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The National Rugby League (NRL) is the top league of professional rugby league clubs in Australasia. Run by the Australian Rugby League Commission, the NRL's main competition is known as the Telstra Premiership due to sponsorship from Telstra Corporation and is contested by sixteen teams, fifteen of which are based in Australia with one based in New Zealand. It is regarded as the world's elite rugby league championship and, per season, is the most viewed and attended rugby league club competition in the world.
The National Rugby League is Australia's top-level domestic rugby-league club competition. It contains clubs from the original Sydney club Rugby League competition, which had been running continuously since 1908. The NRL formed in the aftermath of the 1990s' Super League war as a joint partnership between the Australian governing body, the Australian Rugby League (ARL) and media giant News Corporation-controlled Super League, after both organisations ran premierships parallel to each other in 1997. This partnership was dissolved in February 2012, with control of the NRL going to the independently formed Australian Rugby League Commission.
NRL matches are played in Australia and New Zealand from autumn until spring. The season culminates in the premiership-deciding game, the NRL Grand Final, traditionally one of Australia's most popular sporting events and one of the world's largest attended sporting championship games. In addition, the NRL premiers also play in the World Club Challenge, a pre-season match against the champions of the European Super League competition. The reigning premiers are the North Queensland Cowboys.
- 1 History
- 1.1 Origin and establishment
- 1.2 1998–2002: Rationalisation
- 1.3 2003–2010: Record popularity, expansion and centenary
- 1.4 2010–present: Establishment of the ARLC
- 2 Teams
- 2.1 Current clubs
- 2.2 Foundation clubs
- 2.3 Famous NRL rivalries
- 2.4 NRL Venues – Traditional and Non Traditional
- 3 Season structure
- 3.1 Pre-season
- 3.2 Premiership season
- 3.3 Representative season
- 3.4 Finals series
- 4 Premiership winners
- 4.1 Winners
- 4.2 Runners-up
- 4.3 Minor Premiership Winners
- 5 Players
- 5.1 Demographics
- 5.2 Salary cap
- 6 Trophies, honours and awards
- 6.1 Provan-Summons trophy
- 6.2 J. J. Giltinan Shield
- 6.3 Clive Churchill medal
- 6.4 Dally M awards
- 6.5 The Immortals
- 7 Audience
- 7.1 NRL-related television programs
- 7.2 Theme songs
- 7.3 Video games
- 8 Records
- 8.1 Team
- 8.2 Individual
- 9 Match officials
- 10 Sponsorship
- 11 See also
- 12 References
- 13 External links
Origin and establishment
The New South Wales Rugby League (NSWRL) ran the major rugby league competition of New South Wales from its inception in 1908 until 1994. Following the introduction of a new format for interstate rugby league, the State of Origin series in 1980, the decade of the 1980s brought about expansion of the NSWRL premiership, with the introduction of commercial sponsorship, the Winfield Cup, and the addition of non-Sydney-based teams, Canberra and Illawarra in 1982. Although this move brought more interest in the competition statewide in New South Wales, it would spell the beginning of the demise of some of the traditional Sydney-based clubs as well as the Brisbane Rugby League premiership. Following the 1983 season, foundation club Newtown Jets were ultimately forced to withdraw from the competition because of financial difficulties.
Further expansion of the league followed in 1988, with another three teams based outside Sydney introduced to the competition; the Newcastle Knights and the first two Queensland teams, the Brisbane Broncos and Gold Coast-Tweed Giants. The Brisbane and Newcastle sides proved to be successful and popular and paved the way towards a push for a truly national competition. This was undertaken in 1995 with control of the premiership passing from the NSWRFL to the Australian Rugby League (ARL), who invited four more teams from outside NSW to participate in 1995.
The prospect of a truly national rugby league competition in addition to the introduction of pay television in Australia attracted the attention of global media organisation, News Corporation, and it followed that professional rugby league was shaken to its very foundations in the mid-1990s with the advent of the Super League war. Initially a conflict over broadcasting rights, it became a dispute as to who controlled the sport and which traditional clubs would survive into the new national era, as News Limited formed their own Super League and admitted some former ARL clubs, poaching players from the original ARL league with high salaries. With twenty-two teams of highly varying quality playing in two competitions that year, crowd attendances and corporate sponsorships were spread very thinly, and many teams found themselves in financial difficulty. The ARL undertook moves to invite the traditional clubs that had moved to the Super League competition back into a re-unified competition. Following a period of negotiation with News Corporation, on 23 September 1997 the ARL announced that it was forming a new company to conduct the competition in 1998. On 7 October News' Manaaki Ranginui announced that he was confident that there would be a single competition in 1998. On 19 December, representatives of clubs affiliated with the Australian Rugby League gathered at the Sydney Football Stadium to decide whether to accept News Limited's offer of a settlement – eventually voting in favour by 36 votes to 4. As a result, in the following months the National Rugby League, jointly owned by the ARL and News Limited, was formed.
It was announced that the inaugural National Rugby League (NRL) season of 1998 would have 20 teams competing, 19 remaining Super League and ARL teams plus the Melbourne Storm, who were created by Super League for their 1998 season. Clubs on both sides of the war were shut down. Super League decided to close the Hunter Mariners and the financially ruined Perth Reds, who were $10 million in debt at the end of 1997, while the ARL decided to close down the South Queensland Crushers, who were also in severe financial trouble. Additionally, at the end of 1998 the NRL decided to close down former Super League club, the Adelaide Rams and former ARL club, the Gold Coast Chargers, despite the Gold Coast franchise being one of the few clubs to make a profit during the Super League war.
