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rugby league


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A thirteen-a-side game played with an oval ball, in which players run with the ball, pass it from hand to hand, and kick it towards an opponent's goalposts in order to score points by way of goal-kicking and achieving tries (these latter being the placing of the ball by hand in the space behind the opposition's goalposts). The game derived from Rugby Union, in what Tony Collins has called Rugby's great split, when 21 clubs formed the Northern Union in England, at a meeting in Huddersfield, Yorkshire, in 1895. This group of northern clubs favoured compensation and incentive payments to players, accepted professionalism three years later, and pioneered a form of the game in which running and fluency could be emphasized to appeal to a paying public. In challenging the amateur hegemony of the Rugby Union, the northern breakaway (which went from fifteen to thirteen players per side in 1906, and changed its name to the Rugby Football League in 1922) was therefore also a cultural formation of a particular social-class dynamic, with a commercial class blending with the working class to develop a professionalized form of the sport that might have more of the spectator appeal of the professional and widely popular association code (soccer).

Within Britain, the sport remained predominantly regional, its heartlands the northern counties of Lancashire and Yorkshire; initiatives to establish it in Wales and in London and the south of England were short-lived and unsuccessful. The game has been associated with a local cultural base in the particular community, though it has also had a more global dimension in the number of non-British players who came to England to play the game professionally. In 1949, an ‘Other Nationalities’ team was allowed to compete in Britain's international championship, and fielded players from Australia, Scotland, South Africa, and New Zealand: it won the title in 1953 and 1955. Internationally, the game has flourished in parts of Australia, France, and New Zealand. Catalans Dragons versus Wakefield Wildcats became a regular fixture in the first decade of the 21st century; the sight of a Yorkshire club side playing a transnational side among a modest but sell-out crowd at the foot of the Pyrenees is testimony to sport's capacity to transcend cultural barriers and bolster the local tourist economy.

Subjects: Art — Sport and Leisure.


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