Rugby league in Australia
|Rugby league in Australia|
|Governing body||Australian Rugby League Commission|
|First played||1907, Sydney, New South Wales|
|Registered players||466,182 (total registered)|
1,000,000+ (school programs)
Darwin Rugby League
|Single match||107,999 - 1999 NRL Grand Final|
|Season||3,151,039 - National Rugby League season 2010|
Rugby league in Australia has been one of Australia’s most popular sports since it started being played there in 1908. It is the dominant winter football code in the states of New South Wales and Queensland. In 2009, it was the most watched sport on Australian television eclipsing the AFL nationally with an aggregate audience of 128.5 million viewers. The elite club competition is the National Rugby League (NRL), which features ten teams from New South Wales, three teams from Queensland, and one team each from Victoria, the Australian Capital Territory and New Zealand.
Australia has a rich history of rugby league, first taking up the sport in 1908 alongside people in Britain and New Zealand. The rule changes over the decades have been partly instigated in Australia as well. The country has been dominant over the other rugby league-playing nations for many years, but enjoys a strong rivalry with New Zealand.
Commonly known as "league" or simply "football", and sometimes referred to as "the greatest game of all", it is traditionally seen as a "working man's sport" with its roots in the working class communities of Northern England, compared to rugby union which has its roots in prestigious English public schools. The Australian Rugby League Commission, the sport's governing body in Australia, is working on ways to expand rugby league's popularity across political and social boundaries.
By the time England's new "Northern Union game" arrived in Australia it was fundamentally different from that of the Southern Rugby Union, with lineouts, rucks and two players from each team having already been removed, and the play-the-ball introduced to improve the game's flow.
A similar schism to that which occurred in England, and for similar reasons, opened up in the rugby union establishment of Australia, seeing the term "rugby league" first used for the new game as in the rest of the world, in 1907 at the instigation of the famous test cricketer Victor Trumper. At a meeting in Bateman's Crystal Hotel in Sydney, New South Wales, the New South Wales Rugby Football League (NSWRFL) was formed as a professional organisation. Players were immediately recruited for the new game, and despite the threat of immediate and lifetime expulsion from the rugby union, the NSWRFL managed to recruit Herbert "Dally" Messenger, the most famous rugby footballer in Sydney at that time. The visit by James Giltinan, Harry Hoyle, and Victor Trumper on Sunday 11 August 1907 to gain the agreement of Dally Messenger's mother, Annie Messenger, for him to switch to the new code is part of Rugby League folklore.
Rugby league then went on to displace rugby union as the primary football code in New South Wales. Four matches were played in Sydney on the New South Wales Rugby Football League's "Foundation Day" on 20 April 1908 (Easter Monday) in two double headers. At Wentworth Park in Sydney's Glebe, Easts beat Newtown before Glebe triumphed over Newcastle while at Birchgrove Oval in Balmain, South Sydney beat North Sydney and Balmain beat Wests. On 8 May 1909 the first match of rugby league was played in Brisbane. Past Grammars played against Souths before a handful of spectators at the Gabba.
The Newcastle Rugby League was founded in 1910 with four clubs, Central Newcastle, Northern Suburbs, South Newcastle and Western Suburbs. The Illawarra Rugby League was founded in 1911 with five clubs (Dapto, Helensburgh, Mount Keira, Unanderra and Wollongong). In 1911, a Goldfields' League was formed in West Wyalong, and games were played in Tamworth, Aberdeen, and along the South Coast. The game was introduced to Orange in 1912 and spread quickly through the western districts. In 1913 branch leagues were formed at Bathurst, Dubbo, Nowra, and Tamworth. In 1914 and 1915 an amalgamation of rugby league and Australian rules football was considered and trialled.
The 1920 Great Britain Lions tour saw a record attendance for any sport at the Sydney Cricket Ground as Australia won the Ashes for the first time on home soil. In 1921 approximately 30,000 people watched a women's rugby league game in Sydney. This set a long-standing record for the highest attendance at a women's sporting competition outside the Olympic or Commonwealth games.
The 50th anniversary of rugby league in Australia was marked by hosting the second ever Rugby League World Cup tournament in 1957.
The attendance record for a rugby league match was re-set by the 1965 NSWRFL season's Grand Final between St. George and South Sydney attracting a crowd of 78,065. The 1967 NSWRFL season's grand final became the first football grand final of any code to be televised live in Australia. The Nine Network had paid $5,000 for the broadcasting rights.
Arthur Beetson became the first indigenous Australian to captain the national team of any sport when in 1973 he was selected to lead the Kangaroos. Also that year NSWRFL boss Kevin Humphreys negotiated rugby league's first television deal with the Australian Broadcasting Corporation. In 1976 Eastern Suburbs became the first rugby league team, and one of the first in Australian sport, to sport a sponsor's name on their jersey.
