After a coin toss with the two captains and referee, the winner elects to either kick off or receive the kick off and chooses which end of the field to attack for the first half (the ends changing over after the half-time break).
Play commences once the ball has been kicked off from the ground in the centre of the field by one team to the other. The longer the kick, the more advantageous, as this forces the team receiving the ball to return it from deeper within their own territory. However a kick that is too long or misdirected and goes out of the field of play without first bouncing in it results in a penalty being awarded to the non-kicking team.
Each team is responsible for defending their end of the field, and they take turns throughout a game at defending and attacking. At half-time (the 40th minute of the game), the teams have a 10-minute break, then swap ends before resuming play.
The team with possession of the football is the attacking team. The primary aim of the attacking team is to ‘work’ the ball out from their own end of the field, into a more favourable position towards the opposition’s end, and score a try by grounding the ball in the opposition’s in-goal area or on the goal line. In some circumstances the attacking team may opt to kick a one-point drop goal instead of attempting to score a try. Scoring will at least involve first gaining field position and, in the case of scoring a try, will almost certainly involve breaking the opposition’s defensive line.
The objective of the defensive side is to prevent the attacking side from scoring and obtaining their shorter term objectives. The defensive team carries out these objectives by:
- maintaining the defensive line
- providing last-ditch defenders
- preventing a try
Favourable field position is an important aim in rugby league, a goal present in the minds of players at almost all times. Possession of the ball is the primary aim of each team. When in possession the aim is to maintain possession and score by running in packs and trying to minimise ball-handling errors and penalties conceded (which always result in a changeover of possession). When not in possession the aim is to prevent the opposition from scoring, prevent or reduce the incidence of the opposition carrying the ball forward, and ultimately to gain possession of the ball.