SANTA CLARA, CA - OCTOBER 18: Running back Jarryd Hayne #38 of the San Francisco 49ers warms up prior to playing the Baltimore Ravens in their NFL game at Levi's Stadium on October 18, 2015 in Santa Clara, California. (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)

The world loves sports that feature the potential for crunching tackles, it seems. Rugby league and American football offer it, and although they look the same, they’re very different sports.

Many consider Huddersfield, in the UK, as the birthplace of rugby league. A meeting took place in August 1895 at The George hotel there. The meeting led to the creation of rugby league.

The NFL had a slightly less glamorous start. Eleven representatives from pro football teams met in a car showroom in Canton, Ohio, to create the American Professional Football Association on 17 September 1920. There weren’t many chairs and some of the reps had to sit on the cars themselves. Two years later, it became the National Football League (NFL).

This post looks at the major differences between the two games. If you want to place a bet on a team, it’s especially important to understand these and how the game works.


One thing you’ll notice is that NFL teams wear a lot of protective gear, including body padding and helmets. In rugby league, this is less common. Players can only wear soft padding to protect their heads. In the NFL, the team on the grid consists of 11 players, whereas in the NRL, there are 13 players on the pitch.

Time and schedule

Rugby league is straightforward. The teams play for two halves, each lasting of 40 minutes. NFL games consist of four 15-minute quarters, with a two-minute break at the end of the first and third quarters for the teams to change ends. In a regular season, NFL teams will play 16 games over 17 weeks, with a pre-determined “bye” week, whereas NRL teams will play 20 games (reduced from 24) in a season.


Passing is vastly different. In the NFL, players can throw the ball forward, whereas in the NRL, players must throw the ball backwards as they run up the pitch.

When it comes to tackling, players are not allowed to tackle above the neck in rugby league. This would be a foul and the player may even be sent off the pitch to the “sin bin” temporarily during the game for dangerous play. If a tackle brings the player to the ground, they must release the ball and play continues.

In the NRL, the team must make it to the try line by playing the ball five times. If the defending team tackles the player holding the ball six successive times, the team that has possession of the ball must hand the ball over to the other team. Often, they do this by kicking it into the other half.

In the NFL, players must tackle the person holding the ball. If the player’s knees touch the ground, the play stops.


The object of the game is to touch the ball down past the team’s goal line as many times as possible. In the NFL, this is the “touchdown” line, whereas in the NFL it’s the “try” line. Scoring this way earns the highest number of points. A touchdown is worth six points and a try is worth four.

This isn’t the only way you can score. The NFL also offers the option of field goals, which are worth three points; tries, which are awarded after touchdowns and can take the form of either a try kick or a touchdown-style play – these are worth one or two points respectively; and safety kicks, which are worth two points and the referee will award for foul play.

The NRL runs a similar style of scoring. After a try, a player may kick a “conversion”, which is like a field goal and is worth two points. Players may also score drop goals, which are kicks between the goal during play and are worth one point; or regular goals, which are spot or drop kicks between the goal if the referee has awarded a penalty.

Why are the two sports so popular?

The NFL is the US’s most popular league and it’s probably something to do with the parity between the teams. Some teams might be wealthier than others, but they all have an equal chance of winning the Super Bowl.

The NFL’s business model enables parity between teams by sharing the money it earns from sponsorship equally among them. This allows them to build quality teams to put out on the grid.

Admittedly, the NRL has its work cut out against the Australian Football League (AFL) when it comes to popularity, but the league seems to be holding its own. Past statistics have revealed that although the AFL comes out on top in terms of attendance at live games, TV viewing of NRL is a little more popular.

The NFL is one of the toughest leagues in the world when it comes to rugby league. The game itself is easy to understand and, generally, exciting to follow. The game also flows better because it’s less based around set plays, which can add to the entertainment value. Players are also versatile. Coaches won’t necessarily pick them purely because they have a specific skill in one area of the game, such as kicking, passing or tackling.

The NFL and the NRL are both vastly popular, despite the major differences between the two games. They may be being played on opposite sides of the world, but the excitement of the games in either league is the one thing that unites them both.