Rugby League Training: Why You Should Add Wrestling to Your Program

What if we told you that you can effectively incorporate wrestling to your Rugby League training? It may not seem like it, but wrestling and rugby are actually very compatible. It’s not just those either. Wrestling, grappling, and BJJ skills translate well to Rugby League, Rugby Union, and AFL.

If you’ve ever spent any time on the mats, you’ve probably rolled with a few footie players. Particularly, Rugby League, Rugby Union, or AFL (Australian Rules Football). You may think it odd that they practise techniques unrelated to their sport. When you think about it, though, wrestling and rugby do overlap in some form. There are skills and strategies each can adopt from the other. That said, you can see why it’s common to find these athletes on the mats.

But where do Rugby League, Rugby Union, and AFL intersect? How are wrestling, grappling, and BJJ relevant to them? Here are three reasons why training in these sports may be beneficial to each other.



  • 1 Tackling

    Wrestling takedowns may not look much like a Rugby tackle on the field. Upon closer inspection though, you’ll see that they’re not so different. Both techniques share a surprising number of similarities on a fundamental level.

    For an effective wrestling takedown, you have to change your shoulder level. Control your opponent’s hips or legs (or both) with the arms. Simultaneously, drive with your lower body to bring the opponent to the ground.

    Effective Rugby tackles can also be executed in the same manner.

    Many athletes have effectively applied wrestling techniques to improve their tackle completion rate. A few good examples are players from the Melbourne Storm and Brisbane Broncos.

    Having a broad arsenal of takedown techniques is beneficial for players. This makes them faster to adapt to a situation and more likely to put their opponent on their backs.

    Take the Gold Coast Titans, for example. They receive their training from one of the most prominent Australian BJJ practitioners, Rickson Gracie Black Belt Jason Roebig. Their plays perfectly demonstrate what happens when you integrate BJJ principles into Rugby League.

  • 2 Ball Control

    It’s all about ball security in League, Union and AFL. The team that can successfully control the ball dictates the pace of the game. Grappling sports teach athletes to control their opponent’s elbows and manipulate their bodies. These skills translate directly to footy, so your Rugby League training definitely should include them.

    In defence, knowing how to do these help slow the game down and allow their teammates to get back into position.

    In offence, there are also transferable skills that can push the pace and advance up the field. For example, knowing how to free up the elbows and secure the ball using body positioning. Another is using technical get-ups to ensure that the attacking team can quickly get back on their feet to resume play.

    Smaller players can often get stuck with the ball under a bigger tackler. In this situation, BJJ can offer solutions through some fundamental techniques. Through understanding basic positions taught in BJJ, a smaller player may optimise their body mechanics for a quick recovery. This puts them in a better situation to get back up and play ball.

    quickly recover from this situation by including grappling in your Rugby League training

  • 3 Getting Up

    As we mentioned above, smaller players can sometimes struggle to get up after a tackle. This is especially true if the tackler is a much larger player.

    There are a couple of things grappling teaches that benefit players of all sizes. One is how to minimise the time spent engaging in the scramble. Another is efficiency in getting back to their feet.

    Knowing how to position yourself on impact is a valuable skill. It equips you to transition into an advantageous position as soon as you hit the floor.

    Once play hits the ground, BJJ offers plenty of techniques that can help with quickly getting up. It also helps maximise endurance throughout the game and minimise damage taken upon impact.

    rugby tackle is similar to wrestling takedown 

  • Final thoughts

    Wrestling and grappling can definitely be beneficial to your Rugby League training. At the same time though, it’s true that it would be harsh on the body if players were to cross-train a grappling sport during footy season. Many athletes have found training during their off-season as a practical workaround.

    When  athletes train wrestling or grappling, they place a heavy emphasis on skill acquisition. They focus on wrestling and grappling techniques they can use in their primary sport. New skills aside, an added perk is it keeps them fit without risking injury during pre-season. This is because wrestling and grappling have low rates of injury compared to other contact sports.

    It’s not just in the off seasons either. Grappling is a good option even for players looking to transition out of footy. Most people who leave the sport prefer to stay active. They may seek out demanding alternatives that provide a physical and mental workout. In these cases, wrestling and grappling sports are some of the best options available.

    Rugby Union player Tana Umaga is a purple belt in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu