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Rugby League Competitions

Rugby League

The Rugby Football League is the governing body for Rugby League in the UK and is affiliated with various events:

Super League

The Super League is based in the UK and consists of 12 teams: 10 from England, 1 from France and 1 from Canada. It is officially a European tournament although the majority of the teams tend to be from the British Isles.

Each team plays every other team twice, once at home and once on away soil, the results of these matches contribute to the league table section of the competition where two points are awarded for a win, one for a draw and none for a loss.

After these matches have been completed various other local derby fixtures take place to generate interest and revenue for the sport, there are currently five fixtures in this stage.

The league table is used to decide which teams enter the play-offs.

The top two teams play each other for a place in the final.

The third team then plays the sixth team, and the fourth team plays the fifth team, the winners of each of these matches then play each other.

The winner of this match goes on to play the loser of the match between the top two teams for a place in the grand final.

The league has been heavily criticised in the past over the rules regarding promotion and relegation. There is a complex system by which teams can enter the league, but that is another topic.

Challenge Cup

The Challenge Cup is the oldest competition in rugby league, organised by the Rugby Football League and held annually since 1896. It is a knockout competition with the final traditionally staged at Wembley Stadium in London.

In early competitions, British amateur teams played against English and French semi-professionals clubs.

Today, it is unique event that gives teams of all levels a chance to qualify.

The first round consists of amateur teams from the National Conference League, University Teams and Teams of the Royal Forces all from the British Isles.

Various European teams join over the next two stages including teams from the British leagues, twenty teams progress from this stage to play the teams in the Super League.

Super League clubs only enter the competition in the 4th round.

The competition continues using a play-off system to give quarter-finals, semis and the eventual final.

This competition is seen as a flag-ship event for the sport and is broadcast internationally to generate awareness and revenue for the sport, the final of Challenge Cup is one of the major events of both UK and European sporting calendar.

Rugby National League

The full title of the league is the Rugby League National League and it is divided into two divisions with promotion and relegation between the two.

The leagues consist of teams from the British Isles and are effectively the league below Super League.

The rules for whether teams can be promoted from National League 1 to the Super League can be found on the Rugby Football League Website.

The bottom two teams from League 1 are relegated to League 2. The top team from League 2 is automatically promoted to League 1.

The next six teams in League 2 enter a play-off system with the top team also being promoted to League 1.

The scoring system is three points for a win, two for a draw and one for a loss of less than twelve points.

This was introduced to strengthen the competition by encouraging teams to play more competitively even when in a losing situation.

It also adds a new possible outcome to each match making the league more complex and with more potential outcomes.

Northern Rail Cup

This competition has been running since 2002 and is the cup of the National Leagues. It begins with group stages of three to six teams, each team playing each other team in its group twice, once at home and once away.

The number of teams in each group and how the groups are organised varies from year to year, as does the scoring system. As a rule the top teams from the group stages qualify to the last sixteen where a knock-out competition begins.

Rugby League Conference

This was once part of the National League, but has now become a separate enterprise mainly owing to sponsorship issues.

Teams no longer enter the league from the National League however as the RFL intends to expand it over time and so teams can only enter the conference from the bottom.

Rugby League World Cup

The Rugby League European Federation is the governing body of the European side of the sport and is responsible for the European fixtures of the world cup.

The event is managed overall by the Rugby League International Federation, meaning that only countries recognised by this body are eligible to qualify.

As with many Rugby League competitions, the structure is in constant flux and so is difficult to define. The teams tend to be split into groups for the first stage, where every team plays every other team in their group and the top team from each group qualifies to continue to the next stage of the competition.

The number of groups obviously dictates the number of teams who enter the play-offs which consist of a simple semi-final and final system.

The number of teams who compete overall varies, and certain teams are guaranteed entry to the competition, with less other teams being forced to qualify.

Australia, France and New Zealand have competed in all twelve events.

Fourteen other teams have competed at one time or another including Great Britain, Samoa, Scotland and the Cook Islands.

National Conference League

This is a non-professional league for teams across the British Isles. It is spilt into the Premier Division consisting of fourteen teams, Division One consisting of thirteen teams and Division Two consisting of twelve teams.

Rules for promotion and relegation are subject to constant adjustment but can be viewed on the league’s official website. The league itself is sponsored but relies heavily on support from teams in terms of organising matches.

Italian Rugby League

Despite participating at international level since the 1950s, the Italian Rugby League did not organise a domestic competition until June 2007.

In 2006 a “nines” event (nine players per team rather than the traditional thirteen) was organised in by the Italian Rugby League, but was held in France and included teams from Italy, South Africa and British Amateur Rugby League Association.


This is another relatively new competition, with the first even being held in 1999.

It is contested between Australia, New Zealand and the United Kingdom and for the first five years each team played each other team once and then the top two teams competed in the grand final.

Since 2004 however, each team plays each other team twice in a mini league where two points are awarded for a win, one for a draw and none for a loss.

The two teams with the highest number of points go on to play in the final.

The competition is either held at one venue in the United Kingdom, Australia or New Zealand or the games may be played at various nations.

International matches

International rubgy matches have taken place since 1871 when the first game was played between Scotland and England at Raeburn Place in Edinburgh.

The Rugby World Cup, first held in 1987, is contested every four years.

The Six Nations Championship in Europe and The Rugby Championship in the Southern Hemisphere are other major international competitions that are held annually.

National club and provincial competitions include the Premiership in England, the Top 14 in France, the Mitre 10 Cup in New Zealand, the National Rugby Championship in Australia, and the Currie Cup in South Africa.

Other transnational club competitions include the European Rugby Champions Cup, the Pro14 in Europe and South Africa, and Super Rugby in the Southern Hemisphere and Japan.

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