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Rugby league positions

A rugby league football team consists of thirteen players on the field, with four substitutes on the bench. Players are divided into two general categories, forwards and backs.

Forwards are generally chosen for their size and strength. They are expected to run with the ball, to attack, and to make tackles. Forwards are required to improve the team's field position thus creating space and time for the backs. Backs are usually smaller and faster, though a big, fast player can be of advantage in the backs. Their roles require speed and ball-playing skills, rather than just strength, to take advantage of the field position gained by the forwards.

Names and numbering

The laws of the game recognise standardised numbering of positions. The starting side normally wear the numbers corresponding to their positions, only changing in the case of substitutions and position shifts during the game. In some competitions, such as Super League, players receive a squad number to use all season, no matter what positions they play in.

The positions and the numbers are defined by the game's laws as:[1][2]

  • 1 Fullback
  • 2 Right Wing
  • 3 Right Centre
  • 4 Left Centre
  • 5 Left Wing
  • 6 Stand Off / Five-eighth
  • 7 Scrum Half / Half back
  • 8 Prop
  • 9 Hooker
  • 10 Prop
  • 11 Second Row
  • 12 Second Row
  • 13 Loose Forward / Lock forward

The chart below shows these numbers along with the names most commonly used for their positions. The chart shows a typical formation during a scrum. Forwards are above the line and backs below.


There are seven backs, numbered 1 to 7. For these positions, the emphasis is on speed and ball-handling skills.[3] Generally, the "back line" consists of smaller players. A University of Technology, Sydney study of the movement patterns of a team's players in games during the 2010 NRL season compared forwards and backs. It found that the mean total distances covered and the average number of occurrences in high-intensity running (> 18 km/h) was higher for backs than forwards.[4]


Numbered 1, This position calls for all-round ball-playing ability and speed. The fullback is the last line of defence, standing behind the main line of defenders. Defensively, fullbacks must be able to chase and tackle any player who breaks the first line of defence, and must be able to catch kicks made by the attacking side. Their role in attack is usually as a support player[citation needed] but they can also come into the line to create an extra man in attack. Fullbacks that feature in their respective nations' rugby league halls of fame are France's Puig Aubert, Australia's Clive Churchill, Charles Fraser, Graeme Langlands and Graham Eadie, Great Britain/Wales' Jim Sullivan and New Zealand's Des White.


There are four threequarters, two wingers and two centres. Right wing (2), right centre (3), left centre (4) and left wing (5).


Also known as wingers. There are two wings in a rugby league team, numbered 2 and 5, positioned on each side of the field. They generally are among the fastest players in a team, with the speed to finish an attacking move. Players who hold records for most tries are usually wingers. Wingers that feature in their respective nations' rugby league halls of fame are Great Britain's Billy Batten, Australia's Brian Bevan, John Ferguson, Ken Irvine, Harold Horder and Brian Carlson, South African Tom van Vollenhoven, Great Britain's Billy Boston and Clive Sullivan and France's Raymond Contrastin


There are two centres, right and left, numbered 3 and 4 respectively. They are usually positioned outside the halves and inside the wings. They often need to be some of the fastest players on the pitch, usually providing the pass to the winger for him to finish off a move. Centres that feature in their respective nations' rugby league halls of fame are France's Max Rousié, England's Eric Ashton, Harold Wagstaff and Neil Fox, Wales' Gus Risman and Australia's Reg Gasnier, H "Dally" Messenger, Dave Brown, Jim Craig, Bob Fulton and Mal Meninga.


There are two halves. Positioned more centrally in attack, beside or behind the forwards, they direct the ball and are usually two of the team's main play-makers.

Stand Off / Five-eighth

Main article: Five-eighth

Numbered 6, the stand off or five-eighth is usually responsible for directing the ball to the rest of the team in attack (hence the nickname 'pivot') and is often a strong passer and runner.

Scrum Half / Half back

Numbered 7, the scrum half or half back is usually involved in directing his team's play and is likely to be a very good passer. The position is sometimes referred to as "first receiver" as half backs are often positioned so as to be the first to receive the football from the dummy-half after a play-the-ball. This makes them important decision-makers in attack. A good half-back knows the structure in attack and is one of the most reliable players in the team


A rugby league forward pack consists of players who tend to be bigger and stronger than backs, and generally rely more on their strength to fulfil their roles than play-making skills. The forwards also form and contest scrums, while the backs stay out of them.

The front row

The front row of the scrum includes the hooker with the two props on either side. All three may be referred to as front-rowers, but this term is most commonly just used for props.


Main article: Hooker (rugby league)

The hooker, numbered 9, packs in the middle of the scrum's front row. The position is named because of the traditional role of "hooking" the ball back with the foot when it enters the scrum. It is usually the hooker who plays in the dummy half position, receiving the ball from the play-the-ball and continuing his team's attack by passing the ball to a team-mate or by running himself.


There are two props, numbered 8 and 10, who pack into the front row of the scrum on either side of the hooker. Sometimes called 'bookends' in Australasia,[5][6][7][8][9] the props are often the two heaviest players on a team. Primarily, in attack their size and strength are used for running directly into the defensive line, as a kind of "battering ram" to simply gain metres.[10] Similarly, props are relied upon to defend against such running from the opposition's forwards. Prop forwards that feature in their respective nations' rugby league halls of fame are Australia's Arthur Beetson, Duncan Hall and Frank Burge, and New Zealand's Cliff Johnson.

