Is Union Really More Boring Than League? - Green and Gold Rugby

Is Union Really More Boring Than League? A Reply

Is Union Really More Boring Than League? A Reply

Let me start by saying that I like Rugby League. I’m from Queensland. I watched and played Rugby League for most of my younger life. But my first love has always been Rugby Union. And Rugby loved me back in a way League never did.

Frankly, I don’t care what your favourite football code is as much as you don’t care what mine is. I’ll keep supporting the sports I love, and I’m more than happy for you do the same with the occasional bit of banter when we run into each other.

Unhelpful suggestions

Riveting stuff

But I’ve been moved to reply to a couple of articles that appear in the media after the Bledisloe Cup match on 20 October. For some reason journalists constantly feel the need to ‘fix’ Rugby.

This week we have two articles by prominent journos. One was titled ‘Borrowing from rugby league could help make rugby more entertaining‘ and the other was  ‘80 minutes, 50 stoppages, 12 penalty goals, 15 shots at goal and 0 tries – Is rugby boring itself to death‘.

Lets have a look at the Dean Ritchie critique first. Luckily we have an Australia v. New Zealand League Test played a week before the Bledisloe match to compare. First, let me say that the number of tries scored in either code is no measure of entertainment levels. Of those who saw it, who would say the 1986 League final between Parramatta and Canterbury (won by Parra, 4–2) was boring? I’d say the numbers would be very low.

But let me ask you Dean Ritchie, what happens when a player is tackled in Rugby League? The game stops until the tackled player gets up to play the ball. That’s a stoppage, right? So let’s compare stoppage rates.

There were 600 stoppages in the League Test. A massive 575 of them were tackles. It takes about 3 or 4 seconds for the player to get up to play the ball so that works out to between 28.75 minutes and 38.33 minutes of the League Test spent playing the ball. That’s a lot of time in 80 minutes to watch a man hop up and roll the ball under his foot.

But that’s not really the point, is it? Dean Ritchie believes that 50 stoppages a game in Union is too many, but he’s more than happy to have 600 in the game he loves. (To be clear, that’s a stoppage every 14 seconds.)

Players such as Mark Ella, David Campese and Stephen Larkham must wonder how their once-great game has gone so horribly wrong over the past 15 years.

Are they wondering what went wrong? At least Mark Ella would still recognise the game he had played while watching modern rugby.

Would Mick Cronin, who kicked the two penalty goals that won the 1986 grand final for the Eels, recognise League as the game he played in the 1980s? The interchange, the 10 metre rule, the one-on-one strip, no playing at the ball during the play of the ball, the 40/20 and the de-powering of the scrum have all been introduced since he played. Even the way the ball is tapped has changed!

In fact every contest for the ball bar one has been removed from the game. They’ve turned it into basketball on a big field. My turn, your turn, my turn.

Which brings me to Bret Harris’s perspective:

As I was watching the NRL grand final between Melbourne and Canterbury, it suddenly occurred to me what was missing in rugby union: limited phases.

If rugby teams were limited to, say, seven phases, they would have no choice but to try to do something with the ball before handing it over.

He wants to limit the number of phase to seven! In reality a phase is a tackle. Why he picked seven is a mystery to me but it’s clear that after seven tackles you either hand it over to the other side or boot it down field. Or how about a cross field bomb to the 195cm-tall winger we’ve found just for this move?

It is the breakdown that is the real problem. Defenders there only have to stand behind the last feet of the tackle-contest to be on side. With good line-speed in defence, a team can often stop attacking players well behind the advantage line.

If players had to stand five or 10m behind the last feet, it would create space for the attacking team.

Unintended consequences

League had to introduce a interchange system when it introduced the 10 metre rule because players couldn’t keep up. Imagine a prop who already has a) held up the scrum while channelling the pressure from the back 5 through his body to the opposition prop, b) lifted 120kg guys above his head in lineouts and c) run about 10km a game. How about adding some up-and-backs to his already incredible work load? And not having a 20 minute rest for a bit possible for the entire game.

Imagine talented slower players in the game being replaced by faster athletes who can get up and back 7 times. I’m sorry Bret Harris, your 2 ‘cosmetic’ rule changes would have far-reaching consequences and would change the game completely. And ye,s it would look a lot like the other rugby game — and no, that’s not what we want.

Mr Harris, the answer to making Rugby more popular is not to make it more like League. It’s to put it in front of more viewers on a regular basis. Having a few Test matches a year on free-to-air television is not going to build Rugby’s profile. In 2012 the game increased viewing numbers, increased participation numbers and increased crowd numbers. This despite of the apparent poor quality of the play and no free-to-air coverage of the major competition. I suggest that there is little wrong with the product, and it is in fact its differences to League that are its strongest selling point: a true competition for possession and the amount of time in the game that possession can be challenged.

Keep ya hands off

Rugby in Australia may be going through a rough patch but the game is not broken and it’s not boring.

Rugby League fans have been trained not to be interested in the contest for possession and the skills involved in rucks, mauls, lineouts and scrums because these skills are not present in the game they love. In its place they get tries. So when they watch a Union game what do the look for? They look for tries, of course. The skills involved in Rugby’s key areas are lost on them. They see a game with no tries and call it boring, when in fact to the eye of a regular viewer it’s an intriguing contest.

So is Rugby more boring than League? No, it’s not. It’s different. And that’s the way it should stay. I’ll go and support the game I love and you can support the game you love.

To the League-bred experts giving unsolicited advice to help us out: piss off.

  • Fergus

    I honestly don’t know how they can say league is more interesting, what they fail to realize is that league is an extremely repetitive game, 5 phases of a forward running upright into contact gaining a few meters and then a kick on the last tackle, their idea of mixing it up is kicking after the 4th tackle. And the lack of competition for the ball, in union, viewers are kept at the edges of their seat when a ruck is contested or there is a strong attacking scrum,because at that point its anyone’s ball. Sure there may be more tries in league but the game play leading up to it is boring as hell.

    • Everyone has there favourite game. We have as much right to complain about theirs as they do to call ours boring.

      • The Rant

        Too right. In later life I’m just not turned on by league. It’s lost soul. It’s just rough touch footy and I actually turned off the last Aus-NZ league test at halftime.

