Rugby League World Cup: The History

06 Dec 21, 6:32PM 1 Comments

Written by Rugby League World Cup

Photo by Getty Images

The Rugby League World Cup is Rugby League’s premier international competition and is one of the longest running World Cup tournaments in world sport. The Rugby League World Cup was first raised by the Fédération Française de Rugby à XIII (FFRXIII) in the 1930’s, however it took until 1953 till the rest of the then International Rugby League Board (IRLB) to accept the proposal.

The birth of the Rugby League World Cup (1954)

Taking place in 1954, the World Cup celebrated the 20th anniversary of France as a Rugby League nation, and featured four nations, Australia, New Zealand, France and Great Britain.

Tournament hosts, the FFRXIII donated the World Cup trophy (which is still used today), with the silverware worth eight million francs. Captains for the historic inaugural World Cup included Rugby League royalty in the shape of Puig Aubert (France), Cyril Eastlake (New Zealand), Clive Churchill (Australia) and Dave Valentine (Britain).

France and Great Britain qualified for the tournament final after both going through the group stages undefeated, with the Dave Valentine (Scotland) lead British Lions emerging 16 – 12 victors in front of over 30,000 fans at Parc des Princes in Paris.

Australia sweeps tournament (1957)

Following the success of the inaugural tournament, the tournament moved to Australia in 1957, where again the event was held in front of large crowds, including over 50,000 converging on to the SCG to watch France take on Great Britain.

The Australian Kangaroos were awarded the 1957 World Cup after going through the tournament undefeated.

Paul Barrière Trophy returns to Europe (1960)

The third World Cup saw the event return to the Northern Hemisphere with England hosting their first ever tournament in 1960. Boyed by a passionate home crowd, Great Britain went through the tournament undefeated, to claim their second World Cup trophy.

The third World Cup saw the event return to the Northern Hemisphere with England hosting their first ever tournament in 1960. Boyed by a passionate home crowd, Great Britain went through the tournament undefeated, to claim their second World Cup trophy.

New Zealand first time co-hosts (1968)

It was eight year’s before the next World Cup was held with New Zealand and Australia co-hosting the tournament.

The tournament represented the first time New Zealand had hosted a World Cup match, however despite the home ground advantage the Kiwis’ finished last in the tournament.

France qualified for the tournament final after pulling off a surprise 7 -2 victory over Great Britain in wet conditions at Carlaw Park in Auckland, however were unable to compete with Australia in the final, going down 20 – 2.

Following the 1968 tournament, the tournament was held every 2 years for the next two cycles, with England hosting 1970 and France hosting 1972.

Australia win on English soil (1970)

The fifth Rugby League World Cup was held in Great Britain in 1970. Britain, fresh from defeating Australia in the Ashes during their Australasian tour earlier in the year (the last time as of 2017 that they would win The Ashes), were hot favourites, and won all three of their group stage games, including defeating Australia 11–4. All the other nations lost two games each, and Australia qualified for the final largely on the back of an impressive tally of points against New Zealand.

The final was held at Headingley, Leeds. Although Great Britain dominated the possession, the Kangaroos were able to exploit their chances, and ran out unexpected winners in a scrappy game that became known as the “Battle of Leeds”.

Australian centre Bob Fulton was named the official player of the tournament.

After winning the tournament, the Australian team put the World Cup trophy on display in the Midland Hotel in Bradford. From there it was stolen and remained unseen for the next 20 years.

Great Britain & Australia draw in Cup Final (1972)

The sixth Rugby League World Cup was held in France in October and November 1972. Australia started as the favourites to retain the trophy they had won just two years previously. New Zealand had beaten all three of the other nations in 1971 and France were expected to be tough opponents on their home soil.

The final was held at Stade Gerland in Lyon. Great Britain played Australia and in the end, with scores level and unchanged after extra time. Great Britain were awarded the trophy with the Lions defeating Australia in the Group stages and finishing in a higher position on the tournament ladder.

This was the last World Cup to be played under the four-tackle rule.

Great Britain split in two (1975)

Under the change, Great Britain was split up into England and Wales, and the tournament was played over the entire 1975 season, with each team playing each other twice.

Arguably the split ended up costing either British side the trophy, with Wales defeating England 12 – 7 in the famous ‘Battle of Brisbane’ game, which saw the England side finish the tournament second to Australia. This was despite the fact England did not lose to Australia in the tournament (1x Draw, 1x Win).

The return of Great Britain (1977)

The tournament was held during the 1977 NSWRFL season and 1977 New Zealand rugby league season.

By the 1977 World Cup, England and Wales had become Great Britain again, and the tournament was hosted in just Australia and New Zealand over two months. Australia won their 5th World Cup at home, defeating the Lions 13 – 12 in the final at the SCG.

Australia defeat the British Lions in 1-point thriller.

Australia claim World Cup on New Zealand soil (1988)

The next two World Cups underwent more changes. Firstly the tournaments were stretched out over a three-year window, with each team playing each other home and away. Secondly, Papua New Guinea was added to the tournament, seeing the event again grow to five teams.

