership points. For example, six clubs were fined for minor infractions in 2003. These infractions are usually technical in nature, and can sometimes be affected by third-party factors such as loss of sponsorship revenue affecting an allowance. During the 2007 season the NRL implemented ways of creating a fair and more beneficial cap for players and clubs.
In 2010, following the Melbourne Storm salary cap scandal, the NRL introduced requirements for players and their agents to sign statutory declarations pledging their contracts comply with salary cap regulations, where previously only club chairmen and chief executives did so for biannual salary cap audits.
Major breaches of the cap
In 2002, the Bulldogs were fined the maximum of $500,000 and deducted all 37 premiership points received during the season after it was found that they had committed serious and systematic breaches of the salary cap totalling $2.13 million over the past three years, including $750,000 in 2001 and $920,000 in 2002; these were described by NRL chief executive David Gallop as "exceptional in both its size and its deliberate and ongoing nature". The points penalty meant that the club won the 2002 wooden spoon (Souths would have finished last if not for the breaches), and as the club had been leading the competition table prior to the imposition of the penalties, this was a shattering outcome for the club and its fans. Two senior club officials were jailed for fraud as a result of these breaches.
In 2005, the New Zealand Warriors were fined $430,000 and were ordered to start the 2006 season with a four premiership point deficit and cut their payroll by $450,000 after club officials revealed that their former management had exceeded the salary cap by $1.1 million over the last two years. The points penalty meant that the Warriors missed a finals berth in 2006.
On 22 April 2010, following revelations by an internal whistle blower and investigation by the NRL, Storm officials revealed that the club had committed serious and systematic breaches of the salary cap regulations between 2006 and 2010 by running a well-organized dual contract and bookkeeping system that concealed a total of $3.78 million in payments made to players outside of the salary cap from the NRL. This included: $303,000 in 2006, $459,000 in 2007, $957,000 in 2008, $1.021 million in 2009 and $1.04 million in 2010. As a result, the club was stripped of the 2007 and 2009 premierships, 2006–2008 minor premierships and the following year, the 2010 World Club Challenge trophy. They were also fined a then Australian sporting record of $1.689 million ($1.1 million in NRL prize money which was equally distributed between the remaining 15 clubs, $89,000 in prize money from the World Club Challenge which was distributed to the Leeds Rhinos, and a maximum of $500,000 for breaching the salary cap regulations). In addition they were ordered to cut their payroll by $1.0125 million, deducted all eight premiership points received during the 2010 season and barred from receiving premiership points for the remainder of the 2010 season. The points penalty meant that the club won the 2010 wooden spoon. The former directors attempted unsuccessful legal action against the penalties which collapsed, and the club also had to pay the NRLs legal costs. The matter was also referred to ASIC, the Australian Tax Office, the Victorian State Revenue Office, and the Victoria Police to investigate possible fraud however by May 2011 these investigations were closed. The players themselves were found to have not done anything wrong during this time so individual awards are recognised in addition, the players were still eligible for Test/State of Origin selection.
Prior to the start of the 2016 NRL season, the Parramatta Eels faced the prospect with starting the season on -4 points due to salary cap indiscretions in 2015, however the NRL was satisfied with governance changes at the Eels and no points were deducted. However, it was revealed in March that third-party payments had been made by several companies to several players, which is strictly prohibited in the NRL. On 3 May 2016, NRL CEO Todd Greenberg announced that the club would be docked the twelve competition points they have accrued so far this season, as well as fined $1 million and stripped of the 2016 NRL Auckland Nines title it won in February. In addition, the NRL also announced that the Eels would not be able to accrue any further competition points until they fall under the salary cap, which they were reported to be $500,000 over as of 3 May 2016. Five officials, including chairman Steve Sharp, deputy chairman Tom Issa, director Peter Serrao, chief executive John Boulous and football manager Daniel Anderson, were also sacked. On 9 July, after over 2 months of club officials contesting the preliminary penalties, Parramatta were handed their punishment with the addition of their for/against points tally accumulated from rounds 1-9 being deducted.
Recently, in 2018, Manly Sea-Eagles were fined $750,000, two officials (Neil Bare and Joe Kelly were suspended and a $660,000 penalty was applied to the salary cap for 2018 and the next year for breaches of the salary cap). Manly was proved by the NRL chief executive that third-party payments and deals were made to attract more players to the club.
Judiciary and Integrity Unit
The NRL Judiciary is made up of former players who convene in three-man panels to rule on on-field incidents. The judiciary is currently chaired by Wollongong district court judge Paul Conlon and made up of former players Mal Cochrane, Michael Buettner, Bradley Clyde, Sean Garlick, Don McKinnon and Bob Lindner.
An integrity Unit was formed on 7 February 2013 and is headed by former Federal Court judge Tony Whitlam.
