Australia proudly flaunts its reputation for being sport crazy. Watching the rugby is a national pastime, as iconic and traditional as throwing shrimps on the barbie or wearing cork hats in the desert.
Stadiums are alive with a fervent atmosphere and friendly rivalries, both rugby league and rugby union, compel the country throughout the year. If you’re sporty, watching the rugby is an unforgettable Australia experience. And if you’re not, then it’s a great local slant to an Australian holiday.
Quick Rugby Facts for your Australian Holiday
- The Rugby League season runs from February to October.
- Rugby Union’s premier Super Rugby tournament is played between February and early July.
- Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane all have championship winning teams playing in both rugby versions.
- Sydney has six National Rugby League championship winning teams and offers the most choice for watching rugby as part of an Australian holiday.
- The famous State of Origin fixtures between Queensland and New South Wales are in June and July.
Australian Rugby League
Rugby League is Australia’s national sport and the “green and golds” national team have been world champions a staggering ten times (out of only 14 tournaments). Sixteen teams from Australia and New Zealand compete in the NRL (National Rugby League) from February to October, with many teams based in major cities along Australia’s East Coast. It’s Rugby League that creates the most impassioned atmospheres and fiercest intercity rivalries.
Who to Watch
Thanks to an effective salary cap, the NRL title isn’t dominated by one particular team. Melbourne Storm, Sydney Roosters and Brisbane Broncos are the traditional powerhouses of the local game and where you’ll experience the biggest crowds. On a sporty Australian holiday. Sydney is the best city for Rugby League. You’ll find 2014 champions South Sydney Rabbitohs, plus Wests Tigers, St George Illawarra Dragons, Penrith Panthers and Manly Sea Eagles – all of them recent winners of the prestigious grand final. So whichever weekend you’re visiting, there will be at least a couple of local matches taking place.
The State of Origin
Australia stands still for three interstate matches every July – Queensland vs New South Wales – where the pride of a region is at stake in a best of three series. It’s the equivalent of a North England vs South England football match, with players representing their birthplace. Tickets are very difficult to obtain, but the whole of Australia stops to cheer on the blues (New South Wales) or the maroons (Queensland). Practically every bar in the country will be showing it.
Australian Rugby Union
Rugby Union traditionally played second fiddle to the 13-a-side league code, but the advent of Super Rugby has created international competition and incredibly vibrant stadiums. The Rugby Union season runs from February to November, with the action split across two distinct competitions.
Played across a remarkable 11 time zones, Super Rugby brings together the five best teams from Australia, New Zealand and South Africa. Played over just 18 rounds of competition from February to early June, the matches become intense affairs that symbolise national rivalry. It’s not just The Canberra Brumbies against the Canterbury Crusaders, it’s Australia vs New Zealand over 80 minutes of action. Australia’s teams are the Melbourne Revels, Brumbies, New South Wales Waratahs (based in Sydney), Queensland Reds (based in Brisbane) and Western Force (based in Perth). There are less games to choose from, but if your Australia holiday coincides with a Super League fixture, it should make for an unforgettable experience.
National Rugby Championship
The National Championship is a tier below Super Rugby and provides a very local Australia experience. You’ll find people flipping sausages on barbecues outside the ground and relatively small stadiums. The tickets are much cheaper than Super Rugby yet the competition is equally fierce; this is where up and coming stars are born. Melbourne, Sydney, Canberra, Perth and Brisbane all have teams and the season runs from July to November.
The International Rugby Championship
The Rugby Championship is the southern hemisphere’s equivalent to the Six Nations. Australia compete against New Zealand, South Africa and Argentina, with just about everybody glued to their television for six matches every August and September. Australia’s home matches rotate between Sydney and Brisbane, with tickets being difficult to come by. However, if you’re one of the lucky ones, an Australian international rugby match is perhaps the most exuberant experience for sports fans Down Under.