The differences from Rugby Union are mostly subtle to outsiders but gigantic in terms of how the two sports play, far more than say, the differences between the Gridiron versions in the USA & Canada. Union has 15-player teams; League has 13-player teams. Union is traditionally the gentlemen's game (though it can be played by women); League is the working-class game, and is played in professional leagues. And is also played by women. (Note—by women; not girls, and certainly not ladies. There is no such game as "ladies' rugby.")
The key difference between the two for laymen is that there is a "tackles" system not dissimilar to American Football. Only instead of trying to make 10 yards in four tackles, you have six tackles (referred to as a "set of six") to score a try (ie: get into the other teams "end zone."). Similar to American Football, if you are tackled with the ball after the aforementioned tackles without reaching your goal, you have to turn the ball over at that spot. So, similarly like American Football with one tackle remaining you boot the ball away and try like hell to rough up the opposition.
This is a "working man's game" for the eastern seaboard of Australia, with a long heritage that coexists, sometimes a bit uncomfortably, with the pressures of modern commercial sport. Australians are very good at it. This, like basketball and American Football in the USA, means that you have a lot of young men with a lot of money doing silly things in their spare time - only instead of bringing guns into the team's locker room, they have sex with a girl while their mates stand around pleasuring themselves, and defecate in hotel corridors, though not necessarily at the same time. (At least if you believe the somewhat hysterical media depiction of the sport - the extent to which this description is actually true of most rugby league players is, at best, highly debatable.)
Some of the more well-known leagues for Rugby League are:
National Rugby LeagueOtherwise known as the NRL. This league is the top league of clubs in both Australia and New Zealand.
But first, a little history.
The league's origins come from the aftermath of the "Super League war" of the 1990s, a corporate dispute between the long-standing Australian Rugby League(ARL), which consisted of the New South Wales Rugby League (NSWRL) and the Queensland Rugby League (QRL) and the newly formed Super League of Australia, the former trying to prevent the latter's existence in order to keep its league's recognition of being the top-flight rugby league, as well as broadcasting rights. After snatching up enough teams that were unhappy with the ARL's administration, the Super League ran its premiership parallel to the ARL's season in 1997. At the end of the Super League season, both sides were able to reach an agreement in December, and the two leagues merged to form the NRL.
The regular season begins in autumn and ends in spring. At the end of the season, the team at the top of the table is given a minor premiership. After the regular season is the Finals, in which the top eight teams compete in a number of knockout and sudden-death games between the top eight teams over four weeks in August and September, until only two teams remain. The remaining teams then compete in what is the premiership-deciding game, the NRL Grand Final, one of Australia's most popular sporting events and one of the largest attended club championship events in the world.
NRL Teams: There are 16 teams in the current league, 15 from Australia, 1 from New Zealand.
- The Brisbane Broncos
- First season: 1988
- Premierships: 1992, 1993, 1997 1998, 2000, 2006
- One of the more successful teams in the competition; in fact, in the aspect of winning games the Broncos are statistically the most successful club in the history of Rugby League, having won 63% of their games since their induction in 1988.
- One of the more significant role-players in the Super League War in the late '90s: at the time, Brisbane's CEO John Ribot would go on to become the CEO of the upstart Super League.
- The Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs
- Premierships: 1938, 1942, 1980, 1984, 1985, 1988, 1995, 2004)
- Known for being the birthplace of "The Entertainers", their 1978 squad that was famous for playing an exciting and tricky brand of football, which elements had much part in creating some of the more skilful aspects of the game seen today.
- Generally seen to be a "rollercoaster" team — one year they can be extremely successful, next year they might be fighting at bottom of the ladder.
- The Canberra Raiders
- First season: 1982
- Premierships: 1989, 1990, 1994
- Known more nowadays for being sort of a "gatekeeper" team — they either end up finishing just outside the top 8 or end up being knocked out early in the Grand Finals.
- The Cronulla Sharks
- First season: 1967
- Premierships: 2016
- Apart from their terrible records, they've also suffered from financial problems throughout their club history. Their nearly 50 year drought was so bad that legendary coach Jack Gibson said that waiting for Cronulla to win a premiership was like "leaving your porchlight on for Harold Holt".
- Also The Unfavorite of Southern Sydney, as they've had to compete with bitter rivals and much more successful St. George-Illawara Dragons, who dwarf them in popularity.
- The Gold Coast Titans — the newest addition to the NRL.
- First season: 2007.
- The second team in the League to come from the Gold Coast, the first being the now-defunct Gold Coast-Tweed Giants (who later became the Gold Coast Seagulls and the Gold Coast Chargers before their demise).
- As of 2015 their future remains in doubt, as they've been placed in financial takeover by the League in wake of their debt of 35 million dollars and a parta
- The Manly-Warringah Sea Eagles — also known as Manly.
- First season: 1947,
- Premierships: 1972, 1973, 1976, 1978, 1987, 1996, 2008, 2011
- Remarkably, they've had no wooden spoons in their 62 season history, the longest period of any current club.
