National Rugby League: Everything to know while watching Las Vegas showcase

National Rugby League: Everything to know while watching Las Vegas showcase

The National Rugby League doubleheader Saturday night in Las Vegas on FS1:

As Australia’s National Rugby League prepares to bring its rugged brand of physicality to American soil this coming weekend, the biggest challenge it faces is the most obvious.

Namely, the task of educating Americans on the basic question: “What is rugby league?”

Let’s break it down. “Rugby league” is not, simply, a league that plays rugby. No, mate, rugby league is a distinct sport in its own right, markedly different from “rugby union,” the brand of rugby played at NCAA Division I level in college and in the United States’ Major League Rugby competition.

In Australia, rugby league is the more popular form of the game and, according to retired superstar Wayne Pearce, has just as much in common with American football as it does with the “other” type of rugby.

“No other sport is more similar in its nature to the NFL,” said Pearce, who is still involved in the game as Australian rugby league commissioner, via telephone from Sydney. “The ferociousness of the play, the structure of the game, and the way teams try to move the ball — there is a lot in common.”

On Saturday, four of NRL’s biggest teams will kick off the new campaign with a double-header at Allegiant Stadium in Las Vegas, home of the NFL’s Las Vegas Raiders and host site for the Super Bowl three weeks ago.

The Manly Warringah Sea Eagles will square off with the South Sydney Rabbitohs (9:3src p.m. ET, FS1) before the Brisbane Broncos try to outduel the Sydney Roosters (11:3src p.m. ET, FS1). There’s a lot more on offer than just the cool team names.

If some of the above is revelatory information, there are plenty of other nuggets about rugby league that you might enjoy getting to know. Hollywood icon Russell Crowe, he of “Gladiator” fame, is co-owner of South Sydney and played his part in explaining the sport for American newbies with a snappy promo video.

“No helmets, no pads, no timeouts, no blocking, no forward passes,” Crowe said, before going on to tell how rugby league has 13 players per side (union has 15), that each team takes turns on offense and defense, like football, and has six “tackles” (similar to downs) before it either scores, kicks for distance, or turns possession over to the opposition.

“Just like in (the) NFL, there are defined periods of offense and defense,” Crowe continued. “Because of the speed of the game, it is all about strategy on the fly. One of the main objectives of rugby league is to keep the action going. If a minor infringement takes place, a signal will be heard and the tackle count starts again.”

Perhaps just as relevant for those who enjoy their athletic pursuits a certa

…. to be continued
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