One condition of the peace agreement between the ARL and News Limited was that there would be a 14 team competition in 2000. The 20 clubs that played in 1998 would be assessed on various items such as sponsorship, crowds, on-field success and the like. It was also announced that clubs that merged would receive a large sum of money, as well as a guaranteed position in the 2000 NRL Competition. The St. George Dragons and the Illawarra Steelers were the first clubs to take up the offer, forming the joint-venture St. George Illawarra Dragons at the end of the 1998 season.
The 1999 NRL Grand Final brought about a new official world record attendance for a game of rugby league. 107,999 spectators saw the Melbourne Storm defeat the newly created St. George Illawarra Dragons in the decider at Stadium Australia.
Balmain and Western Suburbs formed the joint-venture club, the Wests Tigers at the end of 1999, while North Sydney and Manly-Warringah created the ill-fated Northern Eagles. As part of another image makeover, a number of teams also released new club logos. The most notable of these was the Sydney Roosters, dropping the City section of their name for the 2000 season and beyond. Souths were controversially axed from the competition at the end of 1999 for failing to meet the criteria.
This move was highly controversial and on 12 November 2000 about 80,000 marched in protest at their continued exclusion. South Sydney challenged the decision in the Federal Court claiming that the NRL agreement was exclusionary, intended to unfairly exclude South Sydney, and breached the Trade Practices Act. Justice Paul Finn ruled that the agreement did not specifically exclude any club and dismissed the Rabbitohs' claims for re-instatement into the national competition. Souths appealed this decision and were re-admitted into the competition in 2002.
The Auckland Warriors experienced much financial hardship in the early part of the decade, ultimately collapsing before being resurrected as the New Zealand Warriors for the 2001 season. They made the Grand Final in 2002.
In 2001, Australia's largest telecommunications provider Telstra became naming rights sponsor of the NRL, with the competition's name becoming the NRL Telstra Premiership, while in 2002 David Gallop took over the CEO role from David Moffett, and the competition has become more and more popular each season.
In 2001 the NRL Grand Final started to be played on Sunday nights, a shift from the traditional Sunday afternoon slot used for over a decade prior.
2003–2010: Record popularity, expansion and centenary
The 2003 season was widely regarded as the most successful since the beginning of the National Rugby League in 1998. The Penrith Panthers rose from the bottom of the table to win the Premiership, while the Broncos returned to Suncorp Stadium mid-year. Season 2004 proved even more successful than 2003, with the North Queensland Cowboys going from 11th position in 2003 to 3rd in 2004, narrowly missing out on a maiden Grand Final berth.
Crowd average records were broken in 2003, 2004 and 2005. In 2005, the NRL reached record levels of popularity for its competition. Total crowds for the competition season almost reached the figures for the last year of the competition conducted by the ARL competition of 1995, prior to the Super League war. The average attendance record remained until 2010. From 2004 to 2005, there was a 39% increase in sponsorship, a 41% increase in merchandise royalties, and a 12% increase in playing participation. In 2005, Business Review Weekly ranked the NRL 497 in revenue of Australian private companies, with revenue of A$66.1m (+7%) with 35 employees. In 2004, Canterbury-Bankstown put a year of turmoil and disgrace at the aftermath of the alleged rape scandal to hold aloft the NRL trophy and give the Bulldogs their first premiership since 1995. In 2005, a record national audience of 4.1 million tuned in to watch the grand final between the Wests Tigers and the North Queensland Cowboys.
The 2006 NRL Grand Final was won by the Brisbane Broncos over the Melbourne Storm, 15–8. The matchup was a significant milestone in the history of the NRL, as two interstate teams (teams not from New South Wales, the "heartland" of the NRL) contested the grand final for the first time. In the city of Melbourne, whose team was playing in their second grand final, the game's television ratings were higher than in Sydney where the game was played. Crowds were down on 2005, however were better than any other year prior to that.
In its tenth season the NRL returned to having a club based on the Gold Coast, Queensland with the inclusion of the Gold Coast Titans. The Titans were the first professional sporting team to occupy the Gold Coast since 1998, when the Gold Coast Chargers were one of the teams removed during the NRL's rationalisation process between the end of the Super League war and the 2000 season.
The 2007 season saw the return of Monday Night Football and the inclusion of two Friday night games. Both of which turned out to be ratings successes. Another change from the previous seasons was a reduction in the number of byes per team in the season. With an odd number of teams contesting between 2002 and 2006, the draw meant that at least one team would have to have a bye each weekend. With the inclusion of the 16th team for the 2007 season, the National Rugby League had the option of reverting to back to the system used between 2000 and 2001 where every team played each round. That system was not used however, with teams were given just a single bye during the year, grouped in periods that will assist clubs around representative fixtures.
The opening round saw two matches at Brisbane's Suncorp Stadium, the first featuring reigning champions Brisbane against fellow Queensland side North Queensland, while the second match featured the new club, the Gold Coast playing St George Illawarra. The weather during the middle of the season was less than ideal, with cyclonic conditions severely affecting many NRL games played in Sydney and Newcastle.
The 2007 finals series saw the South Sydney Rabbitohs return to finals football for the first time in decades. The season culminated on 30 September 2007, with the Grand Final contested between Manly and Melbourne. Melbourne won the title 34–8 (later stripped) and the Grand Final achieved the honour of being the most watched television show in Australia in 2007.
Throughout 2008, the NRL celebrated 100 years since rugby league was introduced into Australia, with several initiatives to recognise the important milestone, including an extensive marketing campaign called the 'Centenary of Rugby League'. The competition began in March, with a special Heritage round held in mid-April, coinciding with the first round of competition played in 1908.
