The origins of rugby league in Aotearoa New Zealand go all the Way back to the early 20th Century. The code was born out of discontentment with rugby union to compensate working-class teams for loss of income for playing on Saturdays in England in 1895. To comprehend rugby league’s contemporary status in New Zealand today requires an understanding of its past in trying to put the relevance of online sports betting in context.
The inaugural rugby league match had been staged on New Zealand soil in June 1908 after Albert Baskerville, of Wellington, had organised a successful New Zealand tour of northern England in the 1907-08 season. Playing under the name of the All Golds, the Kiwi outfit had gone on to clinch the series in Australia and Britain.
Out of that euphoria emerged the New Zealand Rugby League (NZRL) in 1910 to oversee the creation of men’s teams for a club competition. The league had encountered turbulent times because rugby union had jealously guarded its patch, something it still does today as it banks on the official support of successive governments and corporate sponsors.
The marginalised rugby league had received scant support from local councils when it had come down to allocating park grounds to play on at the weekends. Schools and the mainstream media also didn’t give rugby league the time of day to grow its sport. It wasn’t until 1921 that rugby league had unfurled its first official marquee ground, Carlaw Park, in Auckland.
Today, rugby league remains the poorer cousin of rugby union, with fewer numbers playing the game and provincial competitions are predominantly an amateur sport. The indigenous Māori men traditionally formed the base of rugby league. By the onset of the 21st century, Pacific Islanders had injected their brand of powerful, physical running game.
With little sponsorship and official government support in New Zealand, more and more iconic rugby league players had started to look across the ditch at how the code was thriving in the Australian National Rugby League (NRL). Talented players had gone on to play for the Aussie franchise teams and some still do today but the birth of the New Zealand Warriors in 1995 saw the Kiwi franchise flag flier become a professional club for locals to aspire to.
While rugby league may never eclipse rugby union in New Zealand as it does in Australia, it’s encouraging to see the national men’s team fill its home venue of Mt Smart Stadium, Auckland, to capacity in test matches against the likes of Tonga. With rugby union numbers dwindling over the years, rugby league is becoming an alternative for young players to carve a career.
When it comes to placing bets in New Zealand, it wouldn’t surprise many fans of both codes to find out that the rugby league faithful goes on a wagering frenzy during the annual NRL matches. The NRL also indicated in 2022 that it’s expanding its gambling market to the United States despite dwindling emerging-player numbers in Australia.
A loyal band of Kiwi followers not only enjoys betting on the Warriors but also the one-time (2008) world champion Kiwis on the international stage during the four-year Rugby League World Cup cycle. The 2021 edition has been deferred due to the Covid-19 pandemic to kick off in October 2022 in England.
How is league different from union?
In many respects, wagering on rugby league is very similar to that of rugby union. However, because of the traditional rivalry between the two codes it’s fair to say league and union have gone out of their way to differentiate not only in the way they play the game but how they want the public to perceive them. We’ll outline some fundamental differences here between the codes to ensure New Zealanders don’t become confused, especially those who have wagered on rugby union but now yearn for something different or exciting in the NRL or ensuing RLWC.
To the novice, rugby league and rugby union can look the same at a cursory glance. Even more so nowadays because rugby union plays a pick-and-go type of game from the width of the field owing to teams investing a lot in their defensive systems. The absence of a lineout aside, rugby league numbers its players’ shirts in reverse order. A fullback is No 1 in rugby league but No 15 in rugby union.
However, the major distinguishing factor between the codes is that rugby league has only 13 players on the park during play when compared to the rugby union’s 15. The former allows for five completed tackles before the ball is handed over to the opposition. It also has rolling substitute players without stoppage time and isn’t so stringent with shoulder-charge, no-arms tackles.
The latter encourages players to keep the ball alive through rucks, mauls, and speedy lineouts. Substitutions can only be made with the consent of the whistle blower on the park. In recent years, rugby union hasn’t been shy to steal ideas from its rival code to heighten interest. The 50:22 kicking rule is a classic example where union has borrowed the concept from the league’s 40:20 concept to award possession to the team that gains ground from close to its try line to push the opposition back to within metres of its try line.