        I grew up on league and union. I followed the ARL and the wallabies (not much provincial back then) and my idols were guys like Mal Meninga, Benny Elias, Campese, Little and Roebuck. The games are different and that’s fine.

        I love tries, but not at the expense of the CONTEST. You put it great sully. I love watching the intriguing battle. I hate errors and wish we’d clean them up and I wouldn’t mind if we could find a way to cut 30% of the penalties out of the game.

        Then again – if we wanted to take some ”in-house” suggestions to improve rugby – Slats is the man: 9point Tries!!

        • DameEdnasPossum

          A try in union is usually a hard fought achievement and well deserved, rather than the reult of some unfit, testale-grabbing thug missing a tackle in league.

          The range of set piece play and diversity of opitions in open play make union a far more skilled game than league. Just look at the different sizes and shapes when the union players line-up. In league it’s almost impossible to tell a back from a forward – just a bunch of beefcakes running up the ball again and again. Dull as dishwater.

          Just because we’re upset with where things are at doesn’t give the leaguies an open invitation to criticise our code.

          Well said Sully. They can piss off and keep their unsolicited opinions to themselves.

        • The Rant

          One of the best games australia has ever played was tryless. WC Semi vs SA 99.

          27-21 with end to end rugby and amazing defense for the full 80. A


    This is one of the best articles I have read for a while and as a Rugby fan for nearly 60 yrs,I agree 100% with Sully.Brett Harris’s article made me quite angry. To limit the number of phases would ruin the game . They make the game so interesting. Perhaps one change I wouldn’t object to would be to make some of rhe penalities into short arm penalities as was tried out a few years ago.I was at Suncorp last Sat. and did not find it in the least boring.Tries were not always part of the game of Rugby.


    I agree. Rugby League is boring with its 5phases and kick….very repetitive and I don’t know why they even bother with scrums!Rugby even without tries is so absorbing. I love it!

  • Barbarian

    Amen. Well said Sully.

  • Shiggins

    well put Sully.

  • Wait on… what constitutes a union stoppage in the count of 50?

    Not sure how you can’t include a ruck in the union stoppages if you’re counting league tackles as a stoppage, given the “lost time” for moving forward is going to be pretty close to 3-4 seconds as well.

    Just sayin’… ;-)

    • The ball is still live in a ruck or a maul. The game is still being play and possession is still being contested. Rugby doesn’t stop for a tackle.

    • OOAAH

      You walked into that one Mark

  • sheek

    Awesome article, absolutely awesome. i just wish i had written this article!

  • Here Here

    Ask a league follower how many games they have watched that are decided after the hooter has gone plus 1 tackle. None. Ask a union follower how many games they have watched decided after the hooter has gone. Where a team has matched from one end of the field to the other. To many to remember. Talk about excitement.

  • Jason

    Well said.

  • JimmyC

    Great chat Sully and everyone who uses this site would agree.

  • Scotty


  • Scotty

    Good stuff Sully. Rugby is certainly the more interesting, because with Rugby, you never know what is going to happen, where as with league – hit up x 5, then kick. Repeat until someone makes a mistake.

    However we do need some improvements to rugby to limit areas where referees ‘interpretations’ can lead to different game styles, and to ensure that attack has as much chance as defense.

    • I agree! Referee’s ‘interpretations’ need to be taken out of the equation.

  • Ooaahh

    The stat for tries from kicks vs play in league must be super in favor of kicks. Leagues repetitiveness and lack of creativity to break defences is boring. I’d watch it if they could at least put a scrum on the field and a backline move together.

  • I love Rugby Union, I love everything about it.

    One thing that we do oh so very wrong and Rugby League do right is all about publicity.

    From the highly opinionated journalists, the commentary team on both Channel 9 and Foxtel, the administrators, the players and supporters all believe with all their heart that they have, play, and watch the greatest game on the planet. Everyone says so – they are all singing from the same hymn sheet.

    Meanwhile Union players, supporters administrators and reporters will criticise everything that Rugby Union does and doesn’t do. We are our own worse enemy.

    When I was young Rugby Union was the game they play in heaven, why cant we go back to that?

    • Something to do with the media physically owning the game in Loig?

      • The Rant

        nah…they wouldn’t do that would they?

        Tin foil hats for all!

  • Brax

    Hear! Hear!

    Those two news articles were just ridiculous.

  • Skippy

    No your incorrect in your suggestion the game stops in league when a player is tackled until he gets to his feet. Clearly you haven’t played league to any decent standard becuase if you did you would know more about the skills involved and the range of different tactics that can be deployed to stop the offload, control the tackle, control the contact, control the player on the floor, how to complete the tackle so that the defender gets to his feet first and is in position to defend before the ball carrier plays the ball etc etc etc. To suggest the game ‘stops’ is naive.

    • But what is everyone else doing in this higher level of League while all this controlling the tackle is going on? That’s right waiting for the game to start again.
      Edit: You can’t offload after the tackle has been made because the game is stopped.

      • Skippy

        What else is happening? Well players are moving into positions, trying to spot mismatches in the defensive line, communicating, calling plays or moves, creating overlaps, ball players are spotting and reacting to opportunities… Even the tackled player is focussing on a correct play the ball….All in a fluid motion so as not to give the defensive line that extra second to get up off the line. The defenders are resetting, calling out dangers, matching up numbers, ensuring the A and B defensive structure is reset and markers are focussing… After they’ve got to their feet on their role in the defensive line movement. no nothing happening at all.

        Having played both games, including league professionally in the uk I know two things… The debate is a waste of time, the games both require unique skills and are incredibly different in so many ways. And It’s far to easy to reach conclusions from watching on tv. In truth both are complex exciting and really shouldn’t be compared.

        • Scoey

          They may well be doing a lot of ‘stuff’ during the tackle but the one thing they’re not doing is competing for the ball.

        • chasmac

          Pulling their silky shorts out of their bottoms and adjusting their rat’s tails..

    • The Red Baron

      Controlling the tackle eh? Would that include things like grapple tackles, chicken wings, etc?

      If I wanted to see players getting controlled on the floor and other sorts of rubbish, I would tune into the WWE.

      Face it, the game actually stops for the play the ball. You can’t avoid it. If that thrills you, great! It’s all yours. I prefer an actual contest for the ball though.