The Provan-Summons trophy is the NRL's main prize, awarded to the team that wins the premiership. Its sculptured design is similar to the Winfield Cup trophy, which was introduced for the 1982 NSWRFL season. It is a three-dimensional cast of a famous photo called The Gladiators, which depicts a mud-soaked Norm Provan of St. George and Arthur Summons of Western Suburbs embracing after the 1963 NSWRFL season's Grand Final. It was not officially named the Provan-Summons Trophy until 2013, the 50th anniversary of the 1963 Grand Final. The trophy is awarded following each grand final to the captain of the winning club.
Each player from the premiership winning side are also awarded Premiership Rings.
J. J. Giltinan Shield
Created in 1951, the J. J. Giltinan Shield is awarded to the club ranked highest on the NRL ladder after the premiership season concludes. Typically this team is known as the minor premiers.
Clive Churchill medal
Dally M awards
The Dally M Medal is the highlight of the Dally M Awards and was named after Henry Herbert 'Dally' Messenger, who was instrumental in the establishment of rugby league football in Australia. The awards were introduced in 1980 by News Limited. The Dally M has been the official player-of-the-year award, and the highest individual honour in Australian rugby league, since the unification of the game in 1998. Before 1998 the highest award was the Rothmans Medal.
The medal is awarded, usually by the Australian Prime Minister, at the annual Dally M Awards night. As well as honouring the best and fairest player of the year, the Dally M awards recognise the premier player in each position, the best coach and the most outstanding rookie of the season.
Established in 1981, the group of eight former Test captains: Arthur Beetson, Clive Churchill, Bob Fulton, Reg Gasnier, Graeme Langlands, Wally Lewis, Johnny Raper and Andrew Johns were those appointed by Rugby League Week between 1981 and 2012.
Following the demise of Rugby League Week, the Australian Rugby League Commission took ownership of The Immortals concept and expanded the group on 1 August 2018 by inclusion of Mal Meninga, Norm Provan, Frank Burge, Dave Brown and Dally Messenger.
Queensland Rugby League's Team of the Century
The Queensland Rugby League's Team of the Century is a team that consisted of the greatest rugby league players from 1909 to 2008. This team was picked by six judges in 2008 from a list of 100 nominated players.
New South Wales Rugby League's Team of the Century
The New South Wales Rugby League's Team of the Century is a team that consisted of the greatest rugby league players from 1908 to 2007.
Within Australia all matches are broadcast on either  the Nine Network (through 2022) and Fox Sports (through 2027). In New Zealand all matches, including representative fixtures such as the All Stars Match and the State of Origin series, are shown live on Sky Sport.
Detailed Australian coverage
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- Thursday Night Football is broadcast live on the Nine Network and simulcasted on Fox League. Kickoff is at 7:55 pm.
- Friday Night Football consists of 2 matches. The first match kickoffs at 6:00 pm and is broadcast live on Fox League. The second match kickoffs at 7:55 pm and is broadcast live on the Nine Network and simulcasted on Fox League.
- Super Saturday consists of 3 matches. The first match kickoffs at 3:00 pm, the second match kickoffs at 5:30 pm and the third match kickoffs at 7:35 pm. All 3 matches are broadcast live on Fox League. Between rounds 21–25, the 7:35 pm match is simulated live on the Nine Network
- NRL Sunday Ticket consists of 2 matches. The first match kickoffs at 2:00 pm and is broadcast live on Fox League. The second match kickoffs at 4:10 pm and is broadcast live on the Nine Network and simulcasted on Fox League. During daylight savings, the 2:00 pm game is moved to 6:10 pm.
- Fox League televises all matches live and commercial free (excluding the Grand Final).
- Nine Network televises the Thursday night game until 2022, second Friday night game and the second Sunday afternoon game (first in daylight savings), the last five Saturday night games from 2017 to 2021 and all matches of the finals series including the NRL Grand Final.
- The State of Origin series is televised exclusively live on the Nine Network, with extensive pre-game and post-game coverage, starting at 7:00 pm.
- The NRL Grand Final televised exclusively live on the Nine Network. Since 2013, the match has kicked off at 7:30 pm
In Australia there are television shows dedicated to discussing the NRL. The programs are listed in order of the day and time viewed in their primary broadcast market:
- NRL 360 (Mondays-Wednesdays 6:30 pm on Fox League 502). Hosted by Ben Ikin and Paul Kent.
- Sunday Night with Matty Johns (following Sunday Football on Fox League 502). Hosted by Matthew Johns.
- The Fan (Tuesdays 7:30 pm on Fox League 502). Hosted by Andrew Voss.
- League Life (Wednesdays 7:30 pm on Fox League 502). Hosted by Yvonne Sampson.