At a Gala event on 17 April 2008 the Team of the Century was announced, being:
- Full-back: Clive Churchill
- Wingers: Ken Irvine, Brian Bevan
- Centres: Reg Gasnier, Mal Meninga
- Five-eighth: Wally Lewis
- Half-back: Andrew Johns
- Lock: John Raper
- Second Row: Norm Provan, Ron Coote
- Props: Arthur Beetson, Duncan Hall
- Hooker: Noel Kelly
- Reserves: Graeme Langlands, Dally Messenger, Bob Fulton, Frank Burge
- Coach: Jack Gibson.
For the second year in a row, the Grand Final was played between the Melbourne Storm and the Manly Warringah Sea Eagles, in the NRL's first ever twilight decider. The Sea Eagles took out the premiership game 40–0, setting the record for the highest winning margin in a Grand Final match (although the club formerly known as St George Dragons were beaten 38–0 in 1975 and using the modern point scale of 4-point tries, this would amount to 44–0.) Furthermore, it was the first time a team had been kept scoreless in a Grand Final since 1978.
The 2009 season marked the beginning of the second century of rugby league in Australia. The Grand Final that year was played between the Parramatta Eels and once again Melbourne Storm. Melbourne defeated Parramatta 23 – 16 to win the premiership (later stripped) to make it two premierships out of the last four grand finals for the Storm.
In 2010 the Inaugural All Stars Match was held on 13 February, in conjunction with the Sorry Day reconciliation anniversary to promote rugby league's long association and involvement with the Aboriginal community. The first match saw the Indigenous All Stars beat the NRL All Stars 16–12. The success of this event has seen it become a recurring fixture on the rugby league calendar with Queensland awarded the hosting rights for the next three years.
The 29th State of Origin series was also played featuring the world's first live free-to-air 3D TV broadcast. Queensland later made further history by winning an unprecedented fifth series in a row, and winning the 2010 series by a scoreline of 3–0, their first Origin whitewash since 1995.
In 2010 the NRL set a record total season average attendance of 17,367 per game and a record total season aggregate attendance of 3,490,778.
During the 2010 finals series, the second qualifying match between the Wests Tigers and Sydney Roosters became the first McIntyre System final to go into extra time, with the One Hundred Minute Epic described in media circles as one of the greatest of the modern era.
The 2010 Grand Final was played between the St George Illawarra Dragons and the Sydney Roosters. The Dragons won 32–8. This was the first premiership won by the club in its eleven-year existence.
2010–present: Establishment of the ARLC
After several years of preparation and build up, on 14 December 2010 the Australian Rugby League and News Corporation agreed upon a constitutional framework paving the way for the establishment of a new and independent commission to govern the sport in Australia. The negotiations of such a framework became drawn out over establishing details, primarily of sponsorship, media rights, funding of state bodies, funding of the Melbourne Storm, debate over News Ltd private ownership of clubs, and also of individual appointments to the new body.
On 10 February 2012, the independent commission, known as the Australian Rugby League Commission assumed control of all levels of the game, replacing former state based boards and assuming full control of the NRL from the NRL partnership (comprising the previous ARL board and News Limited).
The NRL consists of sixteen clubs: eight clubs based within Greater Sydney, two in regional New South Wales, three in Queensland and one each in Victoria, the Australian Capital Territory and New Zealand. The league operates on a single group system, with no divisions or conferences and no relegation and promotion from other leagues. St. George Illawarra Dragons and Wests Tigers have two locations indicated due to more than one ground being occupied by both teams.
A total of twenty-three clubs have played in the National Rugby League since its first season in 1998. For a list of all clubs past and present see List of teams in the NSWRL/ARL/SL/NRL. For a complete list of all teams no longer competing in the NRL see here
Eleven clubs have been members of the National Rugby League for every season since its inception in 1998. This group includes Brisbane, Canberra, Canterbury-Bankstown, Cronulla, Melbourne, New Zealand, Newcastle, North Queensland, Parramatta, Penrith and Roosters.
||Brisbane Broncos||1988||Brisbane, Queensland||Suncorp Stadium||52,500||6 (2006)|
||Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs||1934||Canterbury, New South Wales||Belmore Sports Ground
||Canberra Raiders||1981||Canberra, Australian Capital Territory||Canberra Stadium||25,000||3 (1994)|
||Cronulla-Sutherland Sharks||1967||Cronulla, New South Wales||Remondis Stadium||22,500||0 (N/A)|
||Gold Coast Titans||2007||Gold Coast, Queensland||Cbus Super Stadium||27,400||0 (N/A)|
||Manly-Warringah Sea Eagles||1947||Manly, New South Wales||Brookvale Oval||23,000||8 (2011)|
||Melbourne Storm||1997||Melbourne, Victoria||AAMI Park||30,050||2 (2012)|
||Newcastle Knights||1988||Newcastle, New South Wales||Hunter Stadium||33,000||2 (2001)|
||New Zealand Warriors||1995||Auckland, New Zealand||Mount Smart Stadium||30,000||0 (N/A)|
||North Queensland Cowboys||1995||Townsville, Queensland||1300SMILES Stadium||26,500||1 (2015)|
||Parramatta Eels||1947||Parramatta, New South Wales||Pirtek Stadium
||Penrith Panthers||1967||Penrith, New South Wales||Penrith Stadium||22,500||2 (2003)|
||South Sydney Rabbitohs||1908||Sydney, New South Wales||Allianz Stadium||45,500||21 (2014)|
||St George Illawarra Dragons||1998||Sydney, New South Wales||WIN Stadium
WIN Jubilee Oval
||Sydney Roosters||1908||Sydney, New South Wales||Allianz Stadium||45,500||13 (2013)|
||Wests Tigers||1999||Sydney, New South Wales||Campbelltown Stadium
*capacity for rugby league games may differ from official stadium capacity.
