TWO MONTHS AGO, I tried fencing, a sport that I had never engaged with in any way. This time I’m trying a sport that I’m more at home with. As a northerner, I found it a lot easier to get into rugby league over rugby union.
The sport has provided me with some of my best sporting memories, especially the Ryan Hall try against Huddersfield to win Leeds the League Leaders Shield in 2015. However, whenever anyone suggested trying it, I was always dismissive, but always with some small amount of me thinking that trying it would be great. So, when the opportunity came for me to try it for Nouse, I obviously jumped on it.
Despite being very similar to its union counterpart,rugby league has struggled to get the fan share that union enjoys, with most of its fan base in the north of England and Australia, which both have a much bigger league fanbase than union. How similar is it to its counterpart though? Well, there are some significant changes in the way the game is played that distinguishes it from union. First, union is played by 15 players while league drops two. It’s four points for a try instead of five, two points for a penalty, and one for a drop goal.
However, the biggest difference between the two codes is in the tackles. In union, a player being tackled results in a ruck. As long as the attacking team keeps the ball in these rucks, they can attack for as long as they want. In league, however, as soon as the attacking team has been tackled for the sixth time, there is a turnover, where the opposition gets the ball at the spot of the tackle. This makes league much faster than its union counterpart, as most teams end up kicking downfield after the fifth tackle, meaning they have five chances per play to score. We started and finished with games of touch rugby. In between, we did numerous drills to improve some of the core skills required to play rugby league. Focusing on ball handling, passing under pressure, positioning, defending, and attacking. What this helps you realise is just how much goes into a match as all of these skills are utilised at the end.
Non-fans of the sport have always assumed that there is avery small range of people who could fit into a league side. This is not the case as what I noted on Friday was that every type of person was there. This isn’t just at university level; looking to the professionals we can see the same sort of thing. There are big powerful players like Keith Senior, technical players such as Kevin Seinfield, and small and speedy players such as Rob Burrow.
Many have been dissuaded from league because “they wouldn’t fit in”, but all levels of league prove that this is not the case. As someone who had to play defence when playing (or attempting) football when I was younger, I came to see defence as the boring part of the game, the thing you have to do between being able to attack. This changed when playing rugby league, defence, just like attack, was strategic,interesting and fully enjoyable, understanding where you should position yourself at the start of the tackle and pulling an attacker into a tackle is great.Because of the way rugby league teams are set out, it means that everyone attacks, and everyone defends, meaning you get to do everything in a game.
As a Northerner, and rugby league sofa fan, I have only really seen northern players play for northern teams, coached by northern managers with northern owners and northern fans. So when it came to the end of the session, I was quite surprised to find that the majority of the players were from the south of England or other places that could not be considered as rugby league’s “heartlands”.’
Their reasons for going into league were varied: recommendations, wanting something different to rugby union, or just wanting to try something new. I did get a uniform response from them though to the question “why league over union?” It’s fun. Nothing complicated, no deep thinking, the fact is that it is a fun sport. There was one exception to this rule, as one of the players also played union, so if you are a mega rugby fan, you don’t just have to pick one code.
It might have been cold and snowing, but rugby league was a brilliant sport to try. Fast-paced, challenging and tactical. The society is wonderful and very welcoming to players of any level, whether you have followed league, union or neither. It’s a great sport to pick up.
If you're interested in giving Rugby League a go, the society can be found on Facebook.