The Roar
The Roar


Rugby league needs a new name but what can you call it to stand out in football’s confusingly crowded landscape of codes?

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5th March, 2024
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What’s in a name? When it comes to rugby league, a lot of confusion. 

The recent expedition to the United States has highlighted a lingering issue with the sport that has never been solved – its name. 

Particularly at a time when league is trying to expand its boundaries beyond its traditional strongholds of Australia’s eastern seaboard and the north of England, the absurdity of the rugby league name is being thrust into the spotlight. 

Former USARL chairman Drew Slover recently outlined the biggest hurdle to rugby league getting a foothold in the States was that it had “arguably the worst name of a sport in the world”.

It’s a kind of rugby but don’t call it rugby. 

League has been trying to distance itself from rugby for decades but the flip side to that link is that the former amateur code carries vastly more cache and name recognition worldwide. 


Has anyone ever referred to rugby union in a non-traditional market and been asked is that a version of rugby league?

Australian fans refer to the 13-player code as league and in England the competition is just called Super League after starting out as “northern union” to differentiate it as the version played in the north, well away from union’s breeding ground in the south near London. 

But you can’t just call a sport “league”. When you set up a new competition in the US for example, would that then become the United States League League? 

Perhaps they should consult with the American Dodgeball Association of America for advice on the perils of repetition. (That is from the Dodgeball movie, by the way, the governing body in the States is USA Dodgeball and Peter LaFleur or White Goodman are not involved).

Victor Radley scores against Brisbane in Round 1 at Las Vegas. (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)

Australia’s inaugural 1908 competition was called the rugby football league because it was a league of a different type of the football known as rugby, one where players were paid for risking life and limb in the pursuit of pigskin. 

When the original breakaway code (not the one that has breakaways in the pack) occurred in the north of England in the early 1890s, it started out as a rugby competition before becoming 13 a side, shedding two forwards in each team – the breakaways.


In Australia, the NSW Rugby Football League rapidly exceeded union as the most popular form of football in NSW and Queensland and after the name of the competition was shortened to NSWRL in 1984, it became the ARL in ‘95 when national expansion took shape and then after the civil war messiness that ensued soon afterwards, relaunched as the National Rugby League 26 years ago. 

An Elvis impersonator wields a Steeden with Las Vegas showgirls. (Photo by David Becker/Getty Images for NRL)

An Elvis impersonator wields a Steeden with Las Vegas showgirls. (Photo by David Becker/Getty Images for NRL)

If the sport is called rugby league and it’s a national league of competing teams, it really should be the National Rugby League League. 

Some well-intentioned leaguies have recently claimed the NRL should follow the NFL example and use the acronym to serve as the name of the sport. 

It already happens colloquially with many people west of the Barassi line referring to the sport as NRL at all levels whether talking about the professional competition or grassroots footy.  

The opposite occurs in the northern states where the rugby codes dominate with people using AFL to refer to Australian rules football. 


So you can cross the acronym option off the list for a rugby league rebrand. 

How about just footy? Nope. It’s also what is used to describe Aussie rules and it gives potential new markets no indication whatsoever about the sport. 

The best sporting names are the simplest – no confusion. Basketball? The aim of the game is to put a ball in a basket. Swimming. Self explanatory. Sprinting? Apparently you just run. (Bonus points to anyone who gets The Anchorman reference). 

So how to describe this rugby league caper? 

The rah-rah brigade would suggest the name should be “FiveHitUpsThenKickBall”. 

In France it is often referred to as Rugby XIIIs – the governing body is the Fédération Française de Rugby à XIII. 

LAS VEGAS, NEVADA - MARCH 02: Latrell Mitchell of the Rabbitohs and Tom Trbojevic of the Sea Eagles compete for the ball from a kick during the round one NRL match between Manly Sea Eagles and South Sydney Rabbitohs at Allegiant Stadium, on March 02, 2024, in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)

Latrell Mitchell of the Rabbitohs and Tom Trbojevic compete for the ball at Allegiant Stadium. (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)


Rugby 13s – is that a name for league? That would be helpful but problematic on a couple of fronts – it states that this is the version where you play with 13 on the field but retains the confusion of being linked to the long-lost 15-player cousin. 

And if rugby league became known as 13s, what would the modified versions be called – 9/13ths?

MungoBall, V’landysBall or the one used by my mum to denigrate the sport whenever possible, thugby league, there are plenty of colloquialisms to describe the sport.

If anyone has any bright ideas for a name that solves all these issues, please send all correspondence to:
The ARL Commission,

c /o Rugby League Central,
Driver Avenue
Moore Park

(or better yet, leave them in the comments section below).

Like most things in rugby league, the name will be debated, working committees will be established, theories floated and shot down in equal measure, and in the end nothing will change because no one can agree on a solution. 


That’s the name of this game.