The Future of Rugby League

The Future of Rugby League

I felt like it’s the right time to discuss the Future of Rugby League with the brains trust here. I know there will be a wide range of opinions about this subject, there will be those who will be traditionalist and want to preserve the way Rugby League has been played, and those who would want to see change for a variety of reasons.

But I would like to highlight some observations I have made and my take on them.

The Partnership with Touch Football Australia was a masterstroke.

On August 13, 2013 the NRL formed a partnership with Touch Football Australia forming one of the largest sporting communites in Australia. It led to the formation of the NRL Touch Premiership and opened up exciting new pathways for young players.

Rugby League Pathway Participation is healthy.

The growth of Rugby League Pathways have been slow but steady. In most states Rugby League Pathway participation has been rising and there has been movement between Touch Football and Rugby League as I believe it lowers the barrier to entry for kids. Implementing of Mod-League has also had it’s impact on growth.

The new generation of kids will desire a new generation of Rugby League.

The reality of this growth and merging of pathways has a side effect, in that the desire to play a sport on the big stage that more reflects the game they play in development will mean that the game will change with that to bring talent through the system. We have seen that the sport has changed dramatically in the past 20 years, new rules, exclusions of tackling techniques and contact. This will likely continue in the future which brings me to my last point.

Change may be thrust upon the League if it does not do so itself.

Since Bennet Omalu ⧉ drew a link between Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE) ⧉ in retired NFL player there has been an emphasis on studying the affects of contact sport on the brain (example ⧉).

There are now lawsuits that have emerged as a result of these studies. A class action of 4,500 NFL Players against the National football League resulted in a $765m settlement.

Australia is not immune to such legal action. The AFL have been hit with a class action lawsuit consisting of 60 players seeking up to $120m for pain, suffering, financial loss and medical expenses due to their injuries. Some in the media have speculated that it is a matter of time before the NRL is hit with a similar lawsuit. The RFL (Super League UK) are already dealing with a lawsuit of 100 players. Lawyers are already seeking players to be involved in a class action against the NRL.

This has a financial cost, but will also lead to these leagues changing the way the game is played to avoid lawsuits in the future, this will include changes to injury protocol and how contact is made in matches. The would want to be seen as doing all in their power to prevent further occurrences of CTE in their respective sports.

What does it all mean?

Regardless of what we think, change will happen, maybe sooner than later. It seems that Rugby League in Australia has got it’s pieces in the right place with the streamlining of pathways and the right components in board for young players coming through the grades.

So how will Rugby League look in the future? How SHOULD Rugby League look in the future. How do guarantee the wellbeing of players as well as honouring the core of Rugby League. I don’t think this is a “throw the baby out with the bathwater” situation, but change is inevitable.

So I throw it to you to discuss. What’s your thoughts, is this something you think needs to happen, or do you think people just need to “drink a mug of concrete” and stick to tradition?

Looking forward to your responses. :heart:

I’ll add some raw data for participation rates in the following post.

Rugby League Participants by State

2016 % 2017 C % 2018 C % 2019 C % 2020 C % 2021 C % 2022 C %
ACT 587 0.36% 1,595 171.72% 0.93% 1,723 8.03% 0.86% 1,320 -23.39% 0.90% -100.00% 0.00% 0.00% 6,317 2.73%
NSW 76,083 46.09% 67,037 -11.89% 39.06% 89,070 32.87% 44.32% 81,671 -8.31% 55.88% 89,070 9.06% 53.66% 93,491 4.96% 52.71% 104,537 11.82% 45.22%
NT 1,541 0.93% 6,516 322.84% 3.80% 5,115 -21.50% 2.55% 3,840 -24.93% 2.63% 5,847 52.27% 3.52% 933 -84.04% 0.53% 3,684 294.86% 1.59%
QLD 69,536 42.12% 73,023 5.01% 42.55% 100,327 37.39% 49.93% 46,075 -54.08% 31.52% 52,658 14.29% 31.73% 66,867 26.98% 37.70% 78,661 17.64% 34.02%
SA 944 0.57% 6,129 549.26% 3.57% 1,592 -74.03% 0.79% 3,848 141.71% 2.63% 2,135 -44.52% 1.29% 2,640 23.65% 1.49% 3,586 35.83% 1.55%
VIC 8,872 5.37% 5,595 -36.94% 3.26% 13,606 143.18% 6.77% 7,065 -48.07% 4.83% 13,157 86.23% 7.93% 6,015 -54.28% 3.39% 19,520 224.52% 8.44%
WA 7,516 4.55% 11,740 56.20% 6.84% 13,524 15.20% 6.73% 2,345 -82.66% 1.60% 3,113 32.75% 1.88% 7,428 138.61% 4.19% 14,886 100.40% 6.44%
ALL 165,079 171,636 3.97% 200,950 17.08% 146,164 -27.26% 165,979 13.56% 177,376 6.87% 231,191 30.34%

