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Rugby league positions: Map


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A rugby league team consists of thirteen players on the field with four substitutes on the bench. 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 and attack, and to make many tackles. Forwards are often required to do a lot of hard work such as making openings for the backs and gaining metres in field position.

Backs are usually smaller and faster, but a big player who can run can be of great advantage in the backs. Their roles require speed and ball-playing skills (rather than brute strength) to take advantage of the field position gained by the forwards.


The numbering of positions is standardised. The starting side will 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 are issued with a squad number to use all season, no matter what positions they play in.

The chart below shows these numbers alongside the usual names for their positions. Forwards are above the line, and backs below.

The laws of the game define the positions and numbers as:

  • 1 Full Back
  • 2 Right Wing Threequarter
  • 3 Right Centre Threequarter
  • 4 Left Centre Threequarter
  • 5 Left Wing Threequarter
  • 6 Stand-off Half or Five-eighth
  • 7 Scrum Half

  • 8 Prop
  • 9 Hooker
  • 10 Front Row Forward
  • 11 Second Row Forward
  • 12 Second Row Forward
  • 13 Lock Forward

In addition to the thirteen on-field players, there are four substitutes. 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 (for example), they will wear the number 14 for the whole game. They do not change shirts to display the number 1.

Prior to 1989, most Australian teams, with the exception of the international team, used a different numbering system. The numbers for the backs were the same, but the lock/loose forward would be number 8, the second rowers were 9 and 10, the prop forwards were 11 and 13 and the hooker was 12.


There are some differences in rugby league position terminology depending on geographical location. Five-eighth, half back and lock are terms used in the Southern Hemispheremarker countries. The same positions are known as stand-off, scrum-half and loose forward in the Northern Hemispheremarker. The terms wing three quarter and centre three quarter are sometimes used instead of winger and centre.

(In this article, positions with differing titles have been indicated as: "Northern hemisphere name"/"Southern hemisphere name".)


Generally, the backline consists of smaller and faster players. Backs are often the most creative and evasive players on the field, preferring fine kicking, passing or manoeuvring skills, tactics and/or set plays to breach the defensive line in favour of brute force. The term "outside backs" is often used to refer to the centres and wings (positioned towards the outer edges of the field), while "the halves" refers to the halfback and five-eighth.


Numbered 1, This position calls for all-round ball-playing ability and speed. The fullback is the last line of defence, standing behind the main line of defenders. Fullbacks must be able to chase down and tackle any player who breaks the first line of defence and catch kicks made by the attacking side. As they are typically positioned behind the first line of defence and have a view of the entire line, good fullbacks will give orders to the other defending players, alerting them to fill possible holes and weaknesses in the line. Their role in attack is usually as a support player to take an offload and keep the ball alive, or to provide an overlap or a different angle of attack in the centre of the field. From their position behind the main line of players, good fullbacks watch for both teams' defensive deficiencies and offensive opportunities as they appear throughout a game.

Notable fullbacks include: Darren Lockyer , Puig Aubert , Clive Churchill , Jim Sullivan and Graeme Langlands .

See also: Fullback

The three-quarters

The three-quarters are named thus as traditionally they stood three quarters of the way back. They consist of a pair of wingers and a pair of centres. Sometimes referred to as the "outside backs", the three-quarters, positioned closer to the edges of the field, are usually relied upon to breach the defensive line on their respective sides.


Also known as wingers. There are two wings in a rugby league side, numbered 2 and 5, positioned on each side of the field. They generally are among the the fastest players in a team, with the speed to finish an attacking move. The wings also should have good footwork, enabling them to make breaks through the defensive line and because many scoring opportunities can be in close proximity to defenders and the touch line, also necessitating good spacial awareness and body positioning. Wingers often play a prominent role in dealing with breaks by attackers through the defensive line, working with the fullback in mounting a cover defence, as well as receiving kicks when the opposing team has used their tackles up. Wingers are often tall as they must be able to catch high kicks, often used to create scoring opportunities, when attacking and defending.

Notable wings include: Ken Irvine , Martin Offiah , Brian Bevan , Billy Boston and Tom van Vollenhoven .