  • TerribleTowel

    simple answer to a stupid question: Fuck no.

    great article btw, even if it did dignify stupidity with a well thought out smack down

  • tedward

    good read Sully and spot on.

  • Mitch092

    Exile TWF you are completely correct. You only have to look across the ruddy ditch, the kiwis have it as their first news story, on the front and back page of every paper, it is forever in the forefront of the public’s mind, hence they live and breath the game they play in heaven. Here in Australia we have to compete with league and AFL for free to air tv, which we currently are not shown on but for the international stage. If we want the game we love so muc to grow and prosper we must give it every chance to away from foxtel.

    • Brumby Runner

      Mitch092. I like your take on the coverage in NZ, but if you’re then saying that Rugby should be taken off Foxtel, then that’s a load of rubbish. Free to Air TV in Aust has no interest in showing rugby as demonstrated by their practice of inserting commercial breaks and missing crucial parts of the game, and just as often playing only late night replays rather than showing games live.

      The Foxtel coverage of Super Rugby and test matches is excellent.

      The sooner all sports are taken off the protected list the better for all sports fans in this country.

  • cyclopath

    Great piece Sully. The part about how Rugby League has changed resonated with me. I used to watch a lot of League, and recently watched a replay of the 1991 Grand Final. Almost unrecognisable compared to today’s League. And that’s not even comparing to the 1970s and 80s, the halcyon days (for me) of League.
    Neither boring, but very different.

  • Slammin

    Great summary. Being an old school Rugby player over the last 30+ years, the only change I would bring back into rugby would be rucking. It was a tried and tested formula to insure players released the ball quickly and maintained speed at the breakdown. It is still the game they play in heaven. Always will be! I understand the flamboyant edge that League is going for however they now have a product that a try can be scored (or not scored) for the most rediculas reasons. TV has affected the way rugby is understood. The ARU now coach the coaches of all levels that the laws are interpreted differently to grass roots for the benefit of media. WHY? The game is great, the viewer is educated and in most circumstances the viewer is correct, but things are let slide. Lets not end up being our own worst enemies like league and have the tackle as the only contact part of the game. The media need to leave the game alone. The players will do the rest on the field.

  • Topher

    If a play the ball in league is a stoppage, than a ruck in union is also a stoppage.

    League play the balls actually take around 4-5 secs these days due to gang tackling.

    That is still less time than a rugby ruck, although it depends upon from what point you time it.

    Yes, the ball in a union ruck is in contest… but while the ball may not be “in contest” during a league ruck, winning the battle of the tackle is an immense contest during a game of league with the consistent winner often winning the match.

    While a league ruck limits nearly all options for an attacker, it has a similar function in union.

    There are many restrictions on the ruck in union. Yes, you are allowed one movement once tackled but you can not play the ball on the ground after that.

    Rucks in union and league have more similarities than you would think. NRL teams spend nearly half their training time on drills controlling the ruck, play certainly does not stop.

    I do agree with your general sentiment…

    Stop trying to fix the game of union! It has positives and flaws like other games but often produces great entertainment it’s just that entertainment is of a variety not suited to Australia’s mass market.

    Like Test cricket, it is a game that is often worth the wait and its slower play allows the intricacies to be absorbed.

    • League play the balls actually take around 4-5 secs these days due to gang tackling.

      That is still less time than a rugby ruck, although it depends upon from what point you time it.

      That’s even more of the game used up with stoppages.

      There are many restrictions on the ruck in union. Yes, you are allowed one movement once tackled but you can not play the ball on the ground after that.

      Well the tackled player is allowed to place the ball once but everyone else is allowed to play the ball with their foot. So the ball is still in play.

      Rucks in union and league have more similarities than you would think. NRL teams spend nearly half their training time on drills controlling the ruck, play certainly does not stop

      Yes it does. The ref calls Tackled or dominant and the defensive players stop and let the tackled player get up. The game has stopped the offside line has been set and everyone has to wait for the guy to play the ball to restart the game.

      • Skippy

        Didn’t want to play the man… But seriously if that’s why you think happens in league and you were a league player… Perhaps just perhaos your experiences in the under 8 d’s isn’t sufficient knowledge or understanding to really comment mate. Your argument would have credibility if you actually displayed some knowledge of league. In its absence your thoughts are just too easy to dismiss as league bashing. Such a shame… Could have been a decent article and debate.

        • The Matt Burke defence Skippy?

          Ironic it’s being applied to league, but still as thin.

          In my non-ever-having-played-league-at-any-level-nor-any-age-group opinion, Sully describes really well what’s wrong with league as a game to watch

        • Actually I played into my 20’s and I got paid so I guess I’m a pro too. but don’t let that get in your way. There is no debate though. The ball is not in play from when the tackle is completed until the ball is played. It doesn’t matter what everyone is doing. The Game has stopped.

  • Blackness

    We shouldn’t even be asking which game is better because league supporters are not able to compare the 2 games. Most of my good friends are union supporters and have been for years but they all still watch rugby league every week (it can be hard to avoid sometimes). However all the guys I work with support league and they watch very little union each week bordering on none.

    Now, the problem union has is that when one of these league supporters does decide to tune in(once every few years), they will always watch a test match!! As union supporters, we know that a test match is a very different game to say super rugby.

    So unfortunately, their idea of rugby will once again be the 20 point grind and not the free flowing points fest that we know is possible. And that is exactly what is great about rugby and what they don’t understand (well that and most of the rules), it’s that rugby has many different forms and can be played any number of ways. I guess it just show, if you want a pretty bland football game where you don’t have to think too much, there’s an option there for you.

  • Jets

    Fantastic article Sully.

  • Topher

    “Yes it does. The ref calls Tackled or dominant and the defensive players stop and let the tackled player get up. The game has stopped the offside line has been set and everyone has to wait for the guy to play the ball to restart the game.”

    There is also an offside line at each union ruck. The players are only allowed to reef the ball in a very specific manner as opposed to general play. The game of league does not stop at all during a tackle. The game is actually won in those tackles, where every half-second counts.

    To compare a tackle to a scrum stoppage, for either code, is lunacy. Walking to a scrum, penalty kick etc is a stoppage. A tackle is not.

