Science of rugby league football: a review

J Sports Sci. 2005 Sep;23(9):961-76. doi: 10.1080/02640410400023381.


The purpose of this paper is to provide a comprehensive review of the science of rugby league football at all levels of competition (i.e. junior, amateur, semi-professional, professional), with special reference to all discipline-specific scientific research performed in rugby league (i.e. physiological, psychological, injury epidemiology, strength and conditioning, performance analysis). Rugby league football is played at junior and senior levels in several countries worldwide. A rugby league team consists of 13 players (6 forwards and 7 backs). The game is played over two 30 - 40 min halves (depending on the standard of competition) separated by a 10 min rest interval. Several studies have documented the physiological capacities and injury rates of rugby league players. More recently, studies have investigated the physiological demands of competition. Interestingly, the physiological capacities of players, the incidence of injury and the physiological demands of competition all increase as the playing standard is increased. Mean blood lactate concentrations of 5.2, 7.2 and 9.1 mmol . l(-1) have been reported during competition for amateur, semi-professional and professional rugby league players respectively. Mean heart rates of 152 beats . min(-1) (78% of maximal heart rate), 166 beats . min(-1) (84% of maximal heart rate) and 172 beats . min(-1) (93% of maximal heart rate) have been recorded for amateur, semi-professional and junior elite rugby league players respectively. Skill-based conditioning games have been used to develop the skill and fitness of rugby league players, with mean heart rate and blood lactate responses during these activities almost identical to those obtained during competition. In addition, recent studies have shown that most training injuries are sustained in traditional conditioning activities that involve no skill component (i.e. running without the ball), whereas the incidence of injuries while participating in skill-based conditioning games is low. Collaborative research among the various sport science disciplines is required to identify strategies to reduce the incidence of injury and enhance the performance of rugby league players. An understanding of the movement patterns and physiological demands of different positions at all standards of competition would allow the development of strength and conditioning programmes to meet the precise requirements of these positions. Finally, studies investigating the impact of improvements in physiological capacities (including the effect of different strength and conditioning programmes) on rugby league playing performance are warranted.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Athletic Injuries / epidemiology*
  • Athletic Injuries / prevention & control*
  • Body Composition / physiology
  • Body Temperature Regulation / physiology
  • Competitive Behavior / physiology
  • Football / education
  • Football / injuries*
  • Football / physiology*
  • Football / psychology
  • Humans
  • Incidence
  • Muscle, Skeletal / physiology
  • Oxygen Consumption / physiology
  • Physical Education and Training / methods
  • Physical Fitness / physiology
  • Task Performance and Analysis