See also: Winger


There are two centres, numbered 3 and 4. The centres run along the middle just inside the wings, and work with the wings and stand-off in driving the ball forwards. They have to be fast and be able to hit top speed quickly, and need the ability to handle, pass and tackle well. The job of the centre is typically to try and draw additional defenders into tackling him, making a breach for the winger to score.

Traditionally a team's two centres played as an 'inside centre' and 'outside centre', with the inside centre always positioned nearer the stand-off, and the outside centre nearer the wing, irrespective of which side of the field the play was taking place. However, the norm in modern rugby league is for centres to play on the left and right sides, partnered with their respective wings.

Notable centres include: Mal Meninga , Harold Wagstaff , Dally Messenger , Gus Risman and Reg Gasnier

The halves

The halves are named thus since they traditionally stood back about half-way, between the forwards and outside backs. The duo consists of the stand-off half (or five-eighth) and the scrum-half (or halfback). Positioned more centrally, amongst the forwards, the halves direct the ball in attack and are the team's main decision-makers. They are also generally relied upon to do most of the team's kicking both in attack and for field position.


Numbered 6, the five-eighth or stand-off is usually responsible for directing the ball to the rest of the team in attack (hence the nickname 'pivot') and should therefore be able to pass left and right-handed accurately. A good five-eighth is usually a good and accurate play kicker, has good communication with the halfback and the centre-three-quarters, is able to throw long cut-out passes and have the vision to create something in attack with the outside men. This player needs to be quick and strong when running the ball like a back rower. They must also be effective in making tackles as their position towards the middle of the field requires a heavy defensive workload.

Notable five-eighths/stand-offs include: Wally Lewis , Garry Schofield , Bob Fulton , Iestyn Harris and Laurie Daley .


Numbered 7, the halfback or scrum-half is often one of the smaller players on the field. The position is crucial in the organisation of play and a good scrum-half is one who uses options effectively. The scrum-half must be quick of mind, agile, have good vision of who and where the ball needs to go to and be able to pass and kick well. The halfback is the player who feeds the scrum and runs around to collect it. Usually the halfback is the first to receive the ball from a 'play the ball' late in the tackle count, and has well-developed kicking skills.

Notable halfbacks include: Allan Langer , Stacey Jones , Andy Gregory , Peter Sterling and Andrew Johns


A rugby league forward pack consists of players who tend to be bigger and stronger than backs, and generally rely more on brute strength to fulfil their roles than play-making skills. The forwards also form and contest scrums, while the backs stay out of them.

The front row

The front row of the scrum includes the hooker with the two props on either side. All three may be referred to as front-rowers, but this term is most commonly used for prop forwards.


The hooker, numbered 9, packs in the middle of the scrum's front row. Sometimes referred to as the "rake", the hooker is unlike other forwards in that he usually takes on a specialist role, known as dummy half (see below), meaning vision and passing skills to direct play are essential for them. They are almost always the smallest of the forwards as their modern role resembles that of a backline player more than any other forward. The play-making role of the hooker has encouraged some teams to play a half-back in the position.

The hooker is a work-horse in defence and is also expected to make powerful runs into the opposing tacklers and to maintain weight and power for the now-rare occasions when a team attempts to win possession against the feed at a scrum. When the rules for rugby league more closely resembled those of rugby union, the hooker's primary role was to strike for the ball in the scrum and to throw the ball into line-outs. As the code abolished the line-out and then began to allow less contested scrummaging, the hooker's position, like most forwards, has become far less meaningful outside of general play.

Notable hookers include: Noel Kelly , Max Krilich , Keiron Cunningham , Steve Walters and Terry Newton


There are two props, numbered 8 and 10, who pack in to the front row of the scrum on either side of the hooker. Sometimes referred to as the "bookends", the props are often the two heaviest players on a team. Props often run directly into the defensive line, trying to force their way through defenders rather than between or around them. They are expected to make “the hard yards”; going forward while being gang-tackled by several opposition players. Similarly, they are relied upon to defend against such running from the opposition's forwards.

Tactically prop forwards may either go down quickly when tackled and look for a quick 'play the ball', or try to stand up in the tackle, fend off defenders and offload the ball to a supporting player. Few prop forwards now play the full game time of 80 minutes - they are regularly substituted to keep them fresh.

