Physiological characteristics of junior and senior rugby league players

T J Gabbett
British Journal of Sports Medicine 2002, 36 (5): 334-9

OBJECTIVES: To investigate the physiological characteristics of subelite junior and senior rugby league players and establish performance standards for these athletes.

METHODS: A total of 159 junior (under 16, 15, 14, and 13, n = 88) and senior (first grade, second grade, and under 19, n = 71) rugby league players (forwards, n = 80, backs, n = 79), competing at a subelite level, underwent measurements of body mass, muscular power (vertical jump), speed (10 m, 20 m, and 40 m sprint), agility (Illinois agility run), and estimated maximal aerobic power (multistage fitness test). Data were also collected on match and training frequency and playing experience.

RESULTS: There was a significant effect (p<0.05) of age and playing level on playing experience, body mass, muscular power, speed, agility, and estimated maximal aerobic power, with the physiological capacities of players increasing as the playing level increased. Forwards were heavier than backs for all junior and senior teams. Forwards and backs had similar estimated maximal aerobic power, except for under 16 players, for whom significant (p<0.05) differences were detected (mean (95% confidence intervals) 42.9 (40.1 to 45.7) v 49.5 (46.4 to 52.6) ml/kg/min for forwards and backs respectively). Scores for speed, muscular power, and agility were not significantly different between forwards and backs for any of the junior or senior teams.

CONCLUSIONS: The results show that there is a progressive improvement in the physiological capacities of rugby league players as the playing level increases. These findings provide normative data and performance standards for subelite junior and senior rugby league players. Further studies on the sociological, physical, psychological, and personal predictors of talent in rugby league are warranted.

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