Note: No data available for Tasmania.
Note: No data available for Australian Capital Territory for 2020 and 2021
Source: AUSPLAY. Participation by activity - Rugby League 2016 to 2022 ⧉

Touch Football Participants by State

2016 % 2017 C % 2018 C % 2019 C % 2020 C % 2021 C % 2022 C %
ACT 3,393 0.87% 7,447 119.48% 2.20% 3,937 -47.13% 1.06% 7,183 82.45% 2.26% 10,416 45.01% 3.05% 7,134 -31.51% 1.87% 9,168 28.51% 2.87%
NSW 143,982 36.92% 152,180 5.69% 44.89% 157,719 3.64% 42.45% 120,514 -23.59% 37.98% 157,719 30.87% 46.19% 162,316 2.91% 42.65% 159,740 -1.59% 50.00%
NT 3,645 0.93% 5,286 45.02% 1.56% 8,878 67.95% 2.39% 974 -89.03% 0.31% 9,044 828.54% 2.65% 3,804 -57.94% 1.00% 1,720 -54.78% 0.54%
QLD 174,096 44.65% 134,986 -22.46% 39.81% 170,163 26.06% 45.80% 121,832 -28.40% 38.39% 123,513 1.38% 36.17% 150,786 22.08% 39.62% 120,555 -20.05% 37.73%
SA 7,749 1.99% 8,284 6.90% 2.44% 3,845 -53.59% 1.03% 12,891 235.27% 4.06% 4,978 -61.38% 1.46% 6,663 33.85% 1.75% 3,098 -53.50% 0.97%
VIC 17,784 4.56% 15,174 -14.68% 4.48% 20,892 37.68% 5.62% 15,867 -24.05% 5.00% 19,452 22.59% 5.70% 13,565 -30.26% 3.56% 8,445 -37.74% 2.64%
WA 27,817 7.13% 12,506 -55.04% 3.69% 9,544 -23.68% 2.57% 35,031 267.05% 11.04% 11,918 -65.98% 3.49% 31,300 162.63% 8.22% 14,202 -54.63% 4.45%
TAS 11,471 2.94% 3,179 -72.29% 0.94% 3,801 19.57% 1.02% 3,053 -19.68% 0.96% 4,402 44.19% 1.29% 5,048 14.68% 1.33% 2,551 -49.47% 0.80%
ALL 389,937 339,042 -13.05% 371,546 9.59% 317,344 -14.59% 341,442 7.59% 380,616 11.47% 319,478 -16.06%

Source: AUSPLAY. Participation by activity - Touch Football 2016 to 2022 ⧉

OzTag Participants by State

2016 % 2017 C % 2018 C % 2019 C % 2020 C % 2021 C % 2022 C %
ACT 2,466 3% 2,181 -12% 4% 4,369 100% 7% 4,703 8% 6% 7,021 49% 8% 6,170 -12% 7% 1,121 -82% 1%
NSW 63,518 83% 50,942 -20% 87% 56,280 10% 92% 66,110 17% 82% 56,280 -15% 65% 71,143 26% 83% 89,351 26% 82%
QLD 10,487 14% 5,111 -51% 9% 12,546 145% 21% 9,405 -25% 12% 22,492 139% 26% 6,947 -69% 8% 17,250 148% 16%
ALL 76,471 58,657 -23% 61,058 4% 80,218 31% 86,219 7% 86,077 -0% 109,033 27%