The NSWRFL Premiership spread outside Sydney in 1982 with the introduction of the Illawarra Steelers and Canberra Raiders. In 1986, Brisbane Rugby League player Bob Lindner was the last to be selected from a non-NSWRL club to debut for the Australian national team. 1987 was the last year that a state of Origin player was selected from a non-NSWRL club. In 1988 the NSWRL's first teams from outside the borders of New South Wales were added: the Brisbane Broncos and Gold Coast Giants.
In 1993 the Australian Women's Rugby League was formed. The 1993 Winfield Cup Grand Final drew remarkably strong ratings nationwide. The second game of the 1994 State of Origin series was brought south to the Melbourne Cricket Ground and re-set the nation's rugby league attendance record with 87,161. This success had set the scene for a truly national competition which eventuated in 1995 with the addition of teams from Townsville, Perth and even Auckland in New Zealand. However the growth of the competition was severely hampered by one of the biggest corporate disputes in Australian history over control of it: the Super League war. The Super League war was fought in and out of court during the mid-1990s by the News Ltd-backed Super League and Kerry Packer-backed Australian Rugby League organisations over control of the top-level professional rugby league football competition of Australasia. In 1995, New South Wales State of Origin and Kangaroos Test forward Ian Roberts became the first high-profile Australian sports person and first footballer in the world to come out to the public as gay. 1997 was unique in Australian rugby league's history as it was split into two separate competitions: the 1997 ARL season and the 1997 Super League season. The following season the premiership was re-united under the National Rugby League partnership committee, composed of representatives from Australian Rugby League and News Ltd.
In 2008, the centenary year of rugby league in Australia was celebrated, with 2008 World Cup being held and the Royal Australian Mint launching a series of uncirculated coins in November 2007 to commemorate the occasion.
The percentage of indigenous players in top-level rugby league premiership was reported to have fallen from 21% in the 1990s to 11% in 2009. In 2009, rugby league's popularity in Australia was confirmed as it had the highest television ratings of any sport. This occurred again in 2010, with an increased number of people watching Rugby League (120 million) compared to AFL (112 million). This is a season when an unprecedented scandal took place: the Melbourne Storm was found to have conducted four systematic breaches of the competition's salary cap, and had all honours gained over the previous years (including 2 premierships) nullified, were forced to pay large fines and shed enough star players to get back under the cap, all while playing the rest of the season already guaranteed the wooden spoon.
2012 saw a major re-structure of the administration of rugby league in Australia. The newly formed independent Australian Rugby League Commission took over control of the National Rugby League premiership, the State of Origin series and the Australian national team.
A 2013 report found that behind cricket, rugby league was Australia's second-most popular sport. The same year a report conducted by Brand Finance valued the Penrith Panthers club at $46.2m, the highest of any Australian sporting brand, while the Brisbane Broncos had the highest brand equity.
Federal Governing Body
The Australian Rugby League Commission is the governing body for the sport of rugby league in Australia and also conducts all representative rugby league, including the national team and the annual State of Origin series. The Australian Rugby League's major club competition is the National Rugby League.
State Based Governing Bodies
At state level, the game is administered by local governing bodies under the control of the ARLC. The state bodies include the New South Wales Rugby League and Queensland Rugby League, as well as Northern Territory Rugby League, South Australian Rugby League, Tasmanian Rugby League, Victorian Rugby League and Western Australia Rugby League which have Affiliate state status.
New South Wales has a second governing body, the New South Wales Country Rugby League (NSWCRL) to govern the sport outside the Sydney metropolitan area. In spite of its name, NSWCRL also governs rugby league in the Australian Capital Territory. However, the NSWRL will be absorbing the CRL in the near future.
The elite professional rugby league club competition in Australia is the National Rugby League (NRL). The NRL's Telstra Premiership is contested by 3 teams from Queensland, 10 from New South Wales, 1 from Victoria and 1 from the Australian Capital Territory as well as 1 team from New Zealand. These teams also field National Youth Competition teams, an Under 20s competition.
Underneath the NRL, semi-professional competitions such as the Queensland Cup, New South Wales Cup and NSWRL Jim Beam Cup are run in both New South Wales and Queensland. These competitions are the major feeder competitions for the NRL competition. Alongside these mainly metropolitan-based competitions country rugby league bodies run competitions throughout rural Queensland and New South Wales. Amateur competitions are run in the Affiliated states.
Rugby league attendances saw their previously best year in 1995 (the year before Australia's Super League War, with total attendances reaching 3,061,893. Six clubs averaged over 20,000 in that year, a feat still unmatched. This was a large increase on the previous years and was no doubt due to the formation of several new clubs and the renaming of the competition, from the New South Wales Rugby League (NSWRL) to the Australian Rugby league (ARL).
