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The differences from Rugby Union are mostly subtle to outsiders but not really. 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, but not (at time of writing) the world champions. 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 League
Otherwise 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, despite what people might say, 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 play in maroon and gold, and are one of the more successful teams in the competition; in fact, 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, as well as 6 Premierships (1992, 1993, 1997 1998, 2000, 2006) and 4 minor Premierships (1992, 1997, 1998, 2000). As a result of the success they enjoy, the Broncos have the largest fanbase in Australia, and have the highest average attendance of any rugby club in the world. The origin of the Broncos are interesting to some; they were formed as one of the first two participants (the other being the now-defunct Gold Coast-Tweed Giants) of the state of Queensland in the New South Wales Rugby League premiership (NSWRL), a part of the ARL and predecessor of the NRL. The Broncos would then be 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. Rivals of the Sydney Roosters, Gold Coast Titans and the North Queensland Cowboys, the latter two being local derbies, the latter derby against North Queensland always being played on a Friday. The team also shares a rivalry with St. George-Illawara, due to the team politics involving the two clubs and the two teams being the League's more successful clubs.
- The Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs, are one of the older teams in the league, being founded in 1935 as a member of the NSWRL. The team has won 8 Premierships(1938, 1942, 1980, 1984, 1985, 1988, 1995, 2004) and 6 Minor Premierships (1938, 1942, 1947, 1984, 1993, 1994). Also known as the Doggies, the Dogs, the Dogs of War, or the Berries, Canterbury's first team was formed through rural recruiting, leading to the moniker "Country Bumpkins". Their first season was remarkable for all the wrong reasons; the team lacked a proper home ground and were not very good - in fact, it was arguably the worst season ever recorded by any team in the League, managing just two wins. The Bulldogs would then turn their fortunes around, improving their win column from two to nine in the following year and in their third year of existence, they would go on to win both the minor premiership and the Premiership, a remarkable turnaround from the inaugural season. The club would soon return back to being wooden spooners (read: the team that finishes dead last in the league) thanks to World War Two, but after the war ended, they would soon return back to being a major power in the league. Canterbury was one of the two teams that took part in the famous 1967 Grand Final, known as the 'intercept' Grand Final. After strong play in the 1970s and 80s, the team would then struggle for most of the 90s and the early '00s, the struggle ending with a Grand Final win in 2004. Since then it's been a rollercoaster of success for the Dogs. The Bulldogs' colors are blue and white, and are fierce rivals with the St. George-Illawara Dragons, the Parramatta Eels and the Sydney Roosters.
- The Canberra Raiders are a relatively new franchise. Also known as The Green Machine (due to the team's lime-green colors), the Raiders began playing in 1982, in which was considered a "mixed bag" season: the team had won the Wooden Spoon and conceded the most tries in the history of the league, but at many times it seemed like they were going to win until a inexplicable collapse late in the match would prove otherwise. Canberra's late-game collapses would become notorious, leading to the nicknames "Canberra Faders" and "Pine Lime Splices". The team would continue to have mixed seasons until the period end of the '80s and beginning of the 90s, in which they appeared in 4 straight Grand Finals and won back to back Premierships. The team would go on to win another Grand Final in 1994 before fading into irrelevancy in the '00s, either finishing outside the top 8 or being knocked out early in the Grand Finals.
- The Cronulla Sharks are a team that has not had much success or particularly popular. Also known as the Sharkies or The Shire the Sharks have no Premiership titles to their name despite beginning league play in 1967 (although they do have 2 minor premierships (1988, 1999)) and often suffer from financial problems which came to a head in 2009, when their problems became public knowledge. These financial problems would soon be joined by problems regarding the club members later in the season, with allegations of members using performance enhancing drugs, abuse of female employees and allegations of the players damaging a woman via group sex. Nevertheless, the team still strives to attain that ever elusive premiership, with a much more promising 2011 season and an apparently stable financial source. The Sharks' colors are sky blue, black and white, and are fierce rivals with Manly-Warringah Sea Eagles, dubbed as "The Battle of the Beaches", one of the more physical matchup in the league; in fact, the two grand finals in which the teams met during the 1970s are renowned for being the most brutal in history. The Sharks are also bitter rivals of the St. George-Illawara Dragons, who dwarf them in popularity in Southern Sydney.
- The Gold Coast Titans are the newest addition to the NRL, being founded in 2007. They are 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). Apart from that and a wooden spoon finish in 2011, there is nothing much to note about them. Rivals of Brisbane, though so far, they have yet to beat the Broncos.