We encourage New Zealand gamblers to be well versed with the scoring protocol. A try in rugby league is worth four points. A conversion racks up two points and a dropped goal one. Don’t confuse that with the rugby union one where a try equals five points, two for a conversion and three for a penalty kick or dropped goal. This is vital knowledge if you opt to wager on league’s line betting and other such similar markets that demand specialist game knowledge.
In New Zealand, online sports betting is a favourite pastime. That rugby league, the Kiwis men’s team, and the Warriors are underdogs in the country makes them even more lucrative for New Zealanders to raise stakes when wagering. Nothing pleases New Zealanders more in the sports arena than thumping their cocky neighbours, Australia. It pays to know that the national women’s team, the Kiwi Ferns, are three-time (2000, 2005, 2008) world champions. The Warriors have stumbled in two grand finals (2002, 2011) in the quest for a maiden NRL crown.
Best rugby league betting sites
When considering placing bets on rugby league matches and competitions, New Zealanders will find that the code offers just as many avenues for wagering on different aspects of rugby and more than many other codes. For example, if you’re happy to place your bets from the comfort of your living room or iGaming room, then a hassle-free in-browser device, such as a laptop or PC, will be an ideal go-to zone.
However, those who want to cash in on their rugby league nous during the “smoko” (morning or afternoon tea) break at work, or while they’re watching a game live from the few selected stadiums around the country, can do so with a mobile device such as cell phones. A reliable and user-friendly interface engagement is non-negotiable. Most of the betting odds are neither here nor there, but do the bookies offer a live-streaming option?
Whether a sportsbook offers in-play or cash-out features is equally important to factor in, depending on how serious a gambler you are. That is pertaining to placing bets while the game is underway or having the option to bail out if the team you’re wagering on isn’t going as well as you had envisaged. No doubt, some New Zealand gamblers’ eyes will light up from the generous bonuses or the number of free bets bookmakers will dangle, especially to beckon newbies through their virtual iGaming playground.
Because the NRL is in Australia’s backyard, it isn’t surprising that a rash of bookies from across the ditch have been beginning to pitch to New Zealanders. Some of the bookmakers have British origins but have been registered mostly in the Northern Territory for authenticity and credibility. What New Zealanders will appreciate is that the Australia Government had banned sign-up bonuses or newcomer incentives from May 2019, so many bookmakers operating via Australia cannot extend those perks to Kiwis either. Most of them accept kiwi dollars.
Here is an alphabetical list of some of our favourite bookies that we have come across while combing through online betting sites that offer rugby league fans more options:
- 22bet sports: With a 98.7% payout percentage, 22bet is banking on rugby league punting benefits. While the online betting site is a relative newcomer in the Kiwi cyberspace, it’s making the right noises with its “accumulator-of-the-day” feature that boosts wins by 10%. However, while this type of betting enables gamblers to wager on several unconnected events based on a probabilities equation, we must stress to Kiwis that if one segment of an accumulator falters then they stand to forfeit the entire stakes.
- 888sport: While its welcome offer to newcomers isn’t that magnetic, this bookmaker makes up for it with a fistful of bonuses and promotions. 888sport is the illegitimate child of UK power house William Hill after an American consortium bought the business but let go of the sports-betting arm. 888sport is starting to create pockets of followers with its bet-building options, and its live-betting features. New Zealanders who opt for the accumulator feature can pick up 888sport’s Acca Saver policy that covers against the domino effect from one loss by providing the safety net of a free-bet refund.
- bet365: It’s hard to argue with a bookie that lays out a spectrum of online sports markets than any other rival in New Zealand. Defectors from TAB tend to find their happy place here. It’s not difficult to gauge why. New Zealand tends to follow in the footsteps of Australia, no matter whether it’s politics or tourism. Rugby league is no different with bet365’s live-betting and live-streaming capabilities becoming the envy of other bookies. Its mobile interface has an archaic look about it but bet365 has done remarkably well in trying to emulate the footprints of other United Kingdom giants, such as Paddy Power and William Hill. The Quick Bet feature on bet365 makes life easier.
