Rugby league positions

A rugby league football team consists of thirteen players on the field, with four substitutes on the bench. Each of the thirteen players is assigned a position based on both the role they are expected to fill within the team and the area they typically occupy on the field. These positions are defined by number and are standardised across all teams and matches, however the same rules apply equally to all players regardless of position and the positions are fluid, meaning players free to interchange between positions or take up a different position at any time. In practice, the positions simply serve as a guideline as to the player's expected role in both attack and defence.

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. Typically forwards tend to operate in the centre to the field, while backs operate nearer to the touch-lines, where more space can usually be found.

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]



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, more agile players.


Numbered 1, the fullback's primary role 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 and return kicks made by the attacking side. Their role in attack is usually as a support player, and they are often used to come into the line to create an overlap 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). Typically these players work in pairs, with one winger and one centre occupying each side of the field.


Also known as wingers. There are two wingers in a rugby league team, numbered 2 and 5. The wingers are the players positioned closest to the touch-line on each side of the field. They are generally among the fastest players in a team, with the speed to exploit space that is created for them and finish an attacking move. In defence their primary role is the mark their opposing wingers, and they are also usually required to catch and return kicks made by an attacking team, often dropping behind the defensive line to help the fullback. 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 just inside the wingers and are typically the second-closest players to the touch-line on each side of the field. In attack their primary role is to provide an attacking threat out wide and as such they often need to be some of the fastest players on the pitch, often providing the pass for their winger to finish off a move. In defence, they are expected to mark their opposite centre. 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 the team's main play-makers, and as such are typically required to be the most skilful and intelligent players on the team.

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. Often this player is referred to as "second receiver", as in attacking situations they are typically the second player to receive the ball (after the half back) and are then able to execute an attacking move.

Scrum Half / Half back

Numbered 7, the scrum-half or half back is usually involved in directing the team's play. 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 and then pass it on to a teammate, starting an attacking move. This makes them important decision-makers in attack. A good half-back knows the structure in attack and is one of the most skilful attacking players in the team. This player is also usually required to provide the majority of in-play kicking for their 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 and physicality to fulfil their roles than play-making skills. The forwards also traditionally formed and contested scrums, however in the modern game it is largely immaterial which players pack down in the scrum. Despite this, forwards are still typically referred to by the position they would traditionally take in the scrum.

The front row

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


Main article: Hooker (rugby league)

The hooker, numbered 9, traditionally 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. As such, hookers are required to be among the most reliable passers on the team and often possess a similar skill-set to half backs.


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,[4][5][6][7][8] the props are often the largest and heaviest players on a team. In attack, their size and strength means that they are primarily used for running directly into the defensive line, as a kind of "battering ram" to simply gain metres.[9] 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 forward

Second-row forwards are numbered 11 and 12. While their responsibilities are similar in many ways to the props, these players typically possess more speed and agility and take up a wider position in attack and defence. Often each second rower will cover a specific side of the field, working in unison with their respective centre and winger. Second rowers typically provide a more direct attacking threat, and are often relied upon to perform large amounts of tackles in defence. 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. The loose forward is somewhat of a utility role; some teams may choose to simply deploy a third prop, while other teams may use a more skilful player in this position as an additional playmaker. 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. Under current rules, players who have been substituted are typically allowed to be substituted back into the game later on. Leagues in different countries have had different rules on how many interchanges can be made in a game. England's Super League allows up to ten interchanges per team in each game. Commencing in the 2016 season, Australia's National Rugby League permits up to eight interchanges per team per 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.

Often an interchange bench will include at least one (and usually two) replacement props, as it is generally considered to be the most physically taxing position and these players are likely to tire the quickest.


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.[10]

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.[11]

The captain is often seen as responsible for a team's discipline. When a team persistently breaks the laws, the referee while issuing a caution will often speak with the team's captain to encourage them to improve their team's discipline.[12]

The captains are also traditionally responsible for appointing a substitute should a referee suffer an injury during a game, although in the professional game there are other procedures in place for dealing with this.[13]

Physical requirements of the different positions


Attack - percentage involvement 8.6%

Defence - percentage involvement 4.2%

Energy requirements The position requires predominately the atp-pc energy system for returning kicks and last line defending, with some lactate involvement in tight defending situations.


Attack - percentage involvement 5.4%

Defence - percentage involvement 2.6%

Energy requirements The position requires predominately the atp-pc energy system for running the ball and tackling opposing wingers, with some lactate involvement, normally if the player is caught around the ruck or defending their line.


Attack - percentage involvement 7%

Defence - percentage involvement 7.4%

Energy requirements The centre predominately uses the atp-pc energy system in defence and attack, with a greater involvement of the lactate system, due to their position closer to the ruck than the fullbacks and wingers.

five eighth

Attack - percentage involvement 9.2%

Defence - percentage involvement 7.9%

Energy requirements The five-eighth requires the atp pc system for short sprinting bursts and tackling. The lactate and aerobic systems are also important in their position in setting up, trailing the attack and recovering in defence.


Attack - percentage involvement 7.6%

Defence - percentage involvement 4.8%

Energy requirements The halfback will use predominately the atp-pc energy system, primarily when performing short runs with the ball, in an effort to set up attack & tackling. The halfback often defends just behind the defensive line and will only call on the lactate system in tight defending situations, or if they are defending up in- the line.


Attack - percentage involvement 6%

Defence - percentage involvement 6.9%

Energy requirements The lactate system is used to a greater degree by the lock forward. This is due to their position closer in to the ruck. The atp-pc is used in making tackles and in running the ball. Due to their greater workload, there is more need for the aerobic system in the recovery process.

second row

Attack - percentage involvement 8.6%

Defence - percentage involvement 12.2%

Energy requirements The second rower's greater involvement in the play requires them to use the lactate system, particularly in defence, the atp-pc system in carrying the ball forward, and a much greater need for the aerobic system to allow adequate recovery.


Attack - percentage involvement 8.6%

Defence - percentage involvement 11%

Energy requirements The prop will require the lactate system more than any other player. This is due to their "close in" position in defence, which requires them to move up and back on more occasions. The atp-pc is used in making tackles and particularly when running the ball. Again, there is a need for the aerobic system in the recovery process.


Attack - percentage involvement 9.2%

Defence - percentage involvement 11%

Energy requirements The hooker requires a much greater involvement of the aerobic system, due to their role in trailing around behind the attack & in recovery. They require the lactate system in defence, due to their position close into the ruck and the atp-pc system when running from dummy-half and tackling.

See also


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