Note: No data available for Victoria, South Austraklia, Western Australia, Nothern Territory and Tasmania.
Source: AUSPLAY. Participation by activity - OzTag 2016 to 2022⧉

It was only yesterday that I suggested Rugby League will be a 2 tag contest in coming years, the ridiculous situation we have ATM with players laying down for soft touches to the head is a bi-product of the NRL’s desire to protect players. It is the players themselves who then take the piss by laying down…The game will go to shit very quickly if this habit continues, but how do we fix it? I loved the fact DWZ got sent for a HIA when he layed down, but it wasn’t consistent over the weekend so the rule makers need to be accountable also.

From a functional perspective, i.e. within the 80 minutes, we need to define what our game should look like, the ‘scrum’ at the moment is a farce. Although you cannot push, IMO the feeder should be the receiver, that way the lock has to stay binded, surely that will be a better look for the game then someone holding arses if front of em until the ball turns up. It’s just a big play the ball !

I would also look at the scoring system, the fact a goal kick is worth half of the hardest thing to achieve i.e. a try, is wrong. I would also go as far as to say, a try where a kick is involved should be worth less than a try that goes through the hands. If you look at AFL, 6 for a max 1 for a slight miss speaks volumes about the point of the game. Rugby League should be the same, running and passing is attractive football, but yet means jack shit if you have a “Mitchell Moses” in your team. I’d suggest something like:
Try through the hands from outside the 20 = 6 points + goal kick = total of 8
Try inside the 20 through the hands = 4 points + goal kick = total 6 points
Try with a kick involved = 4 points - No goal kick if you already kicked to score
Penalty kick = 2 points
Field goal = 1 - outside the 40 = 2 (i do like this, but if tries are being scored through the hands this gets nullified somewhat)

Before anyone passes judgement lol - have a think about what the above would create, positive attacking football (tick) a focus on defense (tick) - The game will then become a “chess match” of talent vs effort and that is a game i want to watch. Please don’t take me back to Luke Walsh days, hence the Mitchell Moses comment…you’ve got a great boot…YAWN !

As with you Steve, I look forward to reading what a few on this site have to offer, some common-sense people who love the game. What do you want from Rugby League?

1 Like

I don’t mind the yawnion scoring system apart from 3 point field goals. 5 points for a try, 3 points for a penalty goal, 2 points for a conversion. Maybe this might be the way to go if we are going to change the scoring system.

As I’ve mentioned elsewhere, I’d like to see the 6 again rule revoked. Most of the time when I see it called, I can’t even tell w by it was called.

Another change of like to see is to the 7 tackle set, so that it only applies to kicks from within the 20.

The yawnion scoring is poo, too many points for kicks, but i’m happy for them to have that because the game is crap lol.

I have seen a few ideas suggesting that the bench be extended from 4 to 7 and bring back the unlimited interchange.

The logic was that a fair percentage of head high tackles and dangerous tackles are a result of poor tackling technique caused by tiring players on the field and that the limited interchange is creating a game of extreme endurance rather then a high impact spectacle.

While I am not sure this is a quick fire solution (I don’t think this should be implemented as is), I understand the mechanism and do think they have a point about how dangerous tackles occur. Every week I can point to a group of dangerous tackles and say they looked gassed and over committed to a dumping tackle, or that a tired player throws out a lazy arm collecting a player around the neck.

There was an interesting paper published by Sports Physician Dr John Orchard, who was the club doctor at the Sydney Roosters at the time of publishing regarding the change to limited interchange not long after the changes made by the NRL in the early 2000’s. While it noted there wasn’t negligible changes to injuries at the time, it would be interesting to do a comparison to see how this fairs in 2023. I wonder how many trainers have to tell a player to “stick it out” on the field due to the exhausting their interchanges for a game.


