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The National Rugby League (often referred to as the Telstra Premiership for sponsorship purposes) is a professional competition for rugby league clubs in Australia and New Zealand, and is Australia's primary rugby league competition. It is the world's most attended rugby league competition and often considered the most competitive.

The National Rugby League was formed in 1998 following the merging of the Australian Rugby League and Super League competitions, and is currently contested by sixteen clubs. In a total of nine seasons, the title has been won by seven teams: Brisbane Broncos, Bulldogs, Melbourne Storm, Newcastle Knights, Penrith Panthers, Sydney Roosters and Wests Tigers. The most successful team are the current champions, the Brisbane Broncos, who have won the title three times and are the only team to have won the title more than once.



For more details on this topic, see History of the National Rugby League.

The 1980s brought about much expansion to the New South Wales Rugby League premiership, with new teams Canberra and Illawarra being introduced into the competition in 1982. Although this move brought out more interest in the competition statewide in New South Wales, it would spell the beginning of the demise of some of the traditional Sydney-based clubs. Following the 1983 season, foundation club Newtown Jets were ultimately forced to withdraw from the competition because of financial difficulties. In 1988, another three teams were introduced in the competition, including the Newcastle Knights and two Queensland teams Brisbane Broncos and Gold Coast-Tweed Giants. These new teams proved to be much more successful both financially and in popularity than their traditional counterparts and paved the way towards a push for a more nationalised game. This was further established in 1995, with the Australian Rugby League inviting four more teams from outside NSW to participate.

With twenty-two teams playing in two competitions in 1997 crowd attendances and corporate sponsorships were spread very thinly, and many teams found themselves in financial difficulty. On September 23, 1997 the ARL announced that it was forming a new company to control the competition in 1998 and invited Super League clubs to participate. On October 7 Rupert Murdoch announced that he was confident that there would be a single competition in 1998 and in the following months the National Rugby League, jointly owned by the ARL and News Limited, was formed.

It was announced that the 1998 Season would have 20 teams competing, 19 Super League/ARL teams and the Melbourne Storm, who were owned by News Limited. Clubs on both sides of the war were shut down. News decided to close the Hunter Mariners and the financially ruined Western Reds, who were $10million in debt at the end of 1997, while the ARL decided to close down the South Queensland Crushers, who were also in severe financial trouble. At the end of 1998 News Limited decided to close down the Adelaide Rams and the ARL closed down the Gold Coast Chargers, even though they were one of the few clubs to make a profit during the Super League war.

A Partnership Executive Committee administers the agreement between the Australian Rugby League and News Limited as well as making major financial decisions.[8] Three representatives from each party make up this committee. A National Rugby League Board which is commissioned by the Partnership Committee is comprised of six delegates from each party is responsible for administering the competition. Both bodies nominate a Chairman to lead each board for a term of 12 months, with one Chairman representing the Australian Rugby League and one representing News Limited in any one year. These roles reverse each year.

The National Rugby League markets the premiership on behalf of the clubs as well as organising the draw and finals matches. Along with the Australian Rugby League, representative matches and the World Sevens tournament are also promoted by the National Rugby League as well. When the draw is finalised, teams are responsible for controlling and organsing their assigned home games. Clubs each have their own organisational structure but are also bound to the National Rugby League by a common set of rules in club agreements.

Competition format and sponsorship

There are currently sixteen clubs in the National Rugby League. Teams are divided into two equal pools of eight at the competition of each season, with each pool of equal strength based on that season's results. During the course of the regular season (which lasts from March to August) each club plays a total of two games against teams in the opposite pool, once at their home stadium and once at that of their opponents for a total of 16 games for each club. Teams play six of those seven others in their own group just once during the season, and play the remaining club twice. In total, each team plays 24 games in the 25-week regular season and a total of 192 games in a National Rugby League season. Teams receive two points for a win and one point for a draw. No points are awarded for a loss. Teams are ranked by total points, then points difference and then points percentage. At the end of each season, the club with the most points is declared minor premiers.

Qualification for finals series

Canberra Raiders and Newcastle Knights playing at Canberra Stadium in 2005.The eight highest placed teams then contest the finals series, which is contested using the McIntyre System. This has been for every National Rugby League season with the exception of 1998. This system consists of a number of knockout and sudden-death games over four weeks between the top eight teams in August and September until there are only two teams remaining. These two teams then play in the Grand Final, on the first Sunday of October. In the first week, the top four seeds play at their respective home grounds. From week two onwards, all finals matches are scheduled to be played in Sydney, either at Aussie Stadium or Telstra Stadium.

In 1998 the Grand Final was held at Sydney Football Stadium. Since 1999 the Grand Final has been contested at Telstra Stadium, the primary athletics venue during the 2000 Olympic Games held in Sydney. In June 2006, the NRL announced that the National Rugby League Grand Final will continue to be held at Sydney's Telstra Stadium until at least 2012, when it will be considered to be moved interstate if certain circumstances arose.