The year of 1996 was a turbulent one for Australian rugby league and saw what may be the largest decrease in attendance ever (2,450,776, down 611,117 down from 1995) in the ARL. This crowd decrease is attributed to the poor publicity surrounding the ongoing court cases related to Super League. When the SL competition was introduced in 1997 and played alongside the ARL competition it attracted 1,111,189. The ARL for the same year saw slightly higher attendances of 1,308,824. Subsequent years of 1998, in which the merger of the SL and ARL formed the National Rugby League (NRL) and 1999 also saw increases.
The year 2000 saw club mergers and "relegations" from the NRL. The effective slashing of clubs from the first grade rugby league competition was reflected in the slashing of crowd figures as fans became disgruntled by the club they had supported for many years being torn apart.
Crowd figures did not improve until 2003, with an increase of 249,317 on the previous year, 2002. Figures increased again in 2004 and 2005. The aggregate crowd for 2005 was 2,964,288 and the average crowd figure for regular season matches was 16,468, the highest ever recorded, and 34,710 for play-offs. In 2006, attendance slightly dipped to 2,808,235. An average of 15,601 for regular season matches and 34,163 for playoffs, which was still an improvement on 2004 figures.
In 2007, the number of teams competing in first grade rugby league in Australia increased for the first time since 2002 with the re-introduction of the Gold Coast Titans in Gold Coast, Queensland.(Statistics do not include finals)
In 2010 Rugby League recorded its best year ever in Australia, setting a new all-time total season attendance record of 3,490,778 spectators — and with four less teams than in 1995.
The State of Origin series is an annual best-of-three series of interstate matches between the two strongest rugby league states Queensland and New South Wales. The State of Origin series is one of Australia's premier sporting events, attracting a huge television audience and usually selling out the stadiums in which the games are played. Beginning in 2012, an Under 20s State of Origin match will be held annually on the same weekend as the Australia vs New Zealand test.
City vs Country Origin is an annual Australian rugby league match that takes place in New South Wales between teams made up of NRL players representing 'City' (Sydney metropolitan area) and 'Country' (all areas in NSW outside the Sydney metropolitan area).
The Affiliated States Championship is an annual competition involving four affiliated states (Victoria, South Australia, Northern Territory and Western Australia) plus representative sides from the Australian Police and Australian Defence Force.
Demographics of the game
In 2008, a total of 423,584 Australians participated in rugby league. Junior league registrations have grown, climbing from 79,000 in 1999 to 120,667 in 2008.
In 2008, 269,377 children played rugby league competitively in schools. This is a 390% increase from 2002, when the first accurate census of school competition participation numbers. ARLD schools programs have directly involved more than 1,000,000 children in rugby league-based physical activities by in 2008. In a sign of the game's growing influence, in 2010 over 50,000 Victorian school children attended rugby league school programs.
As at 2014, rugby league in Australia had a total player base of 500,000 people.
Women in rugby league
The vast majority of rugby league participants are male. Of the 172,000 participants in 2004, 5% were female.
The Australian Women's Rugby League was formed in 1993, which only achieved affiliation with the Australian Rugby League in 1998. This is in contrast to the men's competition which has existed since 1908.
The lack of female-participation in Australian rugby league can mostly be attributed to the predominantly masculine culture which discourages women from playing, and provides little financial or cultural incentive to play.
Females account for a large percentage of rugby league's viewing public and the attraction of the game for women partly accounts for rugby league's very strong position in the Australian sporting landscape. Many NRL clubs hold initiatives to foster this relationship. For instance, in 2005 the Canterbury Bulldogs staged a luncheon for 300 of Sydney's corporate women to raise funds for the National Breast Cancer Foundation, as well as skills development for school girls within the Canterbury-Bankstown district. This follows the increased number of female members to the boards of the National Rugby League and several of its clubs. Manly Sea Eagles also instituted several female directed initiatives, some of which were aimed towards further increasing female spectator numbers.
Not all the perceptions of rugby league being a mostly man game are completely true. At a junior and local level there are many women involved in volunteering positions. Women form a very important part of the local club structures. However, it is not customary for women over the age of 11 to continue playing rugby league against the boys and the exclusively women's rugby league clubs have a relatively small profile in comparison to the local boys' clubs.
Rugby league became the first mainstream professional sport in Australia to appoint a female director to a governing body, with Katie Page, the managing director of retail giant Harvey Norman, accepting an invitation to join the National Rugby League's executive board.
In 2009 the Australian National Women's rugby league side (Jillaroos) defeated the 2008 Women's Rugby League World Champions New Zealand, in Auckland, ending a ten-year streak of successive defeats at the hands of the New Zealand team.