The 1985-1988 World Cup tournament saw the Kiwis qualify for their first ever World Cup Final, with the New Zealander’s drawing Australia at Eden Park. Despite the home ground advantage, the Kiwis went down 25 – 12 in front of over 47,000 at the venue.


Kangaroos triumph to 7th title

The 1989 – 1992 World Cup tournament final saw Great Britain go down 10 – 6 in front of over 73,000 fans at London’s Wembley Stadium against the Australians as the Kangaroos recorded their seventh tournament victory.

The crowd of 73,631 at Wembley set a new international rugby league attendance record, eclipsing the previous record of 70,204 established during the first test of the 1932 Ashes series at the Sydney Cricket Ground.

World Cup debuts four Test Nations (1995)

Fiji, South Africa, Tonga and Samoa appear at the Rugby League World Cup for first time.
Following the 1989 – 1992 tournament, the RLIF agreed to go back to single year tournaments, with the next World Cup held in England & Wales in 1995. The tournament celebrated 100 years of Rugby League in the two countries and saw 10 nations take part in the celebration.

The 1995 tournament saw the likes of Fiji, South Africa, Tonga and Samoa take part in their first ever World Cup, with again Great Britain split into England and Wales.

The highly successful tournament again finished at Wembley, with again Australia being too good for the English, running out 16 – 8 victors.

World Cup resumes after Super League war (2000)

Largest pool of participants take part in a 16-team Rugby League World Cup held across Europe.

With the Super League War taking place, the next World Cup was not held until 2000 in what was one of the most ambitious tournaments to date. With games held in England, Wales, Scotland, Ireland and France, plus sixteen nations taking place, the event saw even more nations make their World Cup debuts.

The Cook Islands, Ireland, Russia and Scotland, joined World Cup qualifier, Lebanon in the expanded tournament in making their debuts.

Australia, the dominant force in international Rugby League at the time had no trouble running through the tournament undefeated, running out 40 – 12 victors over New Zealand in the final at Old Trafford.

Whilst the 2000 tournament helped kick start a significant growth phase for international Rugby League, the event was deemed too ambitious for the code based upon the competitiveness of many of the nations. So by the next World Cup, the number of participants was reduced back down to 10.

New Zealand upset Australia in World Cup Final (2008)

New Zealand win their first Rugby League World Cup after defeating the Australian Kangaroos in opposition territory.

The 10 team tournament was held in Australia in 2008, celebrating 100 years of Rugby League in that country.

The tournament, much like the World Cup before it, saw Australia and New Zealand meet in the final, however unlike 2000, this time the Kiwis were victorious, claiming their first ever World Cup trophy in front of over 50,000 fans in Brisbane’s Lang Park.

Australia dominant at Old Trafford (2013)

International Rugby League attendance record broken with 74,000 fans witnessing the final between Australia and New Zealand at Old Trafford.

The World Cup returned to the Northern Hemisphere for the first time in 13 years in 2013, when the fourteenth World Cup was hosted by England and Wales.

The 14th iteration of the tournament, saw the event again grow to fourteen teams, with this time Italy and the United States making their World Cup debuts, and showcasing the growing appeal of international Rugby League.

The tournament was again won by Australia, with the Kangaroos defeating the Kiwis 34 – 2 in front of 74,000 fans at Old Trafford. The crowd set a new international Rugby League attendance record, beating the previous record set in the 1992 World Cup Final.

Australia, New Zealand & Papua New Guinea (2017)

The fifteenth World Cup took place across Australia, New Zealand and Papua New Guinea from the 27th October, 2017.

For the first time in the tournament’s history both men’s and women’s competitions were held consecutively, culminating in a huge double header Final at Brisbane Stadium.

The women’s game saw the Australian Jillaroos defeat New Zealand Kiwi Ferns 23 – 16 in a skillful display of rugby league.

The Australian and English men’s teams took to the field on the evening of 2 December in what would be a brutally contested final seeing only 6 points make the board. All of which were scored by Australia.

Whilst the Australian teams took out both titles, the highlight of 2017 was arguably the rise of the Pacific Nations.

New eligibility rules introduced by the International Rugby League Federation saw several players defect from so called ‘tier one’ teams to play for their motherland. This, combined with three games being played in Papua New Guinea of which rugby league is a national sport, plus pre-game cultural performances and the uprising of Tonga, produced an unprecedented display of national pride and passion not previously seen in rugby league.

Rugby League World Cup to include 16 nations (2021)

The 2021 Rugby League World Cup (Now postponed until 2022) will be the sixteenth staging of the Rugby League World Cup and will be held in England between 15 October 2022 and 19 November 2022. The tournament will include 16 teams, an increase of two from the last two tournaments.

On 27 October 2016, it was confirmed that England won the hosting rights for the 2021 Rugby League World Cup.



discussion on “Rugby League World Cup: The History”

One response to “Rugby League World Cup: The History”

  1. chris tearse says:

    Aussie, Aussie Aussie.

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