- betway sports: Don’t let its landing page put you off. Just because betway is creating waves on the global circuit it doesn’t mean it neglects its New Zealand rugby league market. Its cash-out and multi-builder facets add to the lure of the weekly free-bet promotions on top of the sign-up offer to Kiwi newbies.
- Guts: This bookie is another example of one that won’t be on the lips of every Kiwi rugby league fanatic, but it offers a fantastic advance and in-play betting. Guts covers friendlies and spreads its net out wide on the global circuit. It has an attractive newcomers’ sign-up bonus and boasts some of the best odds. In fact, it gives the TAB a good run for its money.
- Ladbrokes: Here’s another British kingpin bookmaker using Australia as a launching pad to reach out to the Kiwi punters in rugby league, amid an exhausting swag of other sporting codes. While horse racing is Ladbrokes’ forte, there’s no reason why rugby league can’t reap the benefits from this bookmaker. It’s snazzy website makes a statement, but Ladbrokes also offers Kiwis the option to download an app directly from its website or go to the Android and Apple stores.
- LeoVegas sport: This bookie chimes in at the 98.2% threshold of payout percentages. While renowned for its stellar online casino service, LeoVegas sportsbook tees up rugby league for a confident conversion between the goal posts for its infectious interface appeal. Despite its late-bloomer status as a bookmaker, LeoVegas has some of the most competitive odds in the online betting market. Its live streaming isn’t that grand, but it makes up for it with easy-to-grasp graphics.
- Palmerbet: This bookmaker’s point of difference is that it is an Aussie-owned site. New Zealanders are familiar with Australian operations, especially the majority of the banks that operate here. Palmerbet mirrors Ladbrokes in many respects as a horseracing specialist. However, it’s no-nonsense online sportsbook tees up rugby league to the max.
- William Hill: This reputable bookmaker isn’t available in Australia under its banner but opens its doors to New Zealanders. The drawback is it doesn’t accept kiwi dollars and doesn’t cry rugby league from its rooftops. However, the sportsbook’s own William Hill TV scans marquee sports events around the globe for the benefit of its punters. Its “Cash in my Bet” feature enables Kiwi bettors to bail out early from single wagers. Its other attractive features include “enhanced odds” (boosted prices) and “your odds” (Kiwi bettors can dictate their bets by Tweeting to William Hill traders to price up).
Rugby league betting markets
The terminology does differ from either rugby league to rugby or sportsbooks to bookmakers. However, the constant is that rugby league has as many mind-boggling variables in its betting markets as its more popular cousin, rugby union. Online sports betting can leave unsavvy New Zealanders in a spot of bother if they don’t fully comprehend why and what they are wagering for.
That’s why we’ve gone the extra yard to itemise and define the more popular markets to save you valuable time so you can enjoy what you do best — feed that rugby league flutter. What we’ve outlined is a guide to mix and match what suits your betting strength. What may work like a well-oiled hinge for one Kiwi bettor may squeak for another. The nature of betting in the NRL isn’t necessarily what is common in England or France, although the Rugby League World Cup (RLWC) tends to be a good blend of all.
Here are some examples of rugby league betting markets Kiwis are likely to encounter when scouring online sportsbooks:
- Championship/season bets: Who will claim the NRL minor premiership title (Giltinan Trophy for top-of-the-table finish before playoffs) and will the same outfit go on to etch its name on the Provan-Summons Trophy? Such outright wagers on which team is likely to claim the season-ending competition titles fall in this category. We can tell you that only half a dozen or so teams have claimed both the crowns in more than two decades. The Warriors (2002) are among the minor premiership winners who have stumbled on the way to clinching grand-final glory. This challenge will appeal to newbies.
- Building bet bundles: Some sportsbooks provide bet-building modules to thread several aspects of a game, or different games, into a mix-and-match bundle. Our advice is, especially to the rookie bettors, to be wary of a spike in risks, owing to keeping tabs on numerous elements. Factor in longer odds and life becomes complicated. Bookies always come up with novel ways to keep Kiwis interested.