Recent research by the University of New South Wales has shown that 2% of parents are likely to discourage their son from playing rugby league. In contrast, the next most discouraged sport was rugby union, with only 7.5% of parents willing to discourage the sport. This is despite recent research by Medibank annually since 2003 that puts other sports in Australia, such as Australian Rules Football and soccer as producing more major injuries.
The injury rates and the public perception of rugby league as a dangerous sport are most likely the catalysts for the introduction of several initiatives by the national rugby league and ARL development in recent years to curb the number of youth playing other sports. The specific initiatives over the years includes a Safe play code, Kids to kangaroos programmes and new forms of modified rugby league, such as, Mod league and Mini Footy to help young children prepare for the full rigours of the international code. Also with such introductions are the competitions aimed at school children such as Joey league, League of legends and League Sevens, which use modified rugby league rules such as Tag and Sevens.
Because of these recent initiatives, junior league registrations have grown climb from 79,000 in 1999 to 120,667 in 2008 while school participation numbers have grown to 269,377. Rugby league gala days, the ARL's free school clinic program and various club projects "have directly involved more than 1,000,000 children in rugby-league based physical activities in 2008".
In 2008, 51,540 people participated in senior rugby league. Participation numbers amongst senior divisions tend to decline in higher age groups. While this can be expected to the nature of a physical sport, overall rugby league senior numbers have declined since the early 1990s. The ARL attributes this to game becoming more physically demanding and the increasing pressure to sustain semi-professional clubs and teams. At the same time, however, it notes that "rugby league is, generally, missing a recreational game that keeps people playing the sport when they drop out of the so-called elite stream." To combat this, the ARL is investing programs, modified rules and gala days to increase senior participation such as the ARL Masters Carnival.
New South Wales and Queensland account for the majority of rugby league participation numbers. However, per capita figures show that Queensland and the Northern Territory rate ahead of New South Wales participation figures, making Queensland and the Northern Territory the largest participators per capita of rugby league in Australia.
Rugby league enjoys only minor participation in other states of Australia due to competition with Australia's other premier football code Australian rules football, and the high junior level participation rates of other sports such as soccer and basketball. Victoria and Western Australia have roughly an equal number of participants with Western Australia higher per capita, though Victoria has experienced remarkable growth in recent years, especially in school based rugby league participation which registered 33,444 participants in 2008. South Australia has the lowest participation levels for mainland Australia and Tasmania has, by far, the least participants for rugby league in the entire nation.
The national team
The Australian national rugby league team represents Australia at rugby league. Since 7 July 1994 the team's nickname has been the Kangaroos. Prior to that the Australian team was only referred to as the Kangaroos when on tours of Great Britain and/or France. They are administered by the Australian Rugby League and have been the most dominant national side over the past few decades.
In popular culture
Rugby league has been described as "an iconic Australian sport" and has therefore featured prominently in Australian popular culture. Famous Australian writers throughout history such as Banjo Paterson, Thomas Keneally and Kenneth Slessor have produced literature about the game.
Due to the widespread interest in rugby league games played, including the State of Origin series, match results, scorelines and reports of injuries to key players, are comprehensively carried by many Australian newspapers. These include the major national daily newspapers; in general match results and reports are published on the weekend of the game and on Mondays, and commentary continues throughout the week, with rugby league-related stories usually to be found in the sporting section of the major newspapers every week-day.
All premiership games are broadcast on television, either free-to-air or cable. Online, the ABC, as well as major newsgroups provide articles on Rugby League, bylined in general by a reporter who is exclusively a sports correspondent. The official publication for the NRL is Big League. Interest in rugby league is highest in New South Wales and Queensland; as well, many of the large number of Australian expatriates living and working overseas are avidly interested in the season's games, and are able to ensure that they are kept up-to-date by accessing on-line versions of stories provided by major media organisations.
The 2012 State of Origin series' third and deciding game set a new record for the highest television audience in Australia for a rugby league match since the introduction of the OzTam ratings system in 2001.
A list of major newspapers which publish rugby league-related stories includes The Australian, The Courier-Mail, Daily Telegraph, The Sydney Morning Herald, Herald Sun and The Age. Matches are broadcast on both Channel 9, Foxtel and in New Zealand by Sky TV.
- Sport in Australia
- Rugby League Competitions in Australia
- Australian Rugby League Hall of Fame
- List of Australian rugby league stadiums by capacity
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|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Rugby league in Australia.|
- Ian Heads & David Middleton (2008). A centenary of Rugby League 1908-2008: the definitive story of the game in Australia. Pan Macmillan. ISBN 9781405038300.
- National Museum of Australia (2008). League of legends: 100 years of rugby league in Australia. National Museum of Australia Press. ISBN 9781876944643.