The demands of professional rugby league match-play: a meta-analysis

Daniel J. Glassbrook, Tim L. A. Doyle, Jacqueline A. Alderson, Joel T. Fuller*

*Corresponding author for this work

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    39 Citations (Scopus)
    161 Downloads (Pure)


    Background: Rugby league is a collision sport, where players are expected to be physically competent in a range of areas, including aerobic fitness, strength, speed and power. Several studies have attempted to characterise the physical demands of rugby league match-play, but these studies often have relatively small sample sizes based on one or two clubs, which makes generalisation of the findings difficult. Therefore, the aim of this review was to synthesise studies that investigated the physical demands of professional rugby league match-play.

    Methods: SPORTDiscus, CINAHL, MEDLINE (EBSCO) and Embase (EBSCO) databases were systematically searched from inception until October 2018. Articles were included if they (1) recruited professional rugby league athletes aged ≥ 18 years and (2) provided at least one match-play relevant variable (including playing time, total and relative distance, repeat high-intensity efforts (RHIE), efforts per RHIE, accelerations and decelerations, total and relative collisions). Meta-analyses were used to provide pooled estimates ± 95% confidence intervals.

    Results: A total of 30 studies were included. Pooled estimates indicated that, compared to adjustables and backs, forwards have less playing time (− 17.2 ± 5.6 and − 25.6 ± 5.8 min, respectively), cover less ‘slow-speed’ (− 2230 ± 735 and − 1348 ± 655 m, respectively) and ‘high-speed’ distance (− 139 ± 108 and − 229 ± 101 m, respectively), but complete more relative RHIEs (+ 0.05 ± 0.05 and + 0.08 ± 0.04 per minute, respectively), and total (+ 12.0 ± 8.1 and + 12.8 ± 7.2 collisions, respectively) and relative collisions (+ 0.32 ± 0.22 and + 0.41 ± 0.22 collisions per minute, respectively). Notably, when the distance was expressed relative to playing time, forwards were not different from adjustables and backs in slow-speed (P ≥ 0.295) and high-speed (P ≥ 0.889) relative distance. The adjustables and backs subgroups were similar in most variables, except playing time (shorter for adjustables, − 8.5 ± 6.2 min), slow-speed distance (greater for adjustables, + 882 ± 763 m) and total relative distance (greater for adjustables, + 11.3 ± 5.2 m·min−1). There were no significant differences between positional groups for efforts per RHIE, accelerations and decelerations (P ≥ 0.745).

    Conclusions: These results indicate the unique physical demands of each playing position and should be considered by strength and conditioning and tactical coaches when planning for professional rugby league performance.

    Protocol Registration:
    Original languageEnglish
    Article number24
    Pages (from-to)1-20
    Number of pages20
    JournalSports Medicine - Open
    Issue number1
    Publication statusPublished - 11 Jun 2019

    Bibliographical note

    Copyright the Author(s) 2019. Version archived for private and non-commercial use with the permission of the author/s and according to publisher conditions. For further rights please contact the publisher.


    • Collisions
    • Football
    • Global positioning system
    • Performance
    • Playing position


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