Two of the teams currently in the NRL were founded in 1908, the first year of rugby league competition in Australia: the Sydney Roosters (founded as 'Eastern Suburbs') and South Sydney Rabbitohs. Foundation clubs Western Suburbs Magpies and Balmain Tigers have been competing as a merged entity, the Wests Tigers since the 2000 NRL season.
Famous NRL rivalries
NRL Venues – Traditional and Non Traditional
Since 1998 NRL clubs have played both trial matches and premiership season games in areas that do not have representation in the NRL in both Australia and New Zealand. Non-traditional venues that have been used include Bluetongue Stadium, Westpac Stadium, Barlow Park, TIO Stadium, nib Stadium, Stadium Mackay and Eden Park in Auckland.
The NRL pre season typically begins in February and ends in early March. Clubs generally use this time to organise trial matches to test playing combinations however some clubs play for trophies. Easts and Wests play for the Foundation Cup while South Sydney and St George Illawarra play for the Charity Shield. The trials are typically played in cities and towns that normally don't host NRL matches. In the past a World Seven's rugby league football tournament has been hosted, however this was scrapped due to injury concerns.
All Stars match
Beginning in 2010 the All Stars match has become a major fixture in the NRL preseason. The teams are chosen via public voting and the two sides play for the Arthur Beetson Trophy.
In 2014 the inaugural rugby league Nine's tournament took place, featuring all sixteen NRL clubs in Auckland, New Zealand. This two day tournament has now become a regular fixture, taking place at the end of January each year.
World Club Series
The World Club Series is an annual tournament played between the champion clubs of the National Rugby League and the EuropeanSuper League competitions and four invited teams. Until season 2014, it was known as the World Club challenge, being only a single match between the champions however in 2015 it was expanded to include four invited teams who played two exhibition games before the final. The first match of its kind was played in 1976 and it was then played sporadically throughout the late 80s and 90s including a one off Super League tournament in 1997, before becoming a regular annual pre-season fixture since 2000. To date only English and Australian sides have competed in the World Club Challenge.
As rugby league is a winter sport in Australasia, the NRL premiership season usually begins in early March following a brief series of trial matches. During each pre-season trial match series, the Charity Shield is played for between the Rabbitohs and Dragons. A round of regular season premiership games is then played every weekend for twenty-six weeks, usually until the end of September. In most rounds, two matches are played on Friday night, three on Saturday night, two on Sunday afternoon and one on Monday night. Special themed weeks include Heritage Round, Women in League Round and Rivalry Round. Separate trophies between rival teams are also presented throughout the season, such as the Ron Coote Cup between the Roosters and Rabbitohs, Jack Gibson Cup between Parramatta and the Roosters, the 1989 League Legends Cup between the Tigers and Raiders,the Bandage Bear Cup between the Bulldogs and Eels and the Mal Reilly Cup between Newcastle and Manly-Warringah.
Teams receive two competition points for a win, and one point for a draw. The bye also receives two points; a loss, no points. Teams on the ladder are ranked by competition points, then match points differential (for and against) and points percentage are used to separate teams with equal competition points. At the end of the regular season, the club which is ranked highest on the ladder is declared minor premiers.
As well as playing for their club in the premiership, NRL players are regularly selected to play in a number of representative competitions that are conducted throughout each season. The representative season is generally considered to be a period of rugby league that runs from about the middle of April until the middle of July each year. The fixtures take into account the following games:
- The annual Anzac Test between Australia and New Zealand (Early to mid April)
- The New South Wales City vs Country Origin match (Early to Mid April, same weekend as the Anzac Test)
- The three match State of Origin series (June – July)
Other representative matches that can occur later in the year are:
- The Prime Minister's XIII match in Papua New Guinea
- The Four Nations tournament – Australia, New Zealand and England plus another qualifier
- The quadrennial World Cup tournament
The eight highest placed teams at the end of the regular season compete in the finals series. The system consists of a number of games between the top eight teams over four weeks in August and September, until only two teams remain. These two teams then contest the Grand Final, which is usually played on the first Sunday of October. From 1998 to 2011, the NRL utilised the McIntyre Final Eight System but with the introduction of the ARLC, it was decided to change to the current format which was perceived as fairer for teams finishing in the Top 4.
The NRL Grand Final, which determines the season's premiers, is one of Australia's major sporting events and is one of the largest attended club championship events in the world. Since 1999 it has been contested at Sydney's Stadium Australia, which was the primary athletics venue for the 2000 Olympic Games. The first year it was held at Stadium Australia, the NRL Grand Final broke the record for attendance at an Australian rugby league game, with 107,999 people attending.
The Grand Final had traditionally been played on Sunday afternoons, shifting to 8 pm in 2001, then to 7 pm thereafter. However, from 2008, a compromise was reached between official broadcaster Nine Network's preferred starting time and the afternoon starting time of 3 pm, with the Grand Final beginning at 5 pm AEST.
Each year the Grand Final Breakfast, a function that is attended by both teams, hundreds of guests and screened live on Australian television is held during the week before the game.
The game itself is usually preceded by an opening ceremony featuring entertainment and the singing of the national anthem by well-known Australasian and international musical acts. After the pre-game entertainment it is traditional for the NRL trophy to be delivered to the field by an Australian Army helicopter shortly before kick off.
At the conclusion of the Grand Final there is a presentation ceremony where the winning team are awarded premiership rings. The player judged to be the man-of-the-match by the Australian national team selectors is awarded the prestigious Clive Churchill Medal and the Prime Minister of Australia is typically on-hand to hand the trophy to the winning captain.