- Queenslanders Only (Wednesdays 8:00 pm on Fox League 502). Hosted by Hannah Hollis. (Airs at 7:00 pm Queensland time during the month of March due to NSW Daylight Saving Time)
- The Late Show with Matty Johns (Thursdays 10:00 pm on Fox League 502). Hosted by Matthew Johns.
- Narrow World of Sports (Fridays 10:00 pm on Fox League 502). Hosted by James ‘The Professor’ Rochford.
- The Sunday Footy Show (Sunday 11.00 am on Channel Nine): a recap of Thursday, Friday and Saturday's games, and preview of Sunday's games.
- League Legends (Sundays 6:30 pm on Fox League 502). Hosted by Tim Sheridan.
- 100% Footy (Mondays 10:30 pm on Channel 9): A recap of the weekend results along with topical discussions on the major issues surrounding the game. Hosted by James Bracey.
- Barefoot Sports (Thursday 8:30 pm on NITV) Hosted by Brad Cooke and formerly known as The Barefoot Rugby League Show.
- One Week at a Time (Mondays, at 9:30 pm, on One), recapping the weekend games
- The Game Plan (Thursday 8:30 pm, on Channel Ten) Hosted by Steve Roach, Joel Caine and Andrew Moore.
- The Matty Johns Show (Thursdays, 7.30 pm on Channel Seven) A more sketch-and-regular-segment-oriented version of The Footy Show and The Game Plan, not related to Monday Night with Matty Johns.
- The Sunday Roast (Sunday Midday on Channel Nine) Now incorporated into the Sunday Footy Show.
- NRL Full-time, a weekly half-hour highlights show for the UK audience.
- On the Couch with Sterlo
|Papua New Guinea||Digicel|
Outside ANZ and Pacific
The NRL is also available to the rest of the world.
|Sub-Saharan Africa (exc. North)||ESPN|
Outside of Australia, New Zealand, and the Pacific Islands, all matches are currently available in high definition on the subscription streaming service Watch NRL which operates through its website and a dedicated app.
A selection of classic NRL games is available for free worldwide on the league's website.
The NRL has several exclusive rights partners to broadcast matches live via radio nationwide. FM coverage is provided by Triple M while AM coverage is contracted to ABC Local Radio and 2GB. All radio coverage is available to be streamed live from the NRL website.
2GB 873AM Radio has the commercial rights to one Friday night match, the 5:30 pm Saturday game, and the 2 pm Sunday match, covering the game through the Continuous Call Team program. 2GB also air representative games, as well as all matches throughout the finals series, and all three matches on Grand Final day. The coverage is networked to stations across the country, typically those owned by Southern Cross Media Group, Grant Broadcasters and other station groups on the Macquarie Radio Network.
Triple M has exclusive access to Thursday night, Sunday 3 pm and Sunday night matches and is broadcast on commercial stations across the country. Triple M will also broadcast the State of Origin series, the finals series and the Grand Final.
Big League is the competition's official publication, released Thursday and produced by News Magazines. Other News Magazines publications, ALPHA Magazine, regularly publishes league-related stories and interviews, as well as Rugby League Review, a newspaper that reviews the last month.
There have been many top selling video games made for the Australian rugby league market. The games below are sorted by year released.
- E.T.'s Rugby League, named for Andrew Ettingshausen, was released on Amiga in 1992.
- Australian Rugby League (1995) for Sega Mega Drive
- ARL '96 was a PC game published by EA Sports for the 1996 season.
- Rugby League (2003) for Microsoft Windows, PlayStation 2, and Xbox
- Rugby League 2 (2005) for Microsoft Windows, PlayStation 2, and Xbox
- Rugby League 2: World Cup Edition (2008) for PlayStation 2
- NRL Mascot Mania (2009) for Nintendo DS
- Rugby League Challenge (2009) for PlayStation Portable
- Rugby League 3 (2010) for Wii
- Rugby League Live (2010) for PlayStation 3 Xbox 360; (2011) for Microsoft Windows
- Rugby League Live 2 (2012) for PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360
- Rugby League Legends (2012) iOS
- Rugby League 2: World Cup Edition (2013) for PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360
- Rugby League Live 3 (2015) for Steam, PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, PlayStation 4 and Xbox One
- Rugby League Live 4 (2017) for Steam, PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, PlayStation 4 and Xbox One
- Rugby League Live 4 World Cup Edition (2017) for Steam, PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, PlayStation 4 and Xbox One
Most NRL teams have a squad of dancers for cheerleading that are usually involved in dancing, charity work, fundraisers, and modelling. Some Notable NRL cheerleaders are Jennifer Hawkins for the Newcastle Knights, Chloe Butler for the Emeralds and Tabrett Bethell for the Cronulla Sharks Mermaids.