    • Skippy

      Your are 100% correct however the author started at the finish line and then worked backwards and had to invent ‘stoppages’ to try and compare apples and oranges and justify their arguement.

      • Now you’ve moved on from claiming I’d played for the 8d’s to outright fantasy. I started the article with tackles being stoppages and you’ve never got over it.

      • mxyzptlk

        Ask yourself this:

        If you took a spectator who had next to no experience with either union or league and showed that person a little from each code, what would that uninitiated viewer think?

        Because I did that two weeks ago with my dad (American, Green Bay Packers sycophant). Granted, he never played pro league, so maybe he can’t understand the game like you’re supposed to in order to appreciate it, but his description of league tackling was “bad wrestling” and more like American football with the limited phases, and union tackling was “kind of mass chaos” and then a play busts out.

        My wife — also American — had a similar reaction and just couldn’t get into league because of how slow the game got at the tackle compared to union. Again, she never played pro league, so maybe she’s just not competent enough to appreciate the game.

        But the point is that if some neophyte sees both codes, do you really think they’ll see the ruck in union as a stoppage and the tackle in league as a complex, nuanced and very active part of the game? Even if a league tackle doesn’t officially “stop” the game, comparably, it might as well be a stoppage.

        From an action standpoint, really only three people are involved in the league tackle and everything resets while the two sides spread out flat across the line. There are more people involved in the union ruck, there is more going on with counter-rucking and trying to jackal the ball, etc. (the contest), and the players not involved in the ruck don’t file up in a line over and over again, they get in a variety of places based on field position and whether they’re going to use the forwards, backs, kick, etc.

        I’m a union fan first, but still appreciate league, watch a lot of NRL and Super League and the major tests. There are some things union could learn from league, like how to score tries within 10 meters of the try line, but play-the-ball is not something that would improve union.

  • Danny

    Nice one. I like your argument that a tackle in league is a ‘stoppage’. I love both games and suspect lots of other people do as well. Most union fans I know I look forward to the State of Origin games easily as much as the rugby test matches.

    In rugby, if it all clicks, there is nothing better. If it doesn’t, well…..

    There is also something about the lunacy of league that is irresistible. There’s a reason why HG and Roy’s best moments come from ‘the rugby league’!

  • Skippy

    There is a big difference between the ‘game is stopped’ and the ball not being in play.

  • Rugalot

    Tries in League are like having a wank. It’s fun but the ending is always the same.
    Rugby is like actually trying to get laid. Sometimes you don’t score, sometimes you do and it’s not pretty and sometimes it’s amazing and you can’t walk for days.
    I watch League when I’m having a dry spell, but give me the real thing, Rugby any day of the week.

    • Pie Thrower

      Best. Comment. Ever.

    • Blinky Bill of Bellingen

      Fair go. That’s enough to turn me off having a wank.

      Was that your intention?

      We all have our favourite ball games that we enjoy and you may have just ruined mine for ever.


    • Jim

      I have to disagree on the first point. Given the numbers, the League administrators are geniuses.

      • mxyzptlk

        If you want to go by numbers, I’m sure more people are wanking than getting laid.

    • Quite possibly the greatest comment ever.

  • baldwid

    Who cares – League is SHIT!!! Played by a bunch of morons and administered by idiots. How can the simplest game on earth other than soccer need 2 refs to sort it out on the pitch. Says it all really!!!

    Plus – come up with something other than a 2nd man play as a means of scoring a try!!

    I used to love league – I was obsessed and having gone to a private school gradually grew to enjoy the contest and thought involved in the game. League just became way to boring!!

    I also never understood why they did not have more set piece moves from “scrums” – amazes me sometimes, surely someone has enough intelligence to come up with something that would work – a la Diggers try in Argentina!!!

    • I’d rather watch the game I like and not worry if another game is shit or not.
      But I love Diggers try! What a highlight.

      • baldwid

        100% agree Sul – emotion got the better of me!! Still a bit annoyed with Bret Harris’s tripe in the Australian. Ultimately i think that if you dont like the sport -DONT WATCH!!! if you like the concept of league then watch it. Dont write a thesis on how to improve a sport by turning it into league.

        Great article, both games have good points and bad and people should enjoy them for that.

        On a slightly different issue – one thing that sometimes crosses my mind is that shit rules and decisions sometimes makes the game interesting and memorable. I know sometimes its hard to work out what refs are thinking in awarding penalties in the game but when they do get it wrong and it costs a game – yes it is bad – but at the same time it keeps things spicy!! Games would be boring without controversy!! listening to frenchies gloating over their victory in RWC 07 against the kiwis is great, it makes Rugby if you ask me.

        EG – In cricket the DRS removes any element for water cooler chat 15 years later about a bogus LBW call. I guess carrying on from Harris’s article – i dont want things to change because the slope is slippery and before you know it we are playing league!! if that makes sense??

  • Queenslander

    I like both games but the problem with RL is there is too much kicking. Mungoes has always taken a shot at rugby for too much kicking but really in RL there is a kick every 30-40 seconds.

    The Wallabies have mis used the kick in recent seasons with inane grubbers and chips etc but the Mungoes will either kick down the centre of the field or the so predictable cross field kick and hope for the best where the ball bounces off someone’s arse and another falls on it and everyone hugs each other and taps their respective bottoms.

    I have lost count of the number of League players that have come to play in clubs Zi have been with and fall in love with the variety of tasks and spirit they cannot get in Mungoes.

    Union for me and if if you don’t like Rugby indeed piss off I never invited you anyway.

  • ChargerwA

    I can’t actually believe there is even debate about this.

    Growing up in WA I don’t carry any baggage in regards to either game. I was introduced to Rugby during the 2003 world cup as it was shown on TV during prime time and was immediately taken by the contest, or more specifically the volume of contested possession. So much that I became an avid fan.

    In the last few years after being regaled by some friends about how great League is, I tried to watch a few games. All I can say is Brain Dead!!! Watching 26 clones run at each other and then two of them lay on top of one while he humps the ground 600 times in 80 minutes isn’t my idea of a an enthralling contest.

    • mxyzptlk

      Really — someone please tell me — what the hell is that humping the ground and flopping around all about? I’ve looked, and can’t find anything. Is it just a way to mime to the ref that you’ve been tackled and are trying to get up? Because it’s embarrassing, and looks a little bit like soccer players diving.