- Extra-time betting: Just like rugby union, stalemates in rugby league are a rarity. That’s why sportsbooks offer fantastic odds for those who are brave enough to predict what the outcome is likely to be should the game go past the 80-minute full-time hooter. Teams tend to have dropped-kick specialists who rehearse for this one-point margin.
- Futures market betting: This tends to entail end-of-season — often excluding the grand final playoffs phase — predictors. Which players will walk away with medals, top try scorer bragging rights, and most line-breaking runs or highest tackle count, to name a few. Note that includes bookmakers offering odds on the Dally M Medal (NRL), Lance Todd Trophy (Carnegie Challenge Cup), Steve Prescott Man of Steel (English Super League), and the Wally Lewis Medal (NRL). If you bet early in the season, keep a tab on the odds of an individual contender because it can mutate after each round.
- Handicap betting: Nothing encapsulates rugby league wagering better than the gargantuan odds of the favourites thumping the underdogs. This also is known as line or point-spread betting. The head-to-head odds are spread out. Akin to golf handicapping, bookies offer the underdogs a points buffer of beating or losing by a narrow margin. For example, if the Penrith Panthers are a 10.5 favourites to beat the Warriors and you place a handicap bet on the latter, then should the Kiwi franchise win or lose under the 10.5-point margin, you’ll come away richer.
- Halftime betting: New Zealand gamblers can predict the variables, such as score line and the margin.
- Individual player betting: If ho-hum wagering bores New Zealanders, then they will welcome the engagement individual betting offers. Which player from the home and visiting sides will score the opening points of a match? That can come from a kick between the sticks or a try. Unlike rugby union, props and hookers have just as good a chance to dive over the try line as fleet-footed wingers and nuggety halfbacks. Bookies can offer odds on a player scoring a brace or hat trick of tries. Predicting which team will have the first yellow (10-minute sin bin) or a finger to the side line for an early shower is fair game. However, rugby league doesn’t have red cards in the NRL and an early-shower call from the ref is rare.
- Margin betting: This is a Kiwi beginner’s delight. Simply select which team will win by opting for 1-12 or 13+ gulf at the final whistle of a match. Some sportsbooks allow for picking teams that’ll make the playoffs.
- Outright betting: In the NRL it’s picking the winner of a match. In the UK and France, it’s referred to as the 80-minute betting.
- Over/under betting: Also known as “totals betting”, this has the appeal of outright betting. The over/under betting dumbs it down to a simple equation of how many points both teams will register at the final whistle. If the bookie opens betting on a 30.5 threshold, you can opt for exceeding that ceiling or staying below it to collect wins. Selecting a fraction can ward off rival gamblers wanting a slice of the winnings. Some bookmakers also offer odds on the total number of tries scored in a match.
Crunching rugby league odds
As the home front runner, the New Zealand land-based Totaliser Agency Board (TAB) is the front runner for offering the best odds in the country. However, it doesn’t stop the likes of 888sport, bet365 or William Hill from trying to give the TAB a run for its money. Having grasped some of the common betting markets, Kiwis gamblers can start scanning the online sports betting landscape for the most desirable odds.
Our advice is to find at least five sportsbooks that are tailored to suit your individual rugby league requirements. That means you not only can compare the best odds but also other features. That may be an Acca Saving policy, cash-out, in-play wagering, or live-streaming features. The point is most bookmakers will have competitive odds, so fractional differences will give way to other elements for a complete gambling experience for Kiwis.
Top-of-the-pops rugby league events
Here are the rugby league marquee events through the eyes of New Zealand rugby league gamblers:
- NRL: In the Southern Hemisphere, the annual Australian NRL is rugby league’s marquee competition where it has a cult following that eclipses rugby union in the host nation. The Warriors play their home games in New Zealand and away on Aussie soil. However, due to the global pandemic the NZ franchise team had been based in Australia from 2020 through to June 2022. In its first match back in July, the Warriors had played to a packed-out Mt Smart Stadium on the same night the All Blacks had hosted Ireland at Eden Park. The NRL comprises 16 teams playing 24 round-robin, home-and-away matches each during a season, The top eight make the playoffs for the semifinals, preliminary final, and the grand final over four weeks.
