rugby league

rugby league
   Rugby League is a northern sport. It was first organized at the George Hotel, Huddersfield in 1895 as a breakaway from rugby union. An attempt to introduce it into southern England twenty years ago failed, though it is popular in Australia and New Zealand and touring sides from these countries come to Britain. There is major rivalry between Lancashire (especially Wigan and St Helens) and Yorkshire (Castleford/Halifax) clubs, which is heightened when the Challenge Cup takes place each year at Wembley. The League has been dominated since 1986 by Wigan.
   There are a number of significant differences between rugby league and rugby union. League has thirteen as opposed to union’s fifteen players on each side. There are no lineouts or loose scrums; each time there is a tackle, the player in possession must back heel the ball to a team mate. This makes possession (rather like American football, where an interception is a major upset) much more important in rugby league than in rugby union. Again like the US game, rugby league has a series of plays (four), although it does not define the amount of ground that must be advanced; a tenyard gain does not allow the process to start again. After these four plays, the other side gains possession, usually through a kick ahead. Rugby union, the amateur game, has always been played by the middle classes, but rugby league has working-class roots and remains working class in all its aspects. Its tough, hard-drinking ethos was captured in David Storey’s novel This Sporting Life, which was made into a successful film by Lindsay Anderson (1963) starring Richard Harris and Rachel Roberts. Players have always been paid (one reason for the original breakaway was that workingclass players, who had to take time off to play, were tired of being looked down on for expecting compensation) and has attracted some players from rugby union, such as the Welsh international Jonathan Davis. One result of the rivalry between league and union for such players is the ‘baptism of fire’ they have had to endure when making the transition. They are always seen as ‘soft’ entrants to a hard sport, and are dished out extra tough treatment until they prove themselves. A feature of rugby league has been the recruitment of players from Australia and New Zealand. Such ‘exotic’ immigrants into an economically poor northern environment have integrated well, through working-class solidarity, according to some commentators.
   Further reading
    Collins, T. (1998) Rugby’s Great Split: Class, Culture and the Origins of Rugby League Football, London: Frank Cass.
    Gate, R. (1986) Gone North: Welshmen in Rugby League, Sowerby Bridge: Gate.

Encyclopedia of contemporary British culture . . 2014.

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