In 2010 the Government of New South Wales secured the grand final for Stadium Australia until 2022 for $45 million.
Note – Melbourne Storm were stripped of their 2007, 2009 premiership titles and their 2006, 2007, 2008 minor premiership titles due to their breach of the salary cap. The titles were withheld by the NRL rather than awarding them to the runners up.
|Season||Grand Finals||Minor Premiership|
|1998||Brisbane Broncos||38 – 12||Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs||Brisbane Broncos (37 pts)|
|1999||Melbourne Storm||20 – 18||St George Illawarra Dragons||Cronulla-Sutherland Sharks (40 pts)|
|2000||Brisbane Broncos||14 – 6||Sydney Roosters||Brisbane Broncos (38 pts)|
|2001||Newcastle Knights||30 – 24||Parramatta Eels||Parramatta Eels (42 pts)|
|2002||Sydney Roosters||30 – 8||New Zealand Warriors||New Zealand Warriors (38 pts)|
|2003||Penrith Panthers||18 – 6||Sydney Roosters||Penrith Panthers (40 pts)|
|2004||Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs||16 – 13||Sydney Roosters||Sydney Roosters (42 pts)|
|2005||Wests Tigers||30 – 16||North Queensland Cowboys||Parramatta Eels (36 pts)|
|2006||Brisbane Broncos||15 – 8||Melbourne Storm||Melbourne Storm (44 pts) *stripped|
|2007||Melbourne Storm *stripped||34 – 8||Manly Warringah Sea Eagles||Melbourne Storm (44 pts) *stripped|
|2008||Manly Warringah Sea Eagles||40 – 0||Melbourne Storm||Melbourne Storm (38 pts) *stripped|
|2009||Melbourne Storm *stripped||23 – 16||Parramatta Eels||St George Illawarra Dragons (38 pts)|
|2010||St George Illawarra Dragons||32 – 8||Sydney Roosters||St George Illawarra Dragons (38 pts)|
|2011||Manly Warringah Sea Eagles||24 – 10||New Zealand Warriors||Melbourne Storm (42 pts)|
|2012||Melbourne Storm||14 – 4||Canterbury Bankstown Bulldogs||Canterbury Bankstown Bulldogs (40 pts)|
|2013||Sydney Roosters||26 – 18||Manly Warringah Sea Eagles||Sydney Roosters (40 pts)|
|2014||South Sydney Rabbitohs||30 – 6||Canterbury Bankstown Bulldogs||Sydney Roosters (36 pts)|
|2015||North Queensland Cowboys||17 – 16||Brisbane Broncos||Sydney Roosters (40 pts)|
||3||1998, 2000, 2006|
||4||2000, 2003, 2004, 2010|
||3||1998, 2012, 2014|
- NRL runners-up only
Minor Premiership Winners
||4||2004, 2013, 2014, 2015|
- NRL minor winners only
National Rugby League footballers are among Australasia's most famous athletes, commanding multimillion-dollar playing contracts and sponsorship deals. Each club in the NRL has a "top squad" of twenty-five players, who are signed under a salary cap. For the most part, the players who play in NRL matches are sourced from these top squads. During a season the need may arise for a club to use players outside these 25, in which case players are usually sourced from the club's corresponding NRL Under 20's side or a feeder club in the New South Wales Cup or Queensland Cup.
In the recent years the influence of Polynesian players on the NRL has grown, with figures from the 2011 season showing that 35% of NRL players and over 45% of NRL Under 20's players are of Polynesian background. This increase in Polynesian players has been blamed for the decline of Indigenous players, dropping from 21% in the 1990s to 11% for the 2009 season.
The first Indigenous Australian to play in the NSWRL/NRL was New South Wales Rugby League premiership player George Green, who debuted in 1909. Since that time, many high profile indigenous athletes have played in the competition, including Arthur Beetson (the first Aborigine to captain an Australian national team in any sport) and current Test match representatives Johnathan Thurston and Greg Inglis.
At the elite level of the game, Indigenous Australians represented 35% of the roster for the Kangaroos, 21% of players at the 2012 State of Origin series, 12% of NRL players and a further 8% of the NRL Under 20s players. By way of comparison, 2.3% of the Australian population identified themselves as Indigenous in the 2006 Australian census.
To celebrate the strong Indigenous ties to the game, the NRL holds a preseason All Stars game, featuring a team made up of Indigenous Australians playing a publicly voted team consisting of the non-Indigenous players, and an Indigenous Leadership Group has formed, consisting of the game's elite Indigenous players. The Leadership Group hosts regular multi-day camps where all Indigenous NRL players are invited to learn more about Indigenous culture.
Both the All Stars match and the Leadership Group were ideas pioneered by former player Preston Campbell, with the All Stars man of the match receiving the Preston Campbell medal.
A salary cap was introduced to the NSWRL in 1990 to even the playing field of teams in the Winfield Cup. As of 2013 the club grant is $7.1 million which covers the salary cap of $5.85 million and a minimum wage for $80,000 for the top twenty-five players at each club. The salary cap will increase to $6.3 million in 2014, $6.55 million in 2015, $6.8 million by 2016 and $7 million in 2017.
The cap is actively policed and penalties for clubs found to have breached the NRL salary cap regulations include fines of lesser of half the amount involved or $500,000 and/or deduction of premiership points. For example, six clubs were fined for minor infractions in 2003. These infractions are usually technical in nature, and can sometimes be affected by third-party factors such as loss of sponsorship revenue affecting an allowance. During the 2007 season the NRL implemented ways of creating a fair and more beneficial cap for players and clubs.