- The Manly-Warringah Sea Eagles or Manly, for short are the current Premiership Champions. Formed in 1947, the Sea Eagles are one of the more successful clubs, with 8 premierships (1972, 1973, 1976, 1978, 1987, 1996, 2008, 2011), 9 minor premierships (1971, 1972, 1973, 1976, 1983, 1987, 1995, 1996, 1997) and remarkably, no wooden spoons in their 62 season history, the longest period of any current club.. In 1999, the Sea Eagles merged with the North Sydney Bears to form the Northern Eagles, who are considered to be a separate team. This alliance would soon be dissolved and the Sea Eagles returned to the NRL in 2003 as a stand-alone club. The team's colors are maroon and white and are historical rivals of the Paramatta Eels, the Cronulla Sharks and the Newcastle Knights. In more recent times, the team has also shared rivalries with the Melbourne Storm and the Wests Tigers.
- The Melbourne Storm are the first professional rugby league team based in Victoria. The team won its first Premiership in 1999, two years after their inception and went on to win more trophies in the '00s, more specifically two premierships (2007 and 2009) and three minor premierships (2006, 2007 and 2008)...that is, they would have, until the trophies were annulled after the club was found out to have breached the salary cap, resulting in them being barred from receiving any other points and them picking up a different kind of trophy. Nevertheless, the team remains very competitive, having legitimately won a minor premiership in the 2011 season and having a good run in the finals before being eliminated by New Zealand. The team's colors are purple, navy, gold and white, a color scheme that the Storm actually manage to make look good on their kits, despite being an odd choice of colors. Rivals of Brisbane, Manly-Warringah and St.George-Illawara.
- The Newcastle Knights, despite their name, are not based in the English city, Newcastle, but in Newcastle, New South Wales. The second team in the League to be based in Newcastle , the Knights are a moderately successful franchise who have won 2 premierships (1997, 2001) since their inception in 1988. Rivals of Manly-Warringah, the feud stemming from the famous 1997 ARL Grand Final, which saw Newcastle victorious, but has also taken on class-distinction elements for the underdog, Newcastle being the working class.
- The New Zealand Warriors, as the name suggests, are currently the only team in the League based in New Zealand. Formed in 1995 as the Auckland Warriors, they are one of four teams yet to win a premiership, but they came close to doing so with a minor premiership in 2002 and a loss in the Grand Finals to Manly in 2011. Like the current champions, they have no wooden spoons to their name. The Warriors have been 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. They are the current team of Shaun Johnson, a popular figure among the league due to his skill and playmaking.
- The North Queensland Cowboys are another team based in the state of Queensland, more specifically, Townsville (no, not that Townsville). Since their debut in 1995, the club has appeared in 1 grand final (2005)in which they lost, and has done nothing else of note. The Cowboys play in Navy, Grey and Yellow and are rivals of the Brisbane Broncos, for good reason: one of the major obstacles to the club's stability in its inaugural season was attracting followers from Brisbane, who were (and still are) much more popular than their neighbors.
- The Parramatta Eels were formed and joined the League in the same year as the Sea Eagles (1947) and historically, the less successful of the two, as well as one of the least successful teams in the league. While the team has 4 premierships from the 80s (1981, 1982, 1983, 1986) and 5 minor premierships (1976, 1977, 1984, 2001, 2009), it took them a decade longer than Manly for them to win their first premiership, they have never won any premiership since the '80s and in a sharp contrast to the Sea Eagles spoonless record, the Eels have the most wooden spoons (10) of any club still in the league. Ever since their heyday in the '80s, the Eels have been mostly mired in mediocrity and ineptitude. The origin of Paramatta's nickname is surprisingly interesting: Like most clubs founded before the 1980s, Parramatta was established with no official nickname or mascot. The only nickname they had been known by from before "The Eels" were "The Fruitpickers". In the 1960s, a Sydney rugby league journalist, suggested that the club should be known as the "Eels". The reasoning was based on the name of Parramatta, anglicised from the Aboriginal dialect "Barramattagal" meaning "place where the Eels dwell" and the nickname became official in the 1970s. The team's colours are Blue and Gold, and are historic rivals with Manly due to the date of their origins, as well as some heated matchups during the mid '70s and the mid '80s. Canterbury and the Penrith Panthers, the latter being a local derby known as "The Battle of the West". The Eels are also rivals of St. George-Illawara and Melbourne due to some rather exciting matches between the two clubs.
- The Penrith Panthers, like Cronulla, joined the league in 1967, but unlike the Sharks, have won two premierships (1991, 2003), the most recent one being an upset win over the Sydney Roosters. Also known as the Mountain Men and the Pennies, the Panthers are probably more known for some very poor color schemes for their uniforms -- the team were called The Chocolate Soldiers due to their rust-colored jerseys they used until the '90s, which they got rid of in 1991...for jerseys with Black with White, Red, Yellow and Green stripes, which was replaced in 2000 for jerseys with Black, Rust red, Teal green and White stripes before finally settling on Black and Teal in 2004. They maintain a fierce rivalry with Parramatta ("The Battle of the West") and Sydney.
