Main difference, and a significant reason Union still kicks about a fair bit, is that it was, and still is, the rugby of choice for the upper class. The big private schools all take it seriously, they all role into uni, and pop out in finance and law at their daddies companies, and they put there "hard earned" money back into the game to a degree that is out of proportion with it's grass roots support.Rugby union hasn’t been relevant beyond a niche market in my entire lifetime. It fluctuates a little depending on the success of the provincial teams - the brumbies had a huge following 20 years ago when they were competing with the crusaders as the best side in super rugby but beyond that it has been an irrelevance in nsw through my lifetime.
this is the best way to explain rugby and league in a typical nsw region:
both the league clubs and the union Clubs in a reasonable sized town will have roughly equal numbers. Most league clubs have first grade, reserves and under 18s. Most rugby clubs have first grade, second grade and Colts. In bigger centres like Dubbo or orange or Bathurst they will have ‘thirsty thirds’ which is a glorified reason for old
Men and younger ones with hands like feet to get drunk.
the difference is that the wider community will care about the league. People with no involvement will still know or be interested in what’s going on. No one not involved with the union clubs generally gives a sh*t
And i say that as someone who prefers Union over league.