      I know there’s a lot of tough talk about how hard league players tackle, but I don’t buy it. Occasionally you get the hard shoulder charge, but plenty of union players tackle just as hard but with the arms, and hit just as hard with the ball (check out Eben Etzebeth knocking out Bismark du Plessis this past year).

      But watching the two-men-grapple-one-man to the ground, slowly and with fairly no comparative force to the tackle, and then watching the ball-carrier squirm and hump the ground, must be an acquired taste.

      • rugbyskier

        The ground humping and flopping about is an attempt to get a penalty for being prevented from playing the ball. So yes it’s the rugby league equivalent of diving in soccer.

      • Guy

        Rugby League fields are covered with cicada holes

  • Gillian Maddigan

    Great one Hun. When Shane met me I was a great fan of League and would watch the local matches as well as NRL games all of them not just my team the Broncos. As we came from a country town, League was the only thing that had a National profile. I attended local Rugby Union games because of my friends and loved the full contact of the games. When we arrived on the GC we started attending QRU games at Ballymore. Wow live Rugby – the contact, the speed, the poise of the players as they were amateurs then, the different body shapes (relevant to us girls) l became enthralled and the RL game started to change and lost its shine for me. Now I watch RL only when there is no Rugby on, but now this is harder as we have Foxtel there is Super Rugby, ITM, Currie Cup, French Top 14 and on an on. Sully has created a monster ask him :-)

  • Benny

    What appeals with union are the different facets of play and everything is contestable – scrums, line outs, rucks, mauls, and even kicking, as much as we hate it, with the aim of getting it back rather than just booting the cr*p out of it.

    I find when i do watch a game of league, I’m listening rather than watching, until the final tackle then paying attention. But it could just be that I’m a kiwi so of course it’s not as enjoyable :)

  • mxyzptlk

    It’s clear from the comments that there is plenty of debate over whether a league tackle is a stoppage or not. Maybe another way to look at it is how much action is going on — and since really only three people are involved in a league tackle while everyone else backs off, it’s hard to argue that there isn’t more action going on in a union tackle and ruck.

    That said, from a spectator’s standpoint, this is really going to come down to taste. Some spectators are going to be a little numbed out after the 27th play-the-ball, which looks just like the 7th. Other spectators will get bored out of their confusion of what goes on in the union breakdown. If you don’t understand the whole play-the-ball concept, that stuff gets old fast. And if you aren’t familiar with the intricacies of the breakdown, union tackles can seem like an almighty mess that you’ll never figure out by the end of the game, let alone the season.

    But this is why Brett Harris and Dean Ritchie are complaining — it’s not clear that they are really familiar with what they’re looking at. They’re watching union for a league game, and they’re ignoring the drama the develops in the other aspects of the game. It’s like they’re reading a novel but expecting an newspaper article, and are irritated when the bullet-pointed steps aren’t laid out in quickly digestible fashion — union takes more work, from the players and the fans. Tries don’t come as easy in union, so they’re more valuable (they’re even worth more in union). Huge parts of the game develop in the breakdown and ruck situations that don’t exist in league, and over time that starts to tell a story about the game. (I heard one dude describe league as The Hobbit, union as Lord of the Rings.)

    I watched both the union and league test matches with NZ last week. The Bledisloe match was one of the more nail-biting low-scoring matches I’ve seen all year. At any moment it felt like something might break open, right up to that 80-meter push in extra time. I thought the league test was entertaining for some of the specific skills on display, but as far as the game goes, it was easy to look down at the iPad/get something to drink/surf the web and glance up every now and then when one team was closing in on the try line. The odds that something other than a short rush and slow grapple to the ground for five phases were pretty slim unless they were near the try line.

    League probably has something to teach union when it comes to short-meter plays near the try line — they’re very, very good at that, while union generally works the pick-and-go there (maybe the two extra players contributes to that). But asking union to adopt league’s limited phases or something like playing the ball/backing off 10 meters is kind of like asking gridiron to adopt the jump ball or baseball to adopt the grubber kick — wrong context.

  • Alan

    Each to their own but i’ve always been amazed at how anyone can prefer league. Echoing most above, i find it hilarious to hear fans of the ridiculously predictable ”tackle – let em up x 5, then kick” code criticising union!

    Lineouts, rucks, mauls, set pieces, real scrums – so many aspects of union are a challenge and the side defending can quickly morph into the side attacking. Also look at the tense, dramatic encounter the wallabies n ABs had just this weekend past, ive rarely seen that in league

    Its a real shame that the likes of Inglis, Barba, Slater and co have chosen to remain at home rather then going with the true global sport, representing their country and competing at a real world cup, at the olympics and becoming the world wide superstars which they could have been with union.

  • BigAl

    All hail the contest! But hell wouldn’t we love to see the talent pool of RL available to the Wallabies and RU in general.

    …those RL scrums are very embarrassing though.

  • bill

    Good point about league tackles equating to stoppages.

    I enjoy league, but much prefer union, there’s just more skill in it, more interest in developing yourself as a player or a team.

    Contested possession vs uncontested possession.

    Back when Tim Horan was playing there was a guy in league called Steve Renouf. If you’d seen them play you’d have thought they were twins. At the start of their careers I thought Steve was actually the better player, by the end of their careers I thought Tim was. Not because one was less talented than the other just because Union challenged Horan more, he had to cope with more, adapt, learn and become better in a way League will never challenge, because it can’t.

    Union is just a better game.

  • Great article Sully, mind you I have loved rugby for so long I couldn’t disagree. I will admit in late 70s early 80s I did enjoy a bit of league, of course being in NZ didn’t see as much as you lot over here, but there certainly seemed to be quite a few good scrums, ball stripped etc by games involving the kiwis which is really all I saw. Funnily enough during 90s when it came on NRL came on tv in NZ, I kind of lost all interest, as contest seemed to have gone and seeing it more regularly I may have just got bored with it all. I will say when I moved to Aus in 97 I told everyone I would watch game a lot more being closer to it etc, but got here went to one State of Origin (admittedly during super league and got free tickets)myself and a few mates walked out when it went to extra time, and admitted fact I have watched Union for all my now 58 years, and going to keep doing it, and if someone else wants to watch what I consider and abberation of the game, I have no probs, just leave my game alone!!