- The St.George-Illawara Dragons were formed via a joint-venture between the historically successful (15 premierships, 15 minor premierships) St. George Dragons and the not-very-successful (0 Premierships, 3 wooden spoons) Illawara Steelers. The joint-venture so far seems to have been a success, with the Dragons winning a premiership in 2010, although there has been talk of the Steelers becoming a standalone team again. Also known as the Saints and Red V, due to....well, the Red V on their jerseys, St. George-Illawara is the only cross-city team in the League. They also have the most rivalries thanks to inheriting the history of St. George, being recent rivals of Brisbane, Melbourne, and historical (and fierce) rivals of Cronulla, South Sydney and Sydney.
- The South Sydney Rabbitohs are historically the oldest team in the League, a distinction they share with Sydney as both began play in 1908. They are also the most successful professional team in the history of Australian rugby league in terms of championships won, with 20 premierships  and 17 minor premierships , though they have not made a Grand Final since 1975. As the most successful club, the Rabbitohs are revered among the league; they're known as "The Pride of The League" and there's even the saying "When Souths are going well, rugby league is going well". Also known as The Bunnies, Souths and The Rabbits, though it should be noted that a "Rabbitoh" is not a rabbit. The nickname's origins are unknown: One version of the origin comes from the turn of the 20th century. During that period, players wearing their jerseys would earn some extra money on Saturday mornings by hawking rabbits around the district with the cry of "Rabbitoh!". When someone wanted a rabbit, they would take the rabbit and skin it on the spot, getting some of the fur and blood on their jerseys as they did so. When they played in those blood stained jerseys in the afternoons, opponents from wealthier rugby clubs understandably did not like the stench that would come from the jerseys and would mockingly repeat the "Rabbitoh!" cry. Another theory as to how the name came about was as a jab to the condition of South Sydney's home field, being plagued with "rabbit 'oles". The Rabbitohs' colors are the rather famous cardinal red and myrtle green, immortalized in their fight song ("Glory Glory to South Sydney") and share a long-standing and fierce rivalry with their close neighbour Sydney, the two clubs being the only remaining "foundation clubs" in the league, taking part in the inaugural season of the NSWRL and both dominating the League during the early years. Another advantage of being the most famous team in the league is that the Souths have one of the largest fan followings in the league, they have fans throughout the whole country. The Rabbitohs also share a rivalry with Manly due to Manly buying many of the Souths' star players in the 70s and St. George-Illawara, which goes back to the days when the Dragons were still a standalone team.
- The Sydney Roosters are the less successful club of Sydney, although this does not mean in any stretch of the imagination that they are not famous. Formed in 1908 as Eastern Suburbs, the Roosters, also known as the Chooks, Easts, Tri-colours, Eastern Suburbs and Bondi Boys are the second most successful club in the League in terms of championships, having won 12 premierships  and 16 minor premierships . The origin of the team's nickname was due to being inspired by the French national team's jersey (which is why the jerseys have the same colour scheme as well). Like the Rabbitohs, the Roosters fanbase is league-wide, including areas which already have their own league teams (Canberra, Newcastle). As you can guess, the Roosters are bitter rivals of South Sydney, but also have some heated rivalries with Canterbury, St. George-Illawara and Brisbane.
- The Wests Tigers are another team to have been formed via a joint venture, the alliance being between the Balmain Tigers and the Western Suburbs Magpies, both sides suffering from poor league play in the 90s, not being helped by the ongoing Super League war. Having begun playing in 2000, it didn't take the Tigers very long to win a Premiership, beating the Cowboys 30-16 in the 2005 Grand Final. Current team of superstar Benji Marshall, who is known for his fancy style of passing (no-look passes, flick passes), and agility, and regarded by many to be the most exciting player in the league. The Tigers play in orange, black and white, a combination of Balmain and Western Suburbs' colours and 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. Rivals of Manly and North Queensland.
- 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.
- ↑ Brisbane, Gold Coast and North Queensland are all located in the state of Queensland
- ↑ Canterbury would not be known as the Bulldogs until 1978
- ↑ Cronulla is a suburb in the Sutherland Shire
- ↑ both are located in beachside suburbs
- ↑ The first was the Newcastle Rebels, who were in the league from 1908-1909
- ↑ which was given to them by radio commentator Frank Hyde, who wrote in the Penrith Club journal "these chocolate soldiers from out west – they don't melt!"
- ↑ which led to them being called The Liquorice Allsorts, another confectionary related nickname
- ↑ 1908, 1909, 1914, 1918, 1925, 1926, 1927, 1928, 1929, 1931, 1932, 1950, 1951, 1953, 1954, 1955, 1967, 1968, 1970, 1971
- ↑ 1908, 1909, 1914, 1918, 1925, 1926, 1927, 1929, 1932, 1949, 1950, 1951, 1953, 1968, 1969, 1970, 1989
- ↑ 1911, 1912, 1913, 1923, 1935, 1936, 1937, 1940, 1945, 1974, 1975, 2002
- ↑ 1912, 1913, 1923, 1931, 1934, 1935, 1936, 1937, 1940, 1941, 1945, 1974, 1975, 1980, 1981, 2004