- Generally considered to be the frontrunner to South Sydney's title of the most hated team in the league — apart from their long-standing reputation of poaching of other team's star players, they're most famous for their ill-fated merger with the very popular North Sydney Bears, only for it to crash and burn, taking the Bears down with it.
- The Melbourne Storm — the first professional rugby league team based in Victoria.
- First season: 1997
- Premierships: 1999, 2012, 2017
- Minor premierships: 2011, 2016, 2017, 2019
- They had won two premierships in 2007 and 2009, as well as minor premierships in 2006, 2007 and 2008, until the trophies were annulled after the club was found out to have breached the salary cap.
- The Storm's greatest assets, it seems, comes from the so-called 'Big Three'. These three players, consisting of Cameron Smith, Billy Slater and Cooper Cronk are the respective Hooker, Fullback and Halfback (often regarded to be the three most important positions on the field) of the Storm, having played their entire career so far there, and also regarded to be three of the best players in league, having also hold those incumbent positions for both the Queensland and Australian representative teams. By keeping these three on, even before the reality of the salary cap scandal was found out, this lead to some problems in retaining other high-level players in the Storm.
- Furthermore, in the AFL-dominated town of Melbourne, the team has very few regional juniors to pick from (As of 2012, the only Victorian born-and-bred player who has ever represented the Storm has been Mahe Fonua). This means that, as with the Queensland-born Smith, Slater and Cronk, the Storm often have to recruit talents from other areas, as well as 'journeymen' who never quite fit into their past clubs.
- The general success of these players can largely be credited to coach Craig Bellamy, who is often regarded as one of the best in the League.
- The Newcastle Knights
- First season: 1988
- Premierships: 1997, 2001
- The second team in the League to be based in Newcastle (The first was the Newcastle Rebels, who were in the league from 1908-1909).
- Noted for being currently coached by Wayne Bennett, who helped Brisbane win 6 premierships
- Also noted for having some of the most fiercely loyal fans in the NRL, who tend to get extremely violent and unreasonable when the team is not doing well.
- The New Zealand Warriors — the only side to be based in New Zealand.
- First season: 1995
- Noted as slow-starters: Often times they will struggle against teams they should easily beat in the beginning of the season and then pick up steam with exciting wins.
- The North Queensland Cowboys
- First season: 1995
- Premierships: 2015
- Rivals with the Brisbane Broncos, and for good reason: one of the major obstacles to the club's stability in its inaugural season was attracting followers from Brisbane, which up until the Cowboys' inception was the only team based in Queensland.
- The Parramatta Eels
- First season: 1947
- Premierships: 1981, 1982, 1983, 1986
- Minor premierships: 1976, 1977, 1984, 2001, 2005
- The Chew Toy of the League. They are historically one of the least successful clubs in league history, they have the most wooden spoons (10) of any club still in the league and apart from a few magical runs (which ended in heartbreak) have spent most of the 2010s at the bottom of the ladder. To add insult to injury, Manly joined the league the same year as Paramatta and have been much more successful.
- The Penrith Panthers
- First season: 1967
- Premierships: 1991, 2003
- Viewed as somewhat of an "underdog team" after upset win over the Sydney Roosters in the 2003 final. Also known for their...odd...choices of colors for their kits.
- The St. George-Illawara Dragons — formed via merger between St. George Dragons and the Illawara Steelers.
- First season: 1921 (St. George), 1980 (Illawara Steelers), 1999 (clubs merged)
- Premierships: 1941, 1949, 1956, 1957, 1958, 1959, 1960, 1961, 1962, 1963, 1964, 1965, 1966, 1977, 1979 (as St. George), 2010 (as St. George-Illawara)
- Noted for being the first merger club of the NRL — merged entity being a new concept in Australian rugby league, many of the public watched closely in their first season whether to see if it'd work or fail(in the cases of Souths and Chooks supporters, they were hoping for the latter).
- St. George was famous for winning 15 premierships, including 11 in succession between 1956 and 1966, a record for sporting competitions at the time.
- The South Sydney Rabbitohs — the most successful club in the League.
- Premierships: 1908, 1909, 1914, 1918, 1925, 1926, 1927, 1928, 1929, 1931, 1932, 1950, 1951, 1953, 1954, 1955, 1967, 1968, 1970, 1971, 2014.
- If you've heard of any NRL team, it's probably this one. Most famous for being the favorite team of Russell Crowe — he currently owns 50% of shares and helped to save the team during its financial troubles after the 1990s Super League war.
- If you watch the NRL, you're either a fan or you hate them. The Rabbitohs are known as "The Pride of The League" — there's even the saying "When Souths are going well, rugby league is going well." This reputation usually elicits more than a few eye rolls and cries of favoritism from other supporters as until their victory in 2014 they hadn't even made a Grand Final in 43 years.
- Bitter rivals to the Sydney Roosters — their derby is the longest surviving rivalry in the current National Rugby League. Other hated rivals of the Rabbitohs are Manly-Warringah and St. George-Illawara.
