Boasting the best attendance figures for a domestic competition of either Rugby code, the National Rugby League or NRL competition, based in Australiasia, is the premier rugby league competition in the world.
The NRL competition features 15 Australian teams and one New Zealand-based side. The NRL season runs across 26 rounds, starting in march and culminating in October with the NRL Grand Final.
The NRL year also runs in tandem with a representative season, which includes an ANZAC Test Match, a City-Country fixture, and most prominently, the three-game State Of Origin series.
The weekend of the ANZAC Test Match, City-Country and other international fixtures currently means a week off for the 16 club teams.
The Origin series is played on Wednesday nights throughout the middle of the season, normally with a three week break in each game. During the 2017 season they will be played between Round 12 and 19.
The first season of the NRL was held in 1998, but the league can date its origins back to the New South Wales Rugby League (NSWRL) which began in 1908.
Two clubs remain from the foundation of the NSWRL, the Sydney Roosters and the South Sydney Rabbitohs, though the modern club Wests Tigers is a merger of two foundation clubs, the Balmain Tigers and the Western Suburbs Magpies.
The league expanded over time and in 1982 added its first two clubs from outside the suburbs of Sydney, Canberra and Illawarra. 1988 saw another regional side, the Newcastle Knights, join the league, as well as the first two Queensland clubs, the Brisbane Broncos and Gold Coast-Tweed Giants.
In the 1990s the emergence of a truly national league caught the attention of international media organisation News Corporation, who formed their own ‘Super League’, admitting some of the existing clubs and poaching prominent players.
In 1997 the one and only season of the Super League ran opposite to the ARL with a total of 22 teams running across the two competitions, most of them struggling to turn a profit.
Eventually a compromise was brokered that allowed a single league to be run and this was the birth of the NRL. It ran with 20 teams in 1998 but this was reduced by merger and removal to 14 by 2000. This was later bolstered to 16 by the return of South Sydney in 2002 and the creation of the Gold Coast Titans in 2007.
The league’s popularity has rapidly grown since and its Grand Final and State of Origin representative games are now among the biggest events on Australia’s sporting calendar.
The league’s premiership trophy is known as the Provan-Summons trophym named after Norm Provan and Arthur Summons. The Brisbane Broncos are the most successful team in the modern NRL, with three premiership wins to date (1998, 2000 and 2006).
The Clive Churchill Medal is awarded each year to the player judged the best on ground in the NRL Grand Final, while the Dally M Medal is awarded each year to the player of the year.
The current premiers of the NRL are the Cronulla Sharks, who won the 2016 grand final to break their 49-year drought annd win the first premiership in the club’s history, defeating the Melbourne Storm in an action packed decider by just two points.
Paul Gallen was captain of the Sharks during their premiership run, while the Clive Churchill medal went to Luke Lewis of the Sharks.
The Queensland Maroons representative side are the current State of Origin Champions after a 2-1 win in the 2016 State of Origin series where they had the series wrapped up in straight sets before losing the dead rubber.