Rugby league looking for a league of its own

Barely three years old, rugby’s smaller code attracts many with the promise of national representation, but not enough to compete with union

For many years, the sport of rugby league has bypassed Danish soil, but all this could be about to change. Currently ranked 28th out of 29 recognised rugby league-playing nations after officially joining their ranks in 2009, Denmark has a huge task on its hand in order to establish itself on the rugby league ladder, but as they say, Rome wasn’t built in a day.

A conversation about a scrummage, forward pass and converted try from the fly half will leave the majority of Danes looking completely blank, inquisitive at best. But it seems that whilst the sport of rugby league is never going to be mainstream, its popularity and participation numbers are on the rise.

Warren Heilig, the Scandinavian manager of the Rugby League European Foundation (RLEF), is very optimistic that the game can grow in Europe’s northern reaches. “I am so pleased that rugby league is really starting to take hold in Scandinavia and I would like to show my appreciation to the DRL for their dedication to making the sport possible in their nation,” he said.

Throughout most parts of the world, league has always played second fiddle to the ‘other’ code, rugby union, a sport with the same objective but a variation of rules. A rugby league world cup can easily slip off the radar unless you come from the north of England, eastern Australia or the little island of Papua New Guinea, whereas rugby union world cups attract a strong media spotlight.

This is the same problem in Denmark, where union has been played at an amateur level for over 50 years. The exposure to the sport of rugby league is minimal in this country but to the trained eye, it is clear the sport incorporates other sports that play a huge part in Danish society. A good handball player, American footballer or soccer player can also make good rugby league players. Unlike rugby union, the emphasis is not as focused on physical prowess and brute force – so players don’t all have to be big and heavy.

One of them, Bjarne Vibe, was part of the recent Denmark line-up that triumphed in the 2011 Nordic Cup played between Denmark, Sweden and Norway, and he is optimistic the sport can become more recognised thanks to the help from foreigners living in the country.

“They play a huge role having grown up with the sport from a young age, and with more and more expats in Denmark now, the standard will certainly rise,” he enthused.

“Getting consistent participation from Danish people is more important at the moment than kidding ourselves about sharing the field with nations like New Zealand and Australia. Although the standard is significantly low in terms of other recognised rugby nations, I am essentially representing my country in a sport I have only played for around 12 months and others could do the same. With a lot of hard work, the game can grow. We will be doing what we can to get more people playing the greatest game of all.”

Rugby league’s development in Denmark is still at a very early stage – at present it doesn’t even have a league – but it is hoped in years to come that Denmark will join the growing list of nations embracing the sport. Denmark has been given support from the RLEF and more funds to invest in assisting rugby league’s growth. In addition, DRL has signed an agreement to play their home games at Gladsaxe Stadium (a FIFA Category 2 venue) for the foreseeable future, proving that steps are certainly being made in the right direction.

Factfile  |  Rugby league

The rules:

  • Rugby league is often seen as a mix between rugby union and American football.
  • Similar to the four downs in American football, each team has six attempts (tackles) in which to move the ball to the opponents’ try-line in a bid to score a try.
  • If no score is made possession of the ball is handed over to the opposing team.
  • The ball cannot be thrown forward – the only way to advance is to kick or to run with the ball in hand.
  • Differences to union:
  • There are 13 players, compared to union’s 15.
  • Keeping possession of the ball (especially in the tackles) is extremely important.
  • Rugby league is generally faster. More emphasis is placed on open play and less on rucks, mauls and line-outs – there are less set pieces.
  • There are fewer laws, and new players generally find it an easier sport to learn.

Factfile  |  World  rankings (Jan 2012)

1 Australia 17 Russia
2 New Zealand 18 Germany
3 England 19 Latvia
4 Papua New Guinea 20 Norway
5 France 21 Ukraine
6 Samoa 22 Czech Republic
7 Wales 23 Malta
8 Fiji 24 Jamaica
9 Tonga 25 Canada
10 Scotland 26 Sweden
11 Ireland 27 Belgium
12 Cook Islands 28 Denmark
13 USA 29 Morocco
14 Italy
15 Lebanon  
16 Serbia  


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