Rugby league is a complex and intricate tactical battle as well as a compelling physical contest. Most NRL fans are casual watchers and tippers who may not know or understand all of the tactical and strategic aspects of the game that could affect their NRL football tipping. If you’ve watched American football, you may know that teams rely constantly on set plays which are predetermined by the coach and honed in training. These plays are chosen by the coach during the game and relayed to the Quarterback who facilitates the play by instructing other teammates. The fast-paced nature of the NRL makes this kind of planning impossible, but coaches still employ various offensive and defensive tactics and practices to get a winning edge against opponents.
Check out this short guide on how to recognize and appreciate NRL tactics during the game. Learning about tactics will give you insight into which teams are actually executing their game plan successfully. The best footy tipping NRL enthusiasts have a great understanding of how on-field strategies affect game outcomes for the players and know how to put that information to good use!
Understanding Rules and General Strategy
Before our discussion of tactics commences, it’s important to understand the main objectives of both teams in a broad sense. The game begins with a kickoff after which one team possesses the ball and attacks while the other team is defends. The goal of the attacking team is to work the ball down the pitch towards the opposing end and score points. The attacking side is limited by the six tackle rule: attacking teams have only six tackles to advance the ball up the field. Once the sixth tackle is made, the attacking team hands the ball over to the defence and the defending team begins to attack. The attacking side must use accurate passing and running to gain as many metres as possible during the attack. The defence needs to tackle well and limit any breakthroughs to minimize the effectiveness of the attack. This battle for field position, the struggle to gain or limit metres gained by both teams, is at the core of the NRL and leads to the physical battles that we all love to watch.
Field Position: Why Are They Always Kicking?
Understanding the importance of field position is one of the major requirements for fully appreciating the NRL. Field position is everything in the NRL because the pitch is large and attacks consume a lot of energy for the attacking team. As a result, starting a set of six tackles close to the opposing end is extremely beneficial to the attacking side and creates nervous defenders who know they must defend for six tackles when any breakthrough is likely to lead to a try. Long, accurate kicks are useful because they help to dictate the starting field position of the opponents. Kicks into empty space on the pitch allow the kicking team to pursue the ball aggressively and limit the distance that the kick can be returned by the receiving team.
If your team kicks plenty of metres per game, there’s a good chance that the average starting field position for their opponents is relatively poor. If you notice a discrepancy in kicking metres per game between two sides, you can bet that the team that kicks better will have better field position throughout the game and a better chance of mounting successful attacks.
It may seem that teams sometimes employ long kicks excessively, especially early on in their own sets. In American Football where possession is much more important than field position, this type of strategy would make little sense. However, things are a bit different in the NRL. On your own 30 metre line, you may be able to kick 60 metres or more into space and have a bouncing ball land deep in opposition territory. Doing this early in the attack phase will save energy for your team (more on this later) and give the other team relatively poor field position. You can then switch to defending and see what develops. The other team may start an attack deep in their own end, but attacks are tiring and unlikely to succeed when they begin so far from the target.
Energy Economy: Fighting for Rest and Efficiency in the NRL
Rugby is an exhausting game for the players, who are expected to remain alert and active for the duration of the match. The need to preserve energy for critical moments is wound into the fabric of the game and how Rugby League is played. There are a number of ways in which players act in order to save or rebuild their energy. If you can follow which teams do employ these tactics effectively, you can tell which team is likely to remain fresh and alert throughout the match.
On the attacking side, choosing when to attack is critical. Attacking from poor field position can result in expending a lot of energy without much of a result to show for it. In a good attack, players off-load the ball to avoid being tackled and must be active and energetic as the play develops. If the players are too tired they may lose concentration and good opportunities can be lost when attacking. Defensively, tackling effectively and wrapping up the ball in tackles is essential to regaining possession quickly. If attackers are repeatedly allowed to avoid being tackled by offloading the ball, this can amount to a lot of wasted energy over the course of a game. Teams also designate the largest players to do most of the tackling because they can push attackers backwards and cripple the advance down the pitch.
Tired players often concede line breaks late on in the game, which can lead to large advancements in field position and points on the board. Teams that allow a lot of line breaks may not be managing their energy levels well throughout the game and are prone to giving up points late in the match. It’s a good idea to compare total line breaks and line breaks conceded when determining which team you should tip to win.
Now that you understand a little bit more about NRL tactics and strategy, it’s time to put that knowledge to good use. The next time you’re watching the NRL or making your weekly tips, just check the key statistics outlined in this guide and you’ll have an edge over the competition. Good luck!