  • Ross

    Some amazing tries are scored in League, more so than union but so many in a game can be boring, like watching superman saving the world over and over again will lose its awe. Ive always seen league as a one on one bullrush game(Do your Ozzie kids play this?), big hitters/runners playing mostly an individual game..

  • Nelse

    I think the big thing League has got going for it is consistency. Fans know that week-in, week-out, they are going to get big hits and tries. That’s all they care about. I haven’t watched a hell of a lot of League, but the difference between a good game of League and a bad game is not great. There might be less handling errors, more flukey passes in a good game but generally, your still gonna have a few tries and hits in either good or bad.

    Union, when its good, its brilliant. But when its not a great game it can be scrappy and frustrating to watch. But there are so many things going on that, if you have an understanding of the Laws, then there are things to enjoy.

    I worked in a bottle-o for a while and I had this Irish customer who was chatting to me about the 2. He said he hadn’t heard of League til he came to Australia, and he couldn’t get into a sport where you willingly gave possession back to the opposition. As in “We tried to do something with it for 6 tackles but we couldn’t, so you have a go” Where as Union, there is no way you want to give that ball up. You hold it til you score, then you get it back off the kickoff and you hold it again.

  • Hughesy

    Great Article! I think a notable point regarding the number of tries scored needs to be put in contest of the level each game is played at. For example State of Origin games are usually low scoring affairs with few tries due to defensive prowess of both teams, therefore it should be no suprise that the Bledisloe (# 1v # 2) are similar in nature. Conversely, ITM cup games this season have generated near cricket scores with tries scored frequently…. almost like toyota cup games which seem like glorified touch! I’m with you, Rugby doesn’t need fixing nor does need to explain itself to those that don’t understand.

  • sarco

    Thanks Sully

    Surely the key difference here is that one is a game, league – and the other – Rugby Union – is a religion, a calling, a force so overwhelming the very universe revolves around it (or should). Only those with the requisite vision, strength and emotional fortitude are called to its presence.

    I am sure league would like to have more phases involved but then you bring up the whole counting past 5 issue and things get messy.

    see you all at church.

  • Garry

    When I opened the sport section this week there was, thank god, not six pages of league to trawl through to find the Rugby pages. There was 5 of cricket, to be expected. And although the rugby internationals continue, the league season is over. So what is left for these league scribes to do except write these attempted denigrating articles. I bet if you went back twelve months ago you’d find the same articles around this time.

    Scribes, learn to appreciate another sport, or buy yourself a league computer game.

    My 2 cents. Rugby and League is like checkers and chess. Played on the same board, but one is only two dimensional, and fans of the other would rarely want to watch, let alone play, the other unless it was with there 5 year old. And not surprisingly, a five year old may get bored trying to understand a game of chess.

  • Saderchief

    Great read. I had a guy sledging me at work this week that AFL is a far better game than Union…..AFL?…….AFL!!?!!!?!!!

    • Cantab

      AFL? What’s that?

  • Brumby Runner

    I played and followed League in the 60s. Scrums were contestable, the play the ball was contestable, there was no 6 tackle rule, and tries were scored after long and deliberate lead up work, not from kicks. The common criticism of Rugby at that time was that there was no defence and tries were too easily scored.

    How the world changes.

    I followed the Wallabies from early on, but really came to Rugby as a fan during the Super League dispute in the 90s. I do not now watch any League at all. Even the pinnacle games at State of Origin and Test level lost their attraction some years ago.

    League as it is now played is not a shadow of what it once was, and will not ever challenge Rugby as a spectacle or contest.

    • BloodRed

      Fox has a little doco called league in the 80s that I found myself watching out of desperation one Sunday. Much to my surprise I actually enjoyed it and it occurred to me that once upon a time I didn’t mind watching mungo ball. Back in the 1980s there was an occasional contest for the ball at the tackle and the scrum and without the 10 metre back rule, they had to move the ball laterally to find space and needed forwards who were physically different to the backs were required to get the ball over the gain line. It wasn’t repeatitive and not nearly as dull as this century’s version. The last thing rugby needs is any advice from the mungos on how to improve. One day the leaguies are going to wake and realise that they have ruined their game just as the AFL will discover one day that taking out the things that “the mums” don’t like is a great way to turn a contact sport into aerial soccer.

  • Roscoe Tims

    You’ve convinced me Sully… Good work BTW.

  • billybobv

    League is only one forward pass away from american football….and some pads. That sport is all about TV appeal and commercial$.

  • Robbo

    Hear, hear – I was at Suncorp on Saturday night and I doubt that anyone left early.

  • Ads

    Nice article mate.

    Whilst I agree with you, Rugby does need some fixing.

    Professional fouls, endless scrum resets, and generally p1ss poor handling/basic skills come to mind (for the Wallaby’s at least). As well as inconsistent/pedantic refereeing.

    Looking at/fixing these type of issues should be done, but that is not to say Union is boring or crap. League has different issues to deal with.

  • Dally M

    Great article.

    I used to follow the 2 codes when i was growing up & played League as a junior.

    The whole Super League debacle put me off league & i never went back.

    Now when i watch it, it’s nothing like the game it used to be. It’s pretty much been dumbed down for the audience. As someone said, League fans probably only watch 1 or 2 games of union a season, when there is no league on & simply don’t understand it.

    There is a massive difference between being able to run one out with no consequences & being caught isolated & turning the ball over.

    How many League stars have been good at Union? A handful.

    How many Union players have been good at League? Dozens before Union turned professional. Nowadays virtually no one goes across, but some of the best League players off all time were Union players – Price, O’Conner, Stuart, Lewis, Mossop. One was so good, they named their best player award after him, the Dally M.

    League may have more tries, but i dare say 90% of them are scored from kicks where the wingers jump like AFL players to catch the ball & fall to the ground.

    If Super Rugby was on FTA i think Union’s popularity would increase, but then the League journo’s would be complaining about too many tries in some games.

    League obviously has an inferiority complex because it constantly takes potshots at Union & AFL & the way they play the game.

    I’m actually surprised League is still going with the way it outspends the amount of revenue it generates. If it wasn’t for Channel 9, i’m sure it would go under. Who knows Channel 9 might go under first.

