Centres are part of the backline in rugby league and are positioned behind the forwards.
The left centre traditionally wears the number 3 jersey. The right winger traditionally wears number 4. Although this numbering is common practice in many competitions and clubs, it’s not mandatory.
This article looks at the crucial role of rugby league centres in attack and defence.
We have a separate article on the role of centres in rugby union.
The number three usually lines up on the left side of the field with the number four on the right.
They are positioned outside the halfback and five-eighth. This diagram shows the alignment during a scrum:
What Do Centres Do In Attack?
In set plays and structured backline moves, centres are typically positioned deep in the attacking line to receive passes from the halfback or five-eighth.
They run hard and direct lines to try to break through the defensive line. Centres will also make angled runs to make defenders move their positions. This can create a gap for the ball carrier.
When they don’t have the ball, centres support the ball carrier by running slightly behind and to the side. This provides options for short passing and offloads. Receiving passes at speed is a vital skill.
Centres are the link between the playmakers (halfback and five-eighth) and wingers. When centres receive the ball, they try to draw in defenders to make more space in the wider channels.
They get the ball into the winger’s hands with a well-timed pass. Alternatively, the centre may put in a grubber kick for the winger to run onto.
Role Of Centres In Defence
Centres must defend their side of the field which means they are covering a large area in the backline.
In a sliding defense, centres typically position themselves on the inside shoulder of their winger and on the outside shoulder of the halfback or five-eighth.
As the defense slides across the field, they must keep their connection with the defenders to their left and right.
Centres must also turn and chase grubber kicks and chip kicks that get behind the line. They must execute effective one-on-one tackles if the attacking team regathers the ball.
When teams operate a rush defense, centres are can shoot up aggressively to put pressure on the attacking play.
Centres must also assist in gang tackles to prevent the opposition from making progress down the field.
The main skills required by centres in rugby league include:
Centres should be strong and agile ball carriers, capable of making powerful runs and breaking through the defensive line. They need good footwork, speed, and strength to create opportunities for their teammates.
Centres are often tackling opposition players who are running at them from wide positions. They need to have strong tackling technique and good decision-making skills to ensure they can effectively shut down attacking threats.
They must be proficient passers over short and long distances under pressure. This allows them to distribute the ball to their wingers or support players.
Difference Between Number 3 And Number 4
I’ve already mentioned that the number 3 is the left centre, and the number 4 is the right centre.
Aside from standing in different sides of the field, there are also some minor differences in their roles.
Some players simply prefer one side over the other. This may be because they have a dominant hand and are better at passing to one side.
It may also be because they are better at stepping off one of their feet.
Targeting the opposition
Coaches may switch the centres positions based on perceived weaknesses in the opposition.
For example, if the opposition left wing and centre are considered to lack pace, then coaches may put their fastest centre on that side of the field.
Right wingers (number 2) form an attacking and defensive partnership with the right centre (the number 3).
Left wingers (number 5) form a partnership with the left centre (number 4).
The best partnerships usually develop over time with players forming an unspoken understanding with each other.
Coaches may want to keep a centre/wing partnership together. So, if a winger is switched to play on the opposite, the centre may be switched to keep the connection.