In 2010, following the Melbourne Storm salary cap scandal, the NRL introduced requirements for players and their agents to sign statutory declarations pledging their contracts comply with salary cap regulations, where previously only club chairmen and chief executives did so for biannual salary cap audits.
Major breaches of the cap
In 2002, the Bulldogs were fined the maximum of $500,000 and deducted all 37 premiership points received during the season after it was found that they had committed serious and systematic breaches of the salary cap totalling $2.13 million over the past three years, including $750,000 in 2001 and $920,000 in 2002; these were described by NRL chief executive David Gallop as "exceptional in both its size and its deliberate and ongoing nature". The points penalty meant that the club won the 2002 wooden spoon (Souths would have finished last if not for the breaches), and as the club had been leading the competition table prior to the imposition of the penalties, this was a shattering outcome for the club and its fans. Two senior club officials were jailed for fraud as a result of these breaches.
In 2005, the New Zealand Warriors were fined $430,000 and were ordered to start the 2006 season with a four premiership point deficit and cut their payroll by $450,000 after club officials revealed that their former management had exceeded the salary cap by $1.1 million over the last two years. The points penalty meant that the Warriors missed a finals berth in 2006.
On 22 April 2010, the Melbourne Storm were stripped of the 2007 and 2009 premierships, 2006–2008 minor premierships and the 2010 World Club Challenge trophy, fined a record $1.689 million ($1.1 million in NRL prize money which will be equally distributed between the remaining 15 clubs, $89,000 in prize money from the World Club Challenge which will be distributed to the Leeds Rhinos, and the maximum of $500,000 for breaching the salary cap regulations), ordered to cut their payroll by $1.0125 million, deducted all eight premiership points received during the season and barred from receiving premiership points for the remainder of the season after Storm officials revealed that the club had committed serious and systematic breaches of the salary cap regulations between 2006 and 2010 by running a well-organized dual contract and bookkeeping system that concealed a total of $3.78 million in payments made to players outside of the salary cap from the NRL, including $303,000 in 2006, $459,000 in 2007, $957,000 in 2008, $1.021 million in 2009 and $1.04 million in 2010. The points penalty meant that the club won the 2010 wooden spoon (North Queensland would have finished last if not for the breaches). Legal action by the former directors of the club against the penalties collapsed, and the matter has been referred to ASIC, the Australian Tax Office, the Victorian State Revenue Office, and the Victoria Police. The club's former CEO Brian Waldron and financial officers Matt Hanson, Paul Gregory and Cameron Vale are all facing lifetime suspensions. Players were still eligible for Test and/or State of Origin selection and other individual awards including the Clive Churchill Medallists from 2007 and 2009 will still continue to be recognised.
Judiciary and Integrity Unit
The NRL judiciary is made up of former players who convene in three-man panels to rule on on-field incidents. The judiciary is currently chaired by Wollongong district court judge Paul Conlon and made up of former players Mal Cochrane, Michael Buettner, Bradley Clyde, Sean Garlick, Don McKinnon and Bob Lindner.
An integrity Unit was formed on 7 February 2013 and is headed by former Federal Court judge Tony Whitlam.
Trophies, honours and awards
The Provan-Summons trophy is the NRL's main prize, awarded to the team that wins the premiership. Its sculptured design is similar to the Winfield Cup trophy, which was introduced for the 1982 NSWRFL season. It is a three-dimensional cast of a famous photo called The Gladiators, which depicts a mud-soaked Norm Provan of St. George and Arthur Summons of Western Suburbs embracing after the 1963 NSWRFL season's Grand Final. It was not officially named the Provan-Summons Trophy until 2013, the 50th anniversary of the 1963 Grand Final. The trophy is awarded following each grand final to the captain of the winning club.
Each player from the premiership winning side are also awarded Premiership Rings.
J. J. Giltinan Shield
Created in 1951, the J. J. Giltinan Shield is awarded to the club ranked highest on the NRL ladder after the premiership season concludes. Typically this team is known as the minor premiers.
Clive Churchill medal
The Clive Churchill Medal is awarded to the most outstanding player in a grand final. It is named after former Australian fullback Clive Churchill.
Dally M awards
The Dally M Medal is the highlight of the Dally M Awards and was named after Henry Herbert 'Dally' Messenger, who was instrumental in the establishment of rugby league football in Australia. The awards were introduced in 1980 by News Limited. The Dally M has been the official player-of-the-year award, and the highest individual honour in Australian rugby league, since the unification of the game in 1998. Before 1998 the highest award was the Rothmans Medal.
The medal is awarded, usually by the Australian Prime Minister, at the annual Dally M Awards night. As well as honouring the best and fairest player of the year, the Dally M awards recognise the premier player in each position, the best coach and the most outstanding rookie of the season.
The Immortals are eight players named by the sport's major Australian magazine Rugby League Week as the nation's greatest ever.
Established in 1981, the group consists of eight former Test captains: Arthur Beetson, Clive Churchill, Bob Fulton, Reg Gasnier, Graeme Langlands, Wally Lewis, Johnny Raper and Andrew Johns.
The NRL provides six of the top seven and 78 of the top 100 programs on Australian subscription television. In 2010 it was the sport with highest total cumulative audience on Australian television, with an aggregate audience of 120.6 million viewers.
Within Australia all matches are broadcast on the Nine Network and on FOX Sports. In New Zealand all matches, including representative fixtures such as the All Stars Match and the State of Origin series, are shown live on Sky Sport.
The NRL is available to the rest of the world via either local television networks or online through the official Livestream channel. In particular it is broadcast on Premier Sports in the United Kingdom, Fox Sports 2 and Fox Soccer Plus in the United States, Sportsnet in Canada and BeIN Sport in France. For a full list of official international broadcasters, visit the NRL's official site.