Since 2001, the National Rugby League has been sponsored by Telstra. In the years beforehand, the premiership was simply known as the "National Rugby League". The list below details who the sponsors have been and what they called the competition

1998–2000: National Rugby League
2001–current: Telstra (NRL Telstra Premiership)

Competition rules and representative season

Salary cap
Main article: Salary cap
The National Rugby League adopted a salary cap based on the Australian Football League model in the early 1990s. In the NRL, clubs found to have breached the salary cap rules usually incur a fine. For example, six clubs were fined for minor infractions in 2003. These infractions are usually technical in nature and can sometimes be affected by third-party factors such as loss of sponsorship revenue affecting an allowance.

However in mid-2002, the Bulldogs were found guilty of serious and systemic breaches. In addition to a more substantial fine, they were stripped of their competition points accumulated to that date, and hence denied a place in the finals. As the club had been leading the competition table prior to the penalty's imposition, this was a shattering outcome for the club and its fans. Furthermore, in the 2006 pre-season the New Zealand Warriors revealed that their former management had rorted the salary cap in the 2004 and 2005 seasons. As a punishment the club was stripped of four competition points for 2006 and fined $430,000 Australian dollars. They also must play 2007 under a reduced salary cap.

Representative season
As well as playing for their club in the National Rugby League season, players are sometimes entitled to play in a number of representative competitions that are conducted at the same time. These competitions include the one-off ANZAC Test and Country Origin VS City Origin matches and the State of Origin series. In order for a player to qualify for a representative team in these competitions, they must firstly be eligible to be chosen for the side. In recent times, these qualification requirements have been relaxed which has seen a number of players representing teams which they would not have always been allowed to play for. This has caused some controversy given that some players have chosen to play for arguably weaker teams (hence making it easier to be selected) despite only having weak ties with that team both geographically and ancestrally, most notably in the case of Australian-born Nathan Fien being selected for New Zealand on the ground that his great-grandmother was born in New Zealand.

Media coverage

A 2004 match between Brisbane Broncos and the Bulldogs The National Rugby League premiership has ultimately been revolutionised by television, with there being a large shift away from daytime games to nightime games over recent years to better suit the contracted television networks Channel 9 and Foxtel. From 2001 onwards, the Grand Final has been held during the evening of a Sunday night.

With the admission of the Gold Coast Titans to the premiership in 2007, the number of weekly games has risen from seven to eight. Free to air broadcaster Channel 9 will broadcast a live game on Friday night in addition to a delayed match that has been featured for some years. A delayed Sunday match will also continue to be shown on the network.

The News Limited-begun Foxtel network which broadcast its first rugby league matches during the 1997 Super League season has broadcast the remaining National Rugby League matches since the competition's inception in 1998.

Each club in the National Rugby League has a "top squad" of twenty-five players, which are signed under the Salary Cap (as described above). By and large, the players who play in National Rugby League matches are sourced from these "top squad"s. Occasionally during a season, however, the need may arise for a club to use players outside these 25, and in this case players are usually sourced from the club's junior ranks (such as the relevant Premier League squad).

Most of the players in the National Rugby League are of Australian origin, although there are increasing numbers of both New Zealand and Pacific Island-born players being selected by clubs. In recent years, Polynesian players have made up 75 per cent of junior representative teams in New South Wales. English-born players in the National Rugby League amount to very few, particularly when compared to the significant number of Australian-born players appearing in the European Super League. However the few English players who appear in the National Rugby League, such as Adrian Morley and Brian Carney, have noted that the National Rugby League provides a higher standard of rugby league than is played in Europe.

The players voted to be the best in each position at the end of the season are honoured at the Dally M Awards, with the player of the year awarded the Dally M Medal. The man of the match in the Grand Final is awarded the Clive Churchill Medal.


The Bulldogs hold the record for the most consecutive wins, having won 17 matches in a row between 31 March 2002 and 3 August 2002. The Parramatta Eels set the records for the highest score and margin of victory in a 74–4 victory over the Cronulla Sharks on 23 August 2003. The most victories achieved within a season is 20, held jointly between the Parramatta Eels in 2001, the Bulldogs in 2002 and the Melbourne Storm in 2006. None of these teams went on to win the Grand Final.

Since the first National Rugby League season in 1998, a total of six players have topped the scorers list in a season. However, the only player to have won the title more than once is Hazem El Masri, the overall top scorer in the National Rugby League's history, having claimed the title in 2002, 2003, 2004 and 2006. His tally of 342 points in 2004 remains the most points scored by an invididual in a season.

Nigel Vagana's 130 tries scored across all nine seasons of the National Rugby League makes him the most prolific try scorer in the competition's history. Nathan Blacklock holds the record for the most tries in a season, with 27 scored in 2001 for his team, the St. George Illawarra Dragons.

Three players hold the record for the most points scored in a game; Hazem El Masri, Andrew Johns and Matt Geyer with 34 apiece. Only three players have scored five tries in a game; Francis Meli, Jamie Lyon and Nigel Vagana. (Credit: Wikipedia)

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