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A try is the major way of scoring points in rugby league football. A try is scored by grounding the ball in the opposition's in-goal area (on or behind the goal line). Rugby union and league differ slightly in defining 'grounding the ball' and the 'in-goal' area.
The term try comes from try at goal, signifying that originally, grounding the ball only gave the opportunity to try to score with a kick at goal.
A try is analogous to a touchdown in American and Canadian football, with the major difference being that a try requires the ball be simultaneously touching the ground in the in-goal area and an attacking player who is in the field of play or in-goal (the official name of the extra point in American football according to NFL rules is the try). In the laws of both forms of rugby, the term touch down formally refers only to grounding the ball by the defensive team in their in-goal. Although occasionally people refer to a try as a 'touchdown', the correct usage for the action is 'grounding the ball'.
There are differences in the fine detail of the laws and their interpretation between the two rugby codes. These are the common aspects, while the differences are treated below.
In rugby league, a try is worth four points, having been this case since 1983. Before that, a try was worth three points. In rugby union, a try is worth five points; this point value having varied over time. Although a try is worth less in rugby league, it is more often the main method of scoring due to the much smaller value of goals. In rugby union, however, there is heavier relevance placed on goals to accumulate points at elite levels due to the significant value of goals and the defending team's skills.
In both rugby league and in rugby union, if the referee believes that a try has been prevented by the defending team's misconduct, he may award the attacking team a penalty try. Penalty tries are always awarded under the posts regardless of where the offence took place. In rugby union, the standard applied by the referee is that a try "probably" would have been scored. The referee does not have to be certain a try would have been scored. In rugby league, the referee "may award a penalty try if, in his opinion, a try would have been scored but for the unfair play of the defending team."
In rugby league, an 8-point try is awarded if a penalty, usually foul play, is conceded by the defending team after the ball has been grounded. The try is awarded, and is followed by a conversion attempt, inline from where the try was scored, and then a penalty kick from in front of the posts. In rugby union, foul play after a try being scored results in a penalty at half way, in lieu of a kick off.
In both codes when a try is scored, the scoring team gets to attempt a conversion, which is a kick at goal to convert the try from one set of points into another larger set of points. The kick is taken at any point on the field of play in line with the point that the ball was grounded for the try, and parallel to the touch-lines. This is so the kicker can position the ball in a more advantageous position to increase the chance of scoring. If successful, additional points are scored. For the conversion to be successful the ball must pass over the crossbar and between the uprights. This kick at conversion in rugby union may take place as either a place kick (from the ground) or a drop kick whereas in rugby league, a conversion may only take place as a place kick. Most players will nevertheless opt for a place kick, this being generally regarded as the easier skill. Note, however, that in both rugby sevens (usually, but not always, played under union rules) and rugby league nines, conversions may only take place as drop kicks. In rugby league, the game clock continues during preparation and execution of a conversion, hence a team may decline a conversion attempt if recommencing play as quickly as possible is advantageous to them.
To make the conversion easier, attacking players will try to ground the ball as close to the centre of the in goal area as possible. The attacking player will however ground the ball when confronted by a defender rather than risk losing the ball by being tackled or passing it to a team mate.
In both rugby union and rugby league a conversion is worth two points; a successful kick at goal thus converts a five-point try to seven for rugby union, and a four-point try to six for rugby league.
In early forms of rugby football the point of the game was to score goals. A try [at goal] was awarded for a grounding the ball in the opponents in-goal area. The try had zero value itself, but allowed the attacking team to try a kick at goal without interference from the other team. This kick, if successful, converts a try into a goal.
Modern rugby and all derived forms now favour the try over a goal and thus the try has a definite value, that has increased over time and has for many years surpassed the number of points awarded for a goal. In rugby league and rugby union, a conversion attempt is still given, but is simply seen as adding extra 'bonus' points. These points however can mean the difference between winning or losing a match, so thought is given to fielding players with good goal-kicking skill.