Detailed Australian coverage
- Friday Night Football starts at 7:30 pm and consists of two matches shown on the Nine Network free-to-air television in New South Wales and Queensland. Both games are played concurrently, with one broadcast live and the other shown on delay immediately after the first, usually at 9:30 pm. In many cases, the order in which the games are shown differs in different television markets. For instance, a match featuring a Queensland team, would usually be shown first in Queensland markets, but might be broadcast second in New South Wales if a popular Sydney team were playing in the other match. Both matches are broadcast on GEM as per the NSW schedule in Victoria, Western Australia, South Australia and Tasmania.
- Super Saturday includes one Holden Cup afternoon game at 3:15 pm, followed by that game's corresponding Telstra Premiership match at 5:30 pm. This is then followed by two NRL matches beginning at 7:30 pm, both of which are shown live, one on Fox Sports 2 and the other on Speed (during the Super Rugby season) or Fox Sports 3 (after the completion of the Super Rugby season).
- NRL Sunday is a 2:00 pm match broadcast live on Fox Sports.
- Sunday Football is broadcast on the Nine Network. The match normally kicks off at 3:00 pm, but the broadcast is delayed until 4:00 pm, running until 6:00 pm to provide a strong lead-in to Nine News and for Nine to take a broadcast break every 10 minutes or so to show commercials. In Western Australia, Victoria, South Australia and Tasmania these broadcasts are aired at 4:00 pm in HD on GEM and replayed on Nine after midnight on Monday mornings. As of 2015 Sunday Football will be broadcast live into all states with a 4.15pm kickoff
- Monday Night Football is televised live from 7:00 pm by Fox Sports.
Note: Friday, Saturday and Sunday broadcast schedules and the number of games broadcast can also vary. This is dependent on the scheduling of matches for the New Zealand Warriors played in Auckland, New Zealand, byes during the middle of the season (where 2 or more teams don't play that weekend) and daylight saving time early in the season.
- The State of Origin series is shown live in every state on the Nine Network. Perth viewers will see every match live on GEM.
- The NRL Grand Final is shown live in every state on the Nine Network, with New South Wales and Queensland receiving up to 10 hours of continuous pre-game and post-game coverage. The game is also shown live in New Zealand, with ratings improving since the introduction of a 7 pm (NZST) kick-off – plus in various other countries around the world via local broadcasters.
In Australia there are television shows dedicated to discussing the NRL. The programs are listed in order of the day and time viewed in their primary broadcast market:
- Monday Night with Matty Johns (following Monday Night Football on Fox Sports). Hosted by Matthew Johns.
- NRL 360 (Tuesdays-Thursdays 6:30pm on Fox Sports). Hosted by Ben Ikin and Paul Kent.
- Sterlo on the Couch (Wednesdays 7:30pm on Fox Sports). Hosted by Peter Sterling.
- The Footy Show (Thursday 8:30pm on Channel Nine). A variety show hosted by Paul Vautin, Darryl Brohman and Erin Molan.
- Matty Johns Big Weekend (Thursday 7:30pm on Fox Sports). Hosted by Matthew Johns.
- Barefoot Sports (Thursday 8:30pm on NITV) Hosted by Brad Cooke and formerly known as The Barefoot Rugby League Show.
- The Sunday Footy Show (Sunday 11.00am on Channel Nine): a recap of Friday and Saturday's games, and preview of Sunday's and Monday's games
- One Week at a Time (Mondays, at 9.30 pm, on One), recapping the weekend games
- The Game Plan (Thursday 8:30pm, on Channel Ten) Hosted by Steve Roach, Joel Caine and Andrew Moore.
- The Matty Johns Show (Thursdays, 7.30pm on Channel Seven) A more sketch-and-regular-segment-oriented version of The Footy Show and The Game Plan, not related to Monday Night with Matty Johns.
- The Sunday Roast (Sunday Midday on Channel Nine) Now incorporated into the Sunday Footy Show.
- NRL Full-time, a weekly half-hour highlights show for the UK audience.
Internet and new media
Replays of all matches, as well as highlights, are available in Australia from the official NRL LIVE app for iOS, Android and Windows Phone mobile operating systems. Outside of Australia, all matches are available in high definition via the official Livestream channel.
The NRL has several exclusive rights partners to broadcast matches live via radio nationwide. FM coverage is provided by Triple M while AM coverage is contracted to ABC Local Radio and 2GB. All radio coverage is available to be streamed live from the NRL website.
2GB 873AM Radio has the commercial rights to one Friday night match, the 5:30 pm Saturday game, and the 2pm Sunday match, covering the game through the Continuous Call Team program. 2GB also air representative games, as well as all matches throughout the finals series, and all three matches on Grand Final day. The coverage is networked to stations across the country, typically those owned by Southern Cross Media Group, Grant Broadcasters and other station groups on the Macquarie Radio Network.
ABC Local Radio has the rights to all NRL matches in the ACT, Queensland and New South Wales except Monday night games. Exceptions to this include Monday night games of regional teams including the Newcastle Knights and Canberra Raiders, those games still air on their respective local ABC stations.
Triple M has exclusive access to Thursday night, Sunday 3pm, Sunday night and Monday night matches and is broadcast on commercial stations across the country. Triple M will also broadcast the State of Origin series, the finals series and the Grand Final.
In print media, there are two major magazines: Rugby League Week is produced by ACP Magazines and is generally released on Mondays between rounds; Big League is the competition's official publication, released Thursday and produced by News Magazines. Other News Magazines publications, ALPHA Magazine, regularly publishes league-related stories and interviews, as well as Rugby League Review, a monthly newspaper that reviews the last month.