  • Mick Coogan

    Wonderful article mate totally agree.

    • wiggety

      I agree too. The only thing that leaves me confused after that apt description of League, is why you actually like it?

  • Charlie

    Good points, I think those articles were pretty horrific.


    I think penalties have to go. Kicking is far too good these days. Reduce the points from 3 to 2, or even narrow the posts!

    • MattE

      I am definitely a long time rugby fan… and I agree that the IRB really needs to revisit the whole issue of penalty kicks being 3 points. I agree… make all kicks two (2) points… conversion, penalty, field goal… all 2!

  • old weary

    you didn’t touch on the largest difference between the too codes that should not change… Tattoo’s, V8’s and Burbon…

    • Charlie

      Not to mention apostrophes and decent spelling!

    • BloodRed

      Also forgot women in the crowd who piss on the seats

  • personally, I dont know how people can stand watching grown men flop around on the ground like a dying fish 600 times a game in league. Its as pathetic and demeaning as soccer players taking a dive.

    Blah! League is touch footy with 3 man tackles.

  • Great article Sully, a solid response to one particulalry silly article and an ‘out there’ one from an unexpected source…

  • Great article.

    One only need to watch an ITM Cup game or any Super Rugby game featuring one of the NZ franchises to see just how exciting rugby can be, and how much better a game it is than boring, metronomic, five tackles and bomb it in to the in goal thugby league. Yawn.

    Rugby every day of the week thank you.

  • RJ

    A league game with 10 tries puts me to sleep.

  • scarfman

    My two favourite games are Rugby and NFL. Both involve tremendous diversity in body shapes and on-field roles.

    League, AFL and “football” all send me straight to the sandman because exactly the same thing happens for the entire length of the game. If you’ve seen 60 seconds, you’ve seen it all.

  • commonasmud

    Sully, a very nice article, although you should hardly have dignified either article with a response. Dean Ritchie writes and reasons like a man with a serious acquired brain injury. And based on the Rocky bio, Harris is highly qualified to comment on boredom…

  • nomis

    Agree about rugby needing to be different to league, and having many strengths that league doesn’t have.

    The key is for rugby to keep trying to be as good as RUGBY can be.

    We don’t need to be defensive when people think rugby is boring because we know better. But at the same time, we should weigh up what the critics say with a level head, chew the meat and spit out the bones, so that we’re not blind to ways of making rugby even better.

    League is more consistent in what you get as a product. Rugby has lots of games that look very different. There are thrilling, fast-passed games, and there are slower, kicking type games.

    I suspect that this is because Rugby is more dynamic and allows for a wider style of play – which many would feel is part of it’s strength.

    But when you consider the bigger picture, as a sport in the entertainment industry, wanting a wider appeal, and the enjoyment/satisfaction factor for paying spectators, it makes sense to tweak the laws every now and then to encourage rugby to be a little more consistent on the thrilling side.

    BTW, I thought the final Bledisloe game was great, and those two articles weren’t worth much.

  • Pedro

    I take offense when you refer to league as being like basketball. In basketball you are allowed to challenge for possession, league is like netball if anything, if you have the ball, no one’s allowed to take it off you.

    Great article, league is ok but a good game of rugger is best.

    • You’re right! Netball is is.

  • sarina

    You can write the script for a game of league: 5 up, kick. Thats what bores me. The real contest for the ball makes union so much more interesting rather than the “here bro heres the ball.
    Your turn” There are so many more aspects to union reuiring specialisation in every position rather than the catch pass run league way where one week your a2nd rower next your in midfield or hooker 1 week then standoff the next. Thats what makes union global with more than 3 true test teams. After all union is a thinking mans (and girls) game.

  • Justtacklehim

    Wonderful article Sully.
    For me, I love rugby for a simple reason…it is a game for every shape and size. It’s not just for the 6 ft supreme athlete. Every shape has a role and each of those roles is critical to a teams success. If one is missing, the team folds. The same cannot be said about League.
    And if league was so good, it would have penetrated a lot more markets than NSW and QLD and a couple of other small pockets of the world.

  • Cantab

    Firstly -Good article,

    Secondly – I can’t understand how any serious sports fan can rate league over union, however so be it, each to there own.

    Thirdly- league has only 2 things over union.

    a) being much simpler it appeals to the casual sports fan who has never played either game and watches infrequently as there is not much to learn, IE majority of female population. Therefore it can cash in on casual/non sports fans more than union.

    b) Less Frenchmen, league has notably less dirty Frenchies.

    • Dally M

      Yeah, but lets face it, there are more hot women at a Rugby game than you will find at 10 League games combined.

      • Cantab


      • BloodRed

        More women with teeth at a rugby game

        • rick with a silent P

          Nothing wrong with women without teeth….

    • Definitely something League has over union.

  • Footy

    The main reason that League attracts a bigger audience is because it’s televised on free-to-air. Every game. The Super Rugby competition is on paid TV only! How are all the boys down at the local pub meant to afford that? People aren’t introduced to the game well enough because they don’t get to see it on their free TV.

  • Dave

    Good article Sully. Although you quote Harris on the breakdown but missed highlighting how this “idea” wouldn’t work – at all! He writes: “It is the breakdown that is the real problem. Defenders there only have to stand behind the last feet of the tackle-contest to be on side. With good line-speed in defence, a team can often stop attacking players well behind the advantage line.
    If players had to stand five or 10m behind the last feet, it would create space for the attacking team.

    How on earth would this work? How would defenders know if they needed to retire 10m or were entitled to stay at the breakdown? Supposedly this also creates an immediate offside line that would need to be enforced. Would all defenders who weren’t tacklers have to retire, and when would this happen? And if the defence has to move back what can the offence do? Are they allowed to compete for the ball as well? If so this pretty much nullifies any real, meaningful competition. But then that’s league isn’t it?

    This idea along with limited phases would literally turn rugby into league with little to no difference. I wonder if this article helped him reach his word quota for the day – it is that badly thought out.

    League bores me to tears. I’ve tried to like it but I just can’t. Why would it ever be necessary to take out rugby’s dimension and variation of play to turn it into a game we already have?

    We need to market rugby better and give it a fair shake. A national 3rd tier is needed and it, along with Super Rugby, needs to be broadcast on FTA as well as Foxtel. And it needs to be well marketed. The game itself doesn’t need to change, the accessibility does.

