Much like the NFL, I have really got into following Rugby League after watching the World Cup last year and becoming disillusioned with watching often-boring Rugby Union, and England in particular. Having watched both, it got me thinking – could Rugby League overtake Union and become the more popular sport?
Both have their merits – Union seems to have a fairer points scoring system, but can lead to big gaps opening up between teams, and when you have a team like London Welsh losing 22/22 games and conceding over 1000 points, it doesn’t help. I like that in both, league position at the end of the season only determines placement when going into the playoffs – with the top sides having to play each other again in order to determine the true champion. With the Super League starting soon, I will be comparing it to Union’s Premiership.
Here are several reason why I see Rugby League taking over as the more popular sport in the coming few years:
Simplicity & Entertainment Value
6 phases. Effectively allowing you 6 plays, with a kick taking place after 5 in most cases. It means play turns over fairly often, which makes for a more entertaining game. There are no rucks or mauls at the breakdown, only a player needs holding on the floor and then plays the ball between his or her legs back to team-mates. This makes for a quicker game and more opportunity to score more points.
There are also far less rules in League than Union, which has been said to make it more open to new fans to understand.
With no line-outs, rucks or mauls – as well as scrummages often being uncontested and over within seconds – it massively reduced the chance of serious injuries or concussion which is a big issue recently. Neck and back injuries are often caused by tacking in the air at line-outs, while piles of bodies at Rucks, Mauls and Scrums can often lead to plays being trodden on. With players in contact a lot less in League, there is less chance of eye-gouging or fighting which is also very good for younger generations to watch and learn from.
In Union, going into the final minutes – a team will often just create constant rucks to run down the clock, which for me is very poor for the spectators. In League, with only 6 phases permitted – it makes for a better game and takes away this problem.
Players have to be a lot fitter in Rugby League, as the game is constantly on the move. In Union, there are a lot of gaps in play with scrums, line-outs etc causing breaks for players to recover. There is also a case of players having specific roles in the team, so they are not always involved in play. Dual-code players such as England’s Chris Ashton, Australia’s Mat Richards and Ireland’s Tom Court have said as much, with the latter saying “Rugby Union is a complex game with certain closed skills like scrummaging and line-out lifting and rugby league requires a higher level of fitness to compete at the highest level”.
Both have 12 teams, but in Union there are only 22 games, followed by playoffs and then a final. In the Super League, there is something called ‘The Magic Weekend’ where everyone plays an additional game, drawn at random. It’s a big like Richard Scudamore’s ’39th Game’ idea for the English Premier League.
In League, there is a round robin for the top 8, with the top 4 going into the semi finals and then the Grand Final of two. Potentially 32 games. The bottom 4 teams in the league face off in the same system against the top 4 from the Championship, with a ‘£1m game’ taking place between the 4th and 5th placed teams to determine the last team to go up into the Super League for the next season.
Rugby League also had a licencing rule up until recently, where a team had to apply for a licence every 3 years to be in the Super League. This has recently been scrapped and replaced by the above system
With the difference in points structure, the top 4 in the Premiership were seperated by 8 points. In’Leagues’ Super League, at the end of the regular season the difference was 5 points. The Super League also has the Catalan Dragons, who originate from France. In the Premiership, Toulon are trying to weave their way into it, but thus far have failed. For me it makes it much more interesting!
Leeds, even though they won the title in the end – lost 6-7 games and were often taken close. Union seems to have a lot more one-sided contests, which for me can be boring. Entertainment value once more swinging in favour of Rugby League!
After considering all of that, I would have thought Rugby League would have been the higher scoring sport, however if you compare the regular season stats from 2015 seasons, you’d find the following:
Union – 12 teams, 6323 points scored at an average of 288 points per gameweek (22 rounds)
League – 12 teams, 6496 points scored at an average of 283 points per gameweek (23 rounds)
Both leagues had their one awful team – London Welsh gaining one points in 22 games in Union, while Wakefield Wildcats only got 6 (3 wins) in 23 games in Rugby League’s Super League.
Overall – both at club and international level, I believe Rugby League to be the more entertaining sport of the two, and as a new fan of it the easiest to understand and get into. It took me a few years to get my head round Union, and frustrated at the often boring-breakdowns, scrums and line-outs which usually resulted in a massive pile of bodies being told off by a very strict official.
For me, Rugby League is the better game!
With the 2016 season getting underway, I thought I would take a look at the stats, odds and information out there to see what value is lying about. It’s the first in a long time without Kevin Sinfield. who has switched codes to play for Yorkshire Carnegie in the Championship in Union. As a figure-head of the sport at both club and international level he will be sorely missed as the leading point scorer with over 3000 points!
Looking at the regular season – two stand out, and they are the Grand Final duo from last year – Leeds and Wigan. The latter are 9/4 favourites, while Leeds are 4/1 to finish top of the pile. With Sinfield gone, they will be relying on Man of Steel Zak Hardaker, Winger Ryan Hall and Danny McGuire, the leading try scorer in the Super League. Hall is 14/1 for top tryscorer, while at 33 McGuire might not have what he used to in terms of tryscoring ability, with his last 20+ regular season back in 2012.
Wigan meanwhile have signed the returning Sam Tomkins, who before his season in New Zealand had racked up 144 tries in 151 games for Wigan. They also have one of the favourites for the Tryscoring award in Dominic Manfredi, who has scored 27 in 29 career games and is only 22. Manfredi is 8/1 for that award, while Tomkins is certainly value @ 20/1!
Outside of the big two, there are a few teams floating around with potential to make the last four – Huddersfield had a good season last year, and led by top tryscorer Jermaine McGillvary they could have a shot. The big man is 14/1 for top tryscorer this season, while the Giants are 10/1 to finish top in the regular season.
The main battle is going to be Wigan vs Leeds. Tomkins vs Hall. However, even with a few more star players I think Leeds are the one to back as they have a better squad – Ferres is looking a good replacement for Sinfield, while with a wealth of experience in Hall. McGuire and Hardaker, as well as the likes of Ferres, Briscoe and Rob Burrow and you have a very strong all-round lineup.
Winner (Regular Season): Leeds @ 4/1
Top Tryscorer: Sam Tomkins @ 20/1
All prices were found on the William Hill rugby league betting page.
Thanks for reading!