There have been many top selling video games made for the Australian rugby league market. The games below are sorted by year released.
- E.T.'s Rugby League, named for Andrew Ettingshausen, was released on Amiga in 1992.
- Australian Rugby League (1995) for Sega Mega Drive
- ARL '96 was a PC game published by EA Sports for the 1996 season.
- Rugby League (2003) for Microsoft Windows, PlayStation 2, and Xbox
- Rugby League 2 (2005) for Microsoft Windows, PlayStation 2, and Xbox
- Rugby League 2: World Cup Edition (2008) for PlayStation 2
- NRL Mascot Mania (2009) for Nintendo DS
- Rugby League Challenge (2009) for PlayStation Portable
- Rugby League 3 (2010) for Wii
- Rugby League Live (2010) for PlayStation 3 Xbox 360; (2011) for Microsoft Windows
- Rugby League Live 2 (2012) for PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360
- Rugby League Legends (2012) iOS
- Rugby League Live 2: World Cup Edition (2013) for PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360
- Rugby League Live 3 (2015) for Steam, Play Station 3, Xbox 360, Play Station 4 and Xbox One
Official NRL statistics encompass all first grade competitions, namely the New South Wales Rugby League, Australian Rugby League, Super League, and the present day NRL.
- Most premierships – 21 South Sydney Rabbitohs
- Most minor premierships – 19 Sydney Roosters
- Most wooden spoons - 17 Western Suburbs Magpies
- Largest winning margin in a game – 85, St. George against Canterbury (1935)
- Highest score in a game – 91, St. George against Canterbury (1935)
- Longest winning streak – 19 matches, Eastern Suburbs Roosters (1975)
- Longest undefeated streak – 35 matches, Eastern Suburbs Tricolours (1935–1938)
- Longest losing streak- 42 matches, University (1934–1936)
- Most games played – Darren Lockyer 355 games
- Leading pointscorer – Hazem El Masri 2,418 points (159 tries, 891 goals) (1996–2009)
- Leading tryscorer – Ken Irvine, 212 tries
- Most points in a season 342, Hazem El Masri (16 tries, 139 goals) (2004)
- Most tries in a season 38, Dave Brown (1935)
- Most points in a game 45, Dave Brown (1935).
- Most tries in a game 8, Frank Burge (1920)
Former Parramatta, St Helens and New Zealand Warriors coach Daniel Anderson was appointed to the position of referee's high performance manager, taking over from former referee Bill Harrigan.
- Daniel Anderson
- Russell Smith
- Tony Archer
- Bernie Sutton
The NRL and its clubs receive significant revenue from sponsorships, with sponsors' logos appearing on most parts of players' and referees' uniforms, the playing surface and even the ball itself. Since 2001, the National Rugby League premiership has been sponsored by Telstra and known as the 'NRL Telstra Premiership'; in earlier seasons, it was simply known as the 'National Rugby League'.
The Telstra Premiership has had four competition logos since 2001. The first, lasting only through the 2001 regular season, was the Telstra logo with an elongated circle enclosing the word Premiership. From the Finals series of 2001 through to the end of 2006 the logo was based around the shape of a football, with the words Telstra Premiership on respective lines along the bottom, culminating with a small football similar to the one in the official NRL logo at the peak. The main colours were dark blue and orange, the corporate colours of Telstra. The company worked with the NRL to create the third logo (pictured) for the 2007 season onward as part of a new sponsorship deal. This logo was quite similar to the original National Rugby League emblem. From the 2011 Finals Series, a newer logo was commissioned in concert with a corporate re-brand undertaken by Telstra. The 2007 logo remained on club jerseys until 2012 due to the lateness of the change and was phased out in time for the 2013 NRL Season. From 2013, under a dramatic image rebranding of the competition, the Telstra Premiership logo was changed in conjunction with a new sponsorship deal to incorporate the key elements of rugby league in Australia to include the shield and chevrons, the green and gold, a red "Telstra" logo perched above the top of the shield and for the first time the iconic Provan-Summons trophy awarded to the premiers at the end of the season centred in the middle of the badge.
Other notable sponsorships include Steeden Official ball supplier Holden for the Under 20s National Youth Competition (also known as the Holden Cup); The Holden State of Origin series and the Australian Test matches (Holden Kangaroos), Holden (official car of the NRL), Coca-Cola Amatil (match ball), AAMI (referees), Harvey Norman (video referees), Victoria Bitter(official beer of the NRL), Bundaberg Rum (Friday Night Football), Keno (Saturday Football), Webjet (Travel Partner) and Home Timber and Hardware (Sunday Football).
- History of rugby league
- New South Wales Rugby League premiership
- List of sports attendance figures – the NRL's attendance in a worldwide context
- Australian Women's Rugby League
- Official National Rugby League statistics encompass all Sydney first grade competitions, namely the New South Wales Rugby League premiership, Australian Rugby League, Super League, and the present day NRL.
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- Rugby League Tables / Attendances 1957–2010 / All Teams
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- The Sydney Morning Herald. 22 July 2009 http://www.smh.com.au/news/lhqnews/wings-yen-for-japanese-rugby-opens-the-door-for-hunt/2009/07/21/1247941917592.html. Missing or empty
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- Mason all set for Japan rugby move | The Daily Telegraph
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- Storm salary cap rort report handed to police
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- – Similar
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Major NRL news sources
Gold Coast Titans
Manly-Warringah Sea Eagles
New Zealand Warriors
North Queensland Cowboys
South Sydney Rabbitohs
St. George Illawarra Dragons