When scrums were competitive their strength was key in winning possession. In the modern game their strength is more useful in the tackle or as a ball carrier. However, it is still possible for an alert prop to help a team win a scrum against the feed by striking for the ball in conjunction with a drive from the rest of the pack. Formerly, striking for the ball was primarily the responsibility of the hooker.

Notable props include: Arthur Beetson , Ruben Wiki , Cliff Watson , Glenn Lazarus and Shane Webcke .

The back row

The remaining three forwards make up the back row of the scrum: Two second-rowers and a loose or lock forward. All three may be referred to as back-rowers.

Second-row forward

Second-row forwards are numbered 11 and 12, and make up the second row of the scrum. They are mobile, active players who make a lot of runs and do a lot of tackling, and often play a large role in setting the pace of the game. Second row forwards are frequently the tallest players in a rugby league team.

There are different styles of play amongst second-rows. Some are quick, elusive players who can run out wide alongside the centres. Indeed, some second rowers are converted centres. There are also powerful, industrious second-rowers who serve as the workhorses of the team. Operating just off the middle of the line, often at second or third receiver, they are involved in seemingly everything – most tackles, taking the ball up, or supporting any break. Some teams like to send a good offloading second rower running down the same side as the dangerous running centres and wingers who feed off the space provided.

Notable second-row forwards include: Gorden Tallis , Hugh McGahan , Denis Betts , Harry Bath and Norm Provan

Loose forward

Numbered 13, the loose forward or lock makes up the final 'row' of players in the scrum, "locking" the two second-rowers in place.

A lock forward has the broadest role of any of the forwards. In defence their role is often to quickly move away from the back of the scrum, and make the first tackle. As well as co-ordinating the defensive effort in the forwards, in attack they will often be a creative player with the vision and skill to set up play from first receiver, and provide another option for the half-backs. From an attacking scrum they will sometimes pick the ball up themselves and run or pass, taking pressure from the halfback/scrum half. Loose forwards are also usually strong running players, performing the role of another second rower. Many notable locks, such as Brad Fittler or Paul Sculthorpe in recent years, have also played at five-eighth, as the roles can be very similar.

Notable loose forwards include: Bradley Clyde , Andrew Farrell , Ellery Hanley , Wally Prigg , Johnny Raper and Ray Price .


A maximum of four substitutes (or interchange players) is allowed - they do not start the game on the field, and the rules governing if and when a replacement can be used have varied over the history of the game. Currently they may replace any injured player or, more often, be used for a tactical substitution by the team's coach.


As well as their positions, players' roles may be referred to by a range of other terms.


The on-field leader of a team and a point of contact between the referee and a team. The responsibilities of a captain, such as deciding the course of action when awarded a penalty by the referee, may vary depending upon the level of independence they are granted by their team's coach. Several responsibilities enshrined in the Laws of the Game.

Before a match, the captains of both teams meet with the referee for a coin toss. The captain that wins the coin toss may decide either to kick off or which end of the playing field they wish to start on. The captain that doesn't win the toss can decide the remaining alternatives.

The referee penalising a persistent "law breaker" may, when giving a final caution, inform the player's captain and may advise the captain to move that player to another position, the decision is at the discretion of the captain. This option in has evolved into a general warning the referee will issue to the captain regarding a persistent offence committed by a player or the whole team.

Should the referee suffer an injury during a game, they must appoint a substitute, a neutral touch judge is the preferred replacement, but if that is not possible the captains of the two teams should mutually agree a replacement. If the two captains cannot reach an agreement, the touch judge with the greater experience will take control.


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 dummy-half from the attacking team.


The role of acting half, acting halfback or dummy-half developed after the introduction of the 'play the ball' rule, prior to 1907. The dummy-half collects the ball after the play-the-ball, that is 'acts as a half-back'. The hooker has become almost synonymous with the dummy-half role, perhaps because of prior duties in the scrum and the line-out. However any player of any position can play the role of dummy-half at any time, - this often happens, given the speed of modern rugby league which can move the position of the dummy-half greatly after every play.

When the tackled player plays the ball by rolling it back with the foot, the dummy-half’s job is to pick it up and make a decision about the next play. Usually this means selecting which teammate will be the "first receiver" and passing off the ground. Sometimes, though, dummy-halves will pick the ball up and go themselves if they see an opportunity.

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.

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 may be used to fill in a number of positions is often referred to as a 'utility player'.

See also




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