- The Sydney Roosters — the second most successful club in the League.
- Premierships: 1911, 1912, 1913, 1923, 1935, 1936, 1937, 1940, 1945, 1974, 1975, 2002, 2013, 2018, 2019
- Minor premierships: 1912, 1913, 1923, 1931, 1934, 1935, 1936, 1937, 1940, 1941, 1945, 1974, 1975, 1980, 1981, 2004, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2018
- As one can guess from above, they don't like South Sydney. The two clubs have hated each other since the day of inception, but it only grew after 1950 due to conflict between junior territories, and escalated once more in the 1990s with the increased financial success of the Roosters while the Rabbitohs fell into financial struggle.
- They're not very fond of Manly either, as the only two Grand Finals that they've played against one another have been rife with controversial calls.
- The Wests Tigers — another team to have been formed via a joint venture, between the Balmain Tigers and the Western Suburbs Magpies.
- Premierships: 2005
- Former team of superstar Benji Marshall, who was known for his fancy style of passing (no-look passes, flick passes), and agility, and was regarded by many to be the most exciting player in the league.
- Have three home grounds (Leichhardt Oval (Balmain's homeground), Campbelltown Stadium (Western Suburbs' homeground) and the Sydney Football Stadium), the most of any club in the League.
- Have a recent and spiteful rivalry with Manly, stemming from the rivalry between them and Western Suburbs.
- Annandale (1910-1920): Also known as The Dales. Disbanded at the end of 1920 due to poor play and many of their players becoming ineligible.
- Balmain Tigers (1908-1999): Merged with Western Suburbs to become the West Tigers. Still fields standalone teams at lower levels of premiership play.
- Cumberland(1908): Disbanded after the NSWRL's inaugural season, in which they only won 1 game. Statistically have the worst record in league history.
- Gold Coast Chargers(1988-1998): Were formed from literally nothing, with their first squad having nothing but young players, in order to challenge in the NSWRL. They fought admirably, but failed.
- Glebe (1908-1928): Also known as The Dirty Reds. Removed from the NSWRL in 1929 for "unsporting behavior", which eventually led to them disbanding.
- Illawara Steelers (1982-1998): Merged with St. George to become the St. George-Illawara Dragons. Still fields teams at lower levels.
- Newcastle Rebels (1908-1909): Left the NSWRL to join the Newcastle Rugby League (NRL).
- North Sydney Bears (1908-1999): Merged with Manly-Warringah to form the now-defunct Northern Eagles. Still fields teams at lower levels, and they have proposed to the NRL to return to the league in 2013 as the Central Coast Bears.
- Newtown Jets (1908-1983): Left the NSWRL due to financial reasons. Still fields teams at lower levels.
- University (1920-1937): Also known as the Sydney Uni Rugby League Club. As the name suggested, they consisted of amateur players who were still in university, thus the scenario of a club like this competing in a league of professionals went as well as anyone in this day and age thought it would: 2/3 of the team's years of play ended with them being dead last.
- Western Suburbs Magpies (1908-1999): Also known as the Fibros, Maggies and the Cherry Pickers. The team merged with Balmain to form the Wests Tigers. Had the most wooden spoons in the league (17). Still fields teams at lower levels.
Rugby Super League
The premier competition in Europe, with the next season in 2020 featuring 10 English teams and one each from France and Canada (respectively Catalans Dragons from Perpignan and the Toronto Wolfpack). Formed as a way by the Australian Super League to gain an upper hand in the War. (All the teams, however, were pre-existing.) The season begins in spring and ends in autumn, meaning it is played at the same time of year as the NRL. This also means the league isn't overshadowed by football. The Super League has a play-off structure leading up to a Grand Final much the same as the NRL, but the long-standing Challenge Cup knock-out competition is still played, separate from the League schedule.
Unlike the NRL, Super League operates with promotion and relegation. Super League is at the top of an elaborate system of leagues organised by England's governing body, the Rugby Football League. The two lower national levels are respectively known as the Championship and League 1; most of the competing clubs hail from England (and more specifically, the North, with Southern teams like the London Broncos being exceptions and certainly seen as such), though another French side, Toulouse Olympique, now competes in the Championship and League 1 has two Welsh teams. The aforementioned Toronto Wolfpack began play in the RFL system in League 1 in 2017, were promoted to the Championship after that season, and made it to Super League after two seasons in the Championship. The most recent change to the promotion/relegation system took effect with the 2019 season, with the bottom Super League side being relegated and replaced by the winner of a playoff involving the top five sides on the Championship regular-season table.
- Castleford Tigers
- Catalan Dragons the sole French team, based in Perpignan.
- Huddersfield Giants
- Hull F.C.
- Hull Kingston Rovers
- Leeds Rhinos
- Salford Red Devils
- St Helens
- Toronto Wolfpack the first non-European team ever to participate in the RFL system.
- Wakefield Trinity Wildcats
- Warrington Wolves
- Wigan Warriors