The back row

Three forwards make up the back row of the scrum: Two second-rowers and a lock forward. All three may be referred to as back-rowers.


Second-row forwards are numbered 11 and 12, and make up the second row of the scrum. Second-row forwards support the front rowers while attacking. Second-row forwards that feature in their respective nations' rugby league halls of fame are New Zealand's Mark Graham, Australia's Norm Provan, George Treweek and Harry Bath, France's Jean Galia, Great Britain & England's Martin Hodgson.

Loose forward / Lock forward

Numbered 13, the loose forward or lock forward packs behind the two second-rows in the scrum. From an attacking scrum they will sometimes pick the ball up themselves and run or pass. Some notable professional loose forwards have also played at stand off, as the roles can be similar. Loose forwards that feature in their respective nations' rugby league halls of fame are Great Britain's Ellery Hanley, Australia's Ron Coote, John Raper and Wally Prigg, Great Britain's Vince Karalius and 'Rocky' Turner, and New Zealand's Charlie Seeling.


In addition to the thirteen on-field players, there are a maximum of four substitute players who start the game on their team's bench. Usually, they will be numbered 14, 15, 16 and 17. Each player normally keeps their number for the whole game, regardless of which position they play in. That is, if player number 14 replaces the fullback, he will wear the number 14 for the whole game, and not change shirts to display the number 1.

The rules governing if and when a replacement can be used have varied over the history of the game; currently they can be used for any reason by their coach - typically because of injury, to manage fatigue, for tactical reasons or due to poor performance. Leagues in different countries have had different rules on how many interchanges can be made in a game. Under the rules of Australia's National Rugby League ten interchanges are permitted per team in each game. Additionally, if a player is injured due to foul play, and an opposition player is put on "report", then his team is given a free interchange.


As well as their positions, players' roles may be referred to by a range of other terms.


Following a tackle, the defending team may position two players - known as markers - at the play-the-ball to stand, one behind the other. facing the tackled player and the attacking team's dummy-half.

Dummy half

The dummy half or acting half is the player who stands behind the play-the-ball and collects the ball, before passing, running or kicking the ball. The hooker has become almost synonymous with the dummy half role. However, any player of any position can play the role at any time and this often happens during a game, particularly when the hooker is the player tackled.

First receiver

The first receiver is the name given to the first player to receive the ball off the ruck, i.e. from the dummy-half.[11]

Second receiver

If the ball is passed immediately by the first receiver, then the player catching it is sometimes referred to as the second receiver.


A player who can play in a number of different positions is often referred to as a 'utility player', or 'utility forward' or 'utility back'.


Although any player can attempt his team's kicks at goal (penalty kicks or conversions), most teams will have specific players who will train extensively at kicking, and will often use only one player to take goal kicks during a game.


The captain is the on-field leader of a team and a point of contact between the referee and a team, and can be a player of any position. Some of the captain's responsibilities are stipulated in the laws.

Before a match, the two teams' captains toss a coin with the referee. The captain that wins the toss can decide to kick off or can choose which end of the field to defend. The captain that loses the toss then takes the other of the alternatives.[12]

When a 'specialist' player (hooker or scrum half, for example) persistently breaks the laws, the referee should inform the player's captain when issuing a final caution, so the captain may choose to move him to another position.[13]

The captains are also responsible for appointing a substitute should a referee suffer an injury during a game.[14]

See also


  1. ^ RFL (2013). "The International Laws of the Game and Notes on the Laws" (PDF). Rugby Football League. Retrieved 2013-06-01. 
  2. ^ ARL (2013). "The International Laws of the Game and Notes on the Laws" (PDF). Australian Rugby League. Retrieved 2013-06-01. 
  3. ^ Gott, Robert (2013). Football Codes: Rugby League. Australia: Macmillan Education. p. 12. 
  4. ^ Austin D, Kelly S. "Positional differences in professional rugby league match-play through the use of global positioning systems (GPS)". PubMed. University of Technology, Sydney. Retrieved 12 July 2012. 
  5. ^ Stats Insider (28 June 2012). "Revealed: the NRL's forward defensive heroes". Retrieved 8 July 2012. 
  6. ^ Dean, Ritchie (19 August 2012). "Manly prop Darcy Lussick among rare NRL players who also have a job". Herald Sun. Retrieved 30 October 2012. 
  7. ^ Alston, John (15 November 2008). "Tronc starts afresh". Townsville Bulletin. Retrieved 30 October 2012. 
  8. ^ Massoud, Josh (14 September 2007). "Muzza's Nevilles". Fox Sports. Retrieved 30 October 2012. 
  9. ^ Clarkson, Alan (15 September 1986). "This Kenny isn't human". Retrieved 30 October 2012. 
  10. ^ Lane, Daniel (15 May 2011). "Why the ball-playing behemoth has become passe". The Sydney Morning Herald. Retrieved 15 May 2011. 
  11. ^ Spillane, Debbie (1993-04-17). "No face balls in red zone". The Sun-Herald (Fairfax Digital). p. 54. Retrieved 2009-10-06. 
  12. ^ RLIF (2004). "The International Laws of the Game and Notes on the Laws p.11" (PDF). Rugby League International Federation. Retrieved 2008-07-30. 
  13. ^ RLIF (2004). "The International Laws of the Game and Notes on the Laws, p.38, 42" (PDF). Rugby League International Federation. Retrieved 2008-07-30. 
  14. ^ RLIF (2004). "The International Laws of the Game and Notes on the Laws p.41" (PDF). Rugby League International Federation. Retrieved 2008-07-30.