|Hog's Breath Cafe Broncos Cheer Squad||Brisbane Broncos|
|The Emeralds||Canberra Raiders|
|The Sapphires||Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs|
|Cronulla Sharks Mermaids||Cronulla-Sutherland Sharks|
|Gold Coast Hogs Breath Cafe Sirens||Gold Coast Titans|
|Manly Seabirds||Manly Warringah Sea Eagles|
|Melbourne Storm Cheerleaders||Melbourne Storm|
|Newcastle Knights Cheerleaders||Newcastle Knights|
|North Queensland Cowgirls Spirit||North Queensland Cowboys|
|Parramatta Eels Cheerleaders||Parramatta Eels|
|Penrith Pantherettes||Penrith Panthers|
|St George-Illawarra Flames||St. George Illawarra Dragons|
|The Roosters Girls||Sydney Roosters|
- Most premierships – 21 South Sydney Rabbitohs
- Most minor premierships – 20 Sydney Roosters
- Most wooden spoons – 17 Western Suburbs Magpies
- Highest score in a game – 91, St. George against Canterbury (1935)
- Largest winning margin in a game – 85, St. George against Canterbury (1935)
- Longest winning streak – 19 matches, Eastern Suburbs Roosters (1975)
- Longest undefeated streak – 35 matches, Eastern Suburbs (1935–1938)
- Longest losing streak- 42 matches, University (1934–1936)
- Most games played – Cameron Smith 422 games
- Leading pointscorer – Cameron Smith 2,688 points (45 tries, 1252 goals, 4 field goals)
- Leading tryscorer – Ken Irvine, 212 tries
- Most points in a season 342, Hazem El Masri (16 tries, 139 goals) (2004)
- Most tries in a season 38, Dave Brown (1935)
- Most points in a game 45, Dave Brown (1935).
- Most tries in a game 8, Frank Burge (1920)
Premiership Winning Coaches (NRL Era)
as head coach
|Wayne Bennett||4||1998, 2000, 2006, 2010|
|Trent Robinson||3||2013, 2018, 2019|
|Craig Bellamy||3||2012, 2017, 2020|
|Des Hasler||2||2008, 2011|
Match Officials coaching staff
On-Field Match Officials
'The Bunker' Review Officials
- 2020 Clive Churchill Medallist
Senior Review Officials
- Steve Chiddy
- Steve Clark
- Ashley Klein (also an on-field match official)
- Jared Maxwell
- Henry Perenara (also an on-field match official)
The NRL and its clubs receive significant revenue from sponsorships, with sponsors' logos appearing on most parts of players' and referees' uniforms, the playing surface and even the ball itself. Since 2001, the National Rugby League premiership has been sponsored by Telstra and known as the 'NRL Telstra Premiership'. Prior to this, the competition was simply known as the 'National Rugby League'.
The Telstra Premiership has had five competition logos since 2001. The first, lasting only through the 2001 regular season, was the Telstra logo with an elongated circle enclosing the word Premiership. From the Finals series of 2001 through to the end of 2006 the logo was based around the shape of a football, with the words Telstra Premiership on respective lines along the bottom, culminating with a small football similar to the one in the official NRL logo at the peak. The main colours were dark blue and orange, the corporate colours of Telstra. The company worked with the NRL to create the third logo for the 2007 season onward as part of a new sponsorship deal. This logo was quite similar to the original National Rugby League emblem. From the 2011 Finals Series, a newer logo was commissioned in concert with a corporate re-brand undertaken by Telstra. The 2007 logo remained on club jerseys until 2012 due to the lateness of the change and was phased out in time for the 2013 NRL Season. From 2013, under a dramatic image rebranding of the competition, the Telstra Premiership logo was changed in conjunction with a new sponsorship deal to incorporate the key elements of rugby league in Australia to include the shield and chevrons, the green and gold, a red "Telstra" logo perched above the top of the shield and for the first time the iconic Provan-Summons trophy awarded to the premiers at the end of the season centred in the middle of the badge.
At the end of the 2018 season the NRL launched a bold new look for its Telstra Premiership. The new look aims to modernise the Telstra Premiership brand as well as integrate it more seamlessly with the 16 clubs. The new brand, highlighting the shield and the chevron - which have both been synonymous with Rugby League since the game's inception.
Other notable sponsorships include Hisense (Thursday Night Football), Victoria Bitter (Friday Night Football), Bundaberg Rum (Super Saturday), Chemist Warehouse (Sunday Football). Steeden is the official match ball supplier, Schick (razors) sponsor the match ball. The State of Origin series and the Australian Test matches (Kangaroos). Youi and Harvey Norman sponsor the on-field match officials and KFC sponsors the NRL Bunker. Other Official NRL Sponsors are: Coca Cola Amatil, Hankook, Home Hardware, Rebel, TWE (Wolf Blass), Accor, Drinkwise, P&O, Gallagher and EISS Super. Partners of the NRLW Competition are: Telstra, Harvey Norman, Chemist Warehouse, Flight Centre and Rebel.
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