At the club studied, there does not appear to have been a negative impact on injury overall from the
change made by the NRL to introduce a ‘limited interchange’ rule. A very similar number of players were unable to return to the field due to injury in the period before and after the rule change. However, there has been a marked decrease in the number of players leaving the field with a minor upper body injury to be checked by the medical staff. This documented reluctance of players to leave the field to have minor injuries checked under the new rule theoretically increases the risk that in the future on a rare occasion a player may refuse to leave the field with a serious injury due to the new rule.

Dr John Orchard
Paper: Effect of the limited interchange rule on players leaving the field at an NRL club. ⧉

1 Like

I don’t like the unlimited interchange, that brings the 15 minute heroes into the game who IMO could cause greater issue by being 120kg wrecking balls.

Also, Penrith pride themselves on the 80 minute effort and structure their bench accordingly.

I wonder how the game would be played if there were no interchanges and we go back to just 4 reggies, if a benchy goes on that’s a replacement. I guess today that will not work due to HIA’s…again it will be exploited rather than accepted as a player safety need. Players and Coaches have alot to answer for, our game is being corrupted in an effort to gain advantage, I love the fact Panther players get up and play - no mess no fuss!!

1 Like

Spot on, Kev. Whatever rules are in play, there is always a risk of them being abused. I have a recollection that many years ago there was a rule that pertained to scrums when a defending back was injured but on the ground still. In this situation a forward was allowed to drop off the scrum so that each team had 6 backs on their feet. At Balmain, Warren Ryan would have Gary Jack apparently fake an injury, and as soon as the scrum was fed he’d undergo an amazing recovery and jump to his feet, giving the defenders 7 backs. I recall that Ryan was also the coach when one team (not sure if it was the Scumdogs) started using hardened shoulder pads. Does anyone else here have the same recollections?

1 Like

Given that a consistent proportion of the population don’t, and won’t, support football or sport in general, growth in League must come from population growth (a damaging and ultimately destructive option) or from a competitor sport’s loss. Rugby Union comes to mind. But there is always discussion about the rise of soccer and AFL as the real dangers. In this regard I sent the letter (below) to a major newspaper; they declined to publish it.

"The Beautiful Game
After the ugly recent incident in which a referee was bashed and badly injured, there was a predictable rush by soccer luminaries and certain parts of the media to hose down any connection drawn between this criminal act and soccer in general. Those with soccer broadcasting rights seem to be at head of the queue. This is quite the contrast to the reaction of those same media to any apparent indiscretion by anyone associated with rugby league.

Soccer’s reputation is already badly tarnished, repeatedly. Didn’t soccer play a game in SW Sydney a few years back without any spectators, because they couldn’t control the violence? At those same grounds why do so many spectators come in national shirts instead of club colours, if not to foment trouble associated with imported ethnic hatreds? Why indeed? And what about the ugly pitch invasion last year when a goalkeeper in Melbourne was injured in the head from a flying bucket? There are reported other incidents.

Overseas we have had decades of rioting and violence from the legendary English soccer hooligans. Police are present en-masse all over Europe to separate fans. Elsewhere spectators are kept back behind barbed wire and/or moats. In Central America, don’t visiting teams have to be rushed to the nearest airport under armed escort after a game and immediately flown out of the country for their own safety? And who can forget the 125 deaths at a recent Indonesian match?

We were recently shown the appalling blindness of FIFA to the Qatar human rights abuses and the tainted selection process.

When I attend my local NRL game in outer west Sydney we regularly sit with supporters of the visiting team. Shaking hands, and commiserations, after the game happens too. Altercations after a few too many beers are an infrequent event, and the police attending seem somewhat bored (although they can then enjoy the match). League spectators certainly aren’t perfect, but don’t you love the hypocrisy?"

1 Like

Well said.

I had been having a similar argument with my cousin (until he blocked me) regarding violence & treatment of women by NRL players & fans, as opposed to AFL players & fans. Ironically just days after he blocked me, an AFL player was outed over his treatment of women.

No fan bases are perfect, but NRL players & fans seem to have the spotlight thrown on them.