- State of Origin: Again, this is the ornament on the humming NRL car bonnet. Branded as the “Mate against Mate, State against State” event, the three-match series between New South Wales (Cockroaches) and Queensland (Cane Toads) is the interlude during the NRL season that pauses to allow players from different franchises to represent their birth regions. The bone-rattling, tummy-lurching affair draws up to 80,000 fans at the stadium, never mind the millions of global TV viewers who place bets.
- Rugby League World Cup (RLWC): It is staged every four years, but the Australia (Kangaroos), England, and New Zealand (Kiwis) three-way tussle will come under some pressure in England in late 2022. That’s because the Fiji Bati and Tonga had registered upset wins in the previous RLWC. Tonga had stunned the world in 2019 after beating the Kangaroos 16-12 and New Zealand in 2017. Fiji had rolled the Kiwis 4-2 in the 2017 world cup in Wellington. Watch that space you patriotic Kiwi bettors.
- Super League: This is the Northern Hemisphere’s answer in England to the NRL in the Southern Hemisphere. The 12-team competition comprises predominantly outfits from north of England as well as the Catalans Dragons from France. Leeds Rhinos are the flagship side in the Super League with eight crowns to date. After 29 clashes, the table toppers walk away with the League Leaders Shield. British sportsbooks, such as Ladbrokes and William Hill, offer “ante-post” and in-play features on the Old Trafford centrepiece following the playoffs. With more Kiwi professionals playing in Europe nowadays, the interest in betting in the Super League is piquing.
- Challenge Cup: You have to be a hardcore Kiwi rugby league tragic to bet in this domestic English knockout competition, but you can never say never when it comes to New Zealanders wanting a sports gambling fix. It’s a competition that opens the door to amateur teams to compete in the opening round. Semi-professional sides enter in the next three rounds before the Super League’s bottom-four and top-eight sides enter in the fifth and sixth rounds. The last eight, semifinals follow with the final staged at soccer football’s Wembley Stadium. In some respects, this is English rugby league’s version of the FA Cup soccer football knockout event.
Rugby League Tips & Strategies
When it comes to gambling, we want to impress on New Zealand bettors that knowledge is the key that unlocks the secret to wagering. It isn’t some hard-and-fast formula to become rich. Online sports betting is, after all about risk and reward. Those who have their finger on the pulse of rugby league won’t have to feel their way around a dark room to find the light switch. In our tips and strategies, we recommend going through information and statistics with a fine tooth comb. Bookmakers will do that.
Here are some key pointers:
- Climate: Does the heavy, underfoot conditions at Mt Smart Stadium favour the Warriors more than the Brisbane Broncos? How will the Kiwis fare in the quarterfinal at the MKM Stadium, Hull, if they win pool C to progress on Saturday, November 5, 2022?
- Head rules, not heart: No matter how much you like the Warriors or your hometown players, study the bookies’ odds and the sides’ head-to-head record.
- Historical factors: Favourites tend to have a psychological advantage over the underdogs on account of titles won. Bookies disclose such details. The Penrith Panthers and Melbourne Storm have the wood, respectively, in the NRL. The Leeds Rhinos have that tag in the Super League.
- Starting 13: It pays to check if the player makers of a team are available or out due to injury or some other reason. An inexperienced injection or a rookie/replacement coach can also upset the rhythm of a dominant team. Stacey Jones had become the interim Warriors coach after Nathan Brown stepped down in June 2022. Will that work?
- Tactics: Some teams spread the ball out wide to rely on their pivotal players to kick them into a front-foot position before resorting to gang tackles. Others bank on their burly forwards to grind down the opposition with mounting back-to-back, five-count tackles. What teams have the art of dragging referees into their corner during battle?
- Wagering mark: Determine what your betting limit is and stick to it, especially if you’re combining bets or engaging in in-play.