  • Steven

    League was new to me when I arrived in the country 14 years ago, and I gave it a fair go over union but there really is no contest. And that is the core point – NO CONTEST – scrums, line-outs, tackles are all farcical. It is a neutered, dumbed down version of union with a huge margin of error thrown in. Even in open play when there is some chance of a real contest, the tackles are pathetic compared to union.

    I do get angry at the ARU for allowing league to get a free to air TV foothold over union – and that, together with the lack of domestic comp, is what holds union back.

    • Dally M

      It’s a tough one for the ARU.

      League has been professional & on FTA TV for a very long time.

      Union pretty much went pro overnight & had to scramble to to get organised & sign a TV rights deal. It went with the best offer at the time which was Pay TV & unfortunately has struggled to get any FTA coverage of Super Rugby due to the Pay TV rights preventing any re-broadcast until 90 mins after the final whistle.

      Also, after 7 lost the rights for the tests, it has kinda been neglected, so hopefully 10 doesn’t get cricket & makes Rugby a priority.

  • sheekabout

    I thought I had previously responded but I must have missed the “post comment”. Duh, silly me.

    Anyway, this post is so awesome I wish I had written it.

    Well said Sully, very well said!

  • sheekabout

    Oops, I did respond earlier, much earlier. Ahh, now I’m even sillier.

    Did I say what a great post it was!

  • gerard flanagan

    Dally M,

    Are you Dally the 3rd? If so, you have the floor, otherwise use extreme care about using my great uncle’s name!

    Luv my league and the Chooks in particular. Both codes have there merits, but where Union wins hands down is that its a global game and that my friends is the ongoing fascination. Union could take a few leaves out of leagueys book but then again League still stuffs up regularly for a game that has probably a quarter of the rules. Refer to the sacking of Bill Harrigan and Raper for the atrocious decisions in a number of games.

    What I will say is this: give me Inglis at outside centre, Billy Slater at fullback and Cooper Cronk at half back and watch us stomp the ABs consistently………….


    • Mica

      Can we have James Tamou at number 8 please???? Then we might finally have someone to give Kieren Read a run for his money.

    • sarina

      Cooper cronk at halfback? You do realise union halfbacks actually have to be able to pass well.

  • Cave Dweller

    Rugby Union was played by amateurs for 100’s of years. People played it for fun.

    Rugby League is so shit that they had to pay people to play it…..

  • Gottsy

    Great article!
    Rugby needs to be on fta. All the people I talk to that prefer union over league just don’t understand the rules and the nuances of why certain things happen on the field.

  • Blinky Bill of Bellingen

    IMHO when Rugby learns to capitalize on all the points of difference between itself and League, it will go far better.

    The idea of the ‘genuine contest’ needs to be right up there in the scriptures. That applies to everywhere on the park and especially scrum feeds, which at present are a blight.

    I want to see the young & the old, Grannies, Mums & Dads………the lot…… getting along to the games and enjoying scrums, line-outs, breakdowns, mawls, etc and actually applauding good hard play.

    We need to move away from the idea that Rugby is only about backline play. Of course that’s nice when it happens but there’s so much more on offer.

  • Bobby

    To add to that stat Sully there were 675 tackles in the Pinnacle of League, State of Origin 3 and I reckon you are being nice at 3-4 seconds I would say more like 5-6 and to me that is nearly 3 quarters of their game is being played between their legs, compelling stuff. Just goes to show how weak their defence really is for that many points to be scored in such little time. Great article mate.

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  • RA

    So isn’t being tackled in Union and the ball being stuck in the ruck for an equal or more amount of time a ‘stoppage’? Kidding yourself. Rugby is a joke with stoppages and the number of penalty conversions. They need to reduce penalty cons to 2 points, FG’s to 1 and make conversions from a try worth 3 points. They might be more inclined to have a crack more often and actually look to run the ball.

    • Mark Brown

      go watch league then RA, I don’t think we need to do anything different, except maybe not be allowed to kick out on the full in the twenty two, that would spice things up a bit. And put pressure on the team with the ball.

  • Random

    I’m from a non-Rugby “southern” state – from my perspective, Rugby Union is entertaining, I admire the skills, and flow of the game. Rugby League is just plain boring repetitive crap. I see it as an abomination.

  • Sesilia

    I’ve moved over from nz and yes RL is in my face more than when I was in NZ. I try to watch any union game on TV. I’m trying to change my nephews from RL to union. They say its the money if they make. Who pays their players the most RL or union?

  • Chinmay

    Rugby league matches give you a very good highlights reel. Otherwise if you watch a full game of league, you may get bored – unless it’s a very very good game like the one between the Tigers and the Roosters from 2010. However a rugby union match has an exciting highlights package, as well as being interesting for the full 80 minutes – if you can truly understand and appreciate the laws and what’s going on

  • Mark Brown

    I loved this article and comments so much I have saved it to my favorites for quick retorts from league players and supporters. The simple truth is that in NSW the media are trying to BRAINWASH everybody into thinking league is unbelivable and rugby is boring. I am sick of hearing every week by commentators that was the best game ever or you will never see another try like that, when in truth sound down it is just, tackle, tackle, tackle, tackle, tackle, kick,tackle, tackle, tackle, tackle, tackle, kick,tackle, tackle, tackle, tackle, tackle, kick,TRY,tackle, tackle, tackle, tackle, tackle, kick,tackle, tackle, tackle, tackle, tackle, kick enough said

  • Anthony J. Petchkiss

    You really gonna count the play the ball as a stoppage?

  • Pico

    Rugby needs to change how many points a penalty is worth – 3 points for a professional foul within the 22 (a possible scoring opportunity) 1 point for anything else and like magic I think you would find teams kicking for touch and trying to score a 5 pointer rather than take the boring easy option. Is a collapsed scrum due to a slip on half way really worth 3 points??? This is the real problem with rugby, change the points for a penalty and you will change the amount of rugby that is played.


Just another Rugby tragic. Shane "Sully" Sullivan has been in man love with the game since high school in the 70's. He inflicts his passion on family and anyone who will listen. He can't guarantee unbiased opinion but he can tell you the Reds are Awesome! To read non-rugby content head to

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