Friday 9 October 2015 5:04 pm

Rugby union and rugby league compared ahead of Manchester showdown between England v Uruguay and Super League final

England travel to Manchester City's Etihad Stadium to face Uruguay in a World Cup dead rubber this Saturday, their first excursion beyond Twickenham at the tournament.

But you could forgive locals for averting their attentions to a different code of rugby as the Super League final between Leeds Rhinos and Wigan Warriors takes place across town.

With fans of both codes sure to cross paths in city centre pubs and public transport, debates over the superiority of the two sports are sure to ignite.

Which code demands more athleticism? Which sets pulses racing faster? Which is more popular? Which makes more money? 

We wouldn't dare try and wade in on the first two, but here's some facts to help with the second pair:

Read more: Well played – Business lessons from the World Cup


Attendance – Union

When it comes to bodies through turnstiles, England's union game has the edge. The Aviva Premiership (union) had an average attendance of 13,354 in the 2014/15 season while the Super League (league) 2014 season had an average attendance of 8,365.

Twickenham attracted 81,193 fans for Saracens' triumph over Bath in the Premiership final in May, while St. Helens' victory over Wigan Warriors at last year's Super League final was seen by 70,102 at Old Trafford.

Outside of the UK, France's Top 14 union competition enjoyed an average attendance of 13,207 while Australia's National Rugby League (NRL) attracted an average of 16,127.

TV audience – League

This year's Aviva Premiership final on BT Sport generated a record peak audience of 297,000. Meanwhile, early in the Super League season, Wigan's 24 – 16 victory over Huddersfield on Sky Sports in February attracted an average audience of 299,300 according to the Rugby League Express.

Last year's grand final attracted 450,000 viewers when broadcast live on Sky Sports and when BBC showed highlights a day later 600,000 – perhaps enticed by word news of Ben Flower's savage red card offence – tuned in. 

Rugby league's massive following in Australia was well demonstrated by a TV audience of 4.5m for the NRL grand final and 2.21m watched the decider of the annual State of Origin series between Queensland and New South Wales.

Sam Burgess has represented England in both codes of rugby (Source: Getty)


Highest paid player – Union

When the World Cup finishes, Dan Carter will become the highest paid rugby player in the world of any code. Carter will join Racing Metro where he will earn £1.4m a year. League convert Sam Burgess is England and the Premiership's highest paid player, with his first union contract at Bath worth £500,000 a year.

Read more: Rugby's 10 highest paid players

Rugby league's biggest earner is Daly Cherry-Evans, who signed a lifetime contract with NRL side Manly worth up to £800,000, after reneging on a deal with Gold Coast Titans.

Highest salary cap – Union

Union clubs in the Aviva Premiership must stick to a salary cap of £5.1m, with two excluded players.

In contrast, Super League clubs must work within a budget of just £1.85m, but recently voted for a new marquee player rule to allow clubs to pay more for a star signing.

Club owners had pushed for the rule after a number of rugby league stars – including Burgess – left for the richer NRL which operates under a £2.6m salary cap.

Yet no league with a salary cap even comes close to the £8.6m permitted to French Top 14 teams.

Competition Salary cap
Union – Top 14 £8.6m
Union – Aviva Premiership £5.1m
League – NRL £2.6m
Union – Super Rugby (Aus teams only) £2.2m
League – Super League £1.9m


TV Money – Union

Despite the superior audience numbers enjoyed by Super League, the Premiership commands more in TV money from BT Sport than the rugby league competition does from its deal with Sky Sports.

The Premiership recently renewed its deal with BT Sport – originally due to expire in 2017 – to 2020/21 and was believed to have negotiated an upgrade on the £152m value (or £38m a year) of the original.

Super League signed a five-year deal with Sky Sports last year, to extend its 2011 deal worth £90m.

It's once again a different story in Australia, however, where the NRL recently negotiated a £435m contract with free-to-air Channel 9.

Revenue – Union

England's Rugby Football Union (RFU) is the richest association in world rugby. In 2014 it generated revenue of £152.2m.

The Rugby Football League (RFL) generated just £19.2m.