Rugby League 13-a-side
100 years old

100 years ago this Friday (Sept. 1), rugby league was played for the first time with its signature features ? 13-a-side and the play-the-ball.

Born in England in 1895, the first League matches used rugby union rules and 15-aside.

Rugby union though was primarily a scrummaging game. In a manner akin to American football, (which also evolved from rugby), a scrum was formed after every tackle.

For much of the time, spectators and backs alike could only watch on, wondering where the ball was under the mass of forwards scrummaging around the field.

Finally in 1906, the League decided to introduce reforms to bring about attacking ball-passing football, radically reduce the number of scrums, and ensure the ball could always be seen by the paying public.

Space was created on the field by reducing teams to 13 men. This alone though could not stop the endless scrum battles.

The highly open and visible play-the-ball was adopted to replace the mandatory scrum after every tackle.

The effect upon the game was instantaneous. Being able to see the ball, crowds flocked to matches as they could become ?involved?, cheering or booing the actions of the players and officials.

While rugby union rules created a game for the enjoyment of the players, rugby league had evolved into a game for players and spectators alike.

It was a timely change, for just over a year later, rugby league arrived in Australia.

Off-field dramas beset the new code, but its matches were an instant favourite with the sporting public. One paper observed: ?What saved the League is that the game it controls is spectacular and popular?.

With their new freedom, teams experimented with 5-man and 7-man packs, new positions such as ?wing-forwards? and ?rovers?, while others used back-lines with 2 half-backs, 2 five-eighths or even 5 players in the three-quarter line.

Meanwhile, faced with competition from League, over the following decades rugby began to allow rucks and mauls rather than stop play for a scrum.

The reforms introduced to rugby league a century ago this week, continue to be integral features of the game today.

More detailed articles on the 1906 changes are available at: