Cross-Field Kicks In Rugby League (Explained)

A cross-field kick is a kick that travels horizontally across the field.

The kicker wants to find space behind the defensive line or to create a one-on-one contest between an attacking player and a defender.

This kick is often used to target tall or strong teammates on the wings who can jump high to catch the ball and secure possession.

The Cross-Field Kick As A Last Tackle Option

You’ll often see teams use a cross-field kick when they’re in the last tackle situation.

The kicker aims to target a specific attacking player who has a height advantage or superior aerial skills over the opposing defender.

By putting the ball in the air towards this player, the attacking team increases their chances of scoring a try or regaining possession.

Even when an attacker can’t gather the ball, they can force the opposition’s defenders to make difficult decisions under pressure.

This pressure may lead to errors or turnovers that provide the attacking team with another set of six tackles.

Pinning the opposition

There is another advantage of a well-placed cross-field kick on the last tackle.

It can pin the opposition deep in their own half. This forces them to start their set close to their try line.

That allows the kicking team to apply pressure through their defense.

Targeting space

By the time the sixth tackle comes around, the opposition’s defensive line may be compressed or bunched together.

This leaves open spaces on the edges.

A cross-field kick on the last tackle can target these gaps.

How Attacking Wingers Contest Cross-Field Kicks

Wingers in league should read the play and anticipate the cross-field kick. They position themselves to be in the best spot to contest the ball as it comes down.

Timing is crucial for a winger when approaching the ball in its downward trajectory.

They time their run to arrive at the ball’s landing spot just as the ball arrives. This gives them the best chance of securing possession or out-jumping their opposite number.

Contesting the ball

As the ball descends, the winger should jump and compete for possession. They use their body positioning, jumping ability, and ball-handling skills to gain the advantage.

The winger may try to catch the ball outright or tap it back to a supporting teammate.

Protecting possession

If the winger successfully catches the ball, they focus on protecting possession.

This is achieved by holding the ball securely and shielding it from defenders who may try to strip it or force an error.

After The Catch

If the winger catches the ball close to the try line, they will try to ground the ball in the in-goal area. That’s a try!

players hands touching a ball down for a try

If the catch is further back in the field, the ideal outcome for the winger is an unopposed run to the try line. League is rarely that easy.

If wingers don’t think they can cross the line, they can try to pass to a supporting teammate.

How Defenders Defend Cross-Field Kicks

Defenders, especially wingers and fullbacks, should be prepared to move quickly and cover the area where the kick is likely to land.

At the same time, they need to stay close enough to their opposing players to contest the ball in the air or on the ground.

Contesting the ball

When defenders don’t think that an attacker is close enough to compete, they will keep their feet on the ground and catch the ball as it lands.

But they are rarely so lucky.

Usually, the defender is jumping to catch or tap the ball away from the attacking players. Timing and positioning are crucial.

If the attacking players gather the ball instead, defenders must tackle to prevent a try or further progress upfield.

Covering the bounce

Defenders dread dealing with the unpredictable bounce of a rugby ball. That’s why they try to catch cross-field kicks.

However, sometimes the ball unavoidably hits the ground.

In this case, defenders may need to change direction very suddenly.

By covering the potential bounces, defenders can reduce the risk of the attacking players grabbing the bouncing ball.

Decision making

In some situations, defenders may choose to let the ball bounce or go into touch.

This depends on the game situation and the risk of contesting the ball.

If the attacking players are too close and the defender isn’t confident in securing possession, they may take this last resort.

Executing The Cross-Field Kick

The next time you’re watching a player about to launch a cross-field kick, keep an eye out for aspects of good technique.

The first thing is to recognize if the kicker is executing a high looping kick or a flatter one.

The former gives teammates more time to get under the ball. The latter gets to the target area faster.

When the kicker wants a high looping kick, they will make contact with the lower part of the ball.

To get a flatter kick, they strike the middle or slightly higher.

Keeping the leg following through toward the target area is important to generate power.

More About Kicking

Cross-field kicks tend to be long and lateral across the pitch. High kicks and bombs in league are also high and long but are aimed down the field.

The 40/20 kick is also high but is aimed to bounce before crossing the side line. Grubber kicks are aimed downward to scud along the ground.

Check out our article on kicking in rugby league for a rundown of all the types of kicks in the sport.