Rugby league in England

Rugby league in England

Sport overview
country = England
sport = rugby league

imagesize = 90px
union = Rugby Football League
nickname =
first = 1895
registered = 248,645 [ cite web | url= | title= Rugby League world Cup England | publisher=RLWC08 | author= | date= | accessdate=2008-12-8]
national1 = Rugby League World Cup
national2 = Rugby League Tri-Nations
national3 =
national4 =
national5 =
club1 = Super League
club2 = National Leagues
club3 = Challenge Cup
club4 = National League Cup
club5 =

Rugby league is a popular team sport played in England. The sport receives funding from Sport England as an 'English priority' sport.cite web | url= | title=Rugby league | publisher=Sport England | author= | date= | accessdate=2007-06-18] The top-level competition in England is called Super League though it is not strictly an all-English affair as it includes a French team.

Its popularity is strongest in a swathe of northern England from Lancashire and Cheshire across the Pennines to Yorkshire, these areas being those in which the game originated. The sport is also popular in Cumbria where the amateur game is particularly powerful. The game is played outside of these traditional areas but in far lower numbers. However, there has been considerable growth in the game on English soil, which can be seen in television viewing figures, attendance at Super League games and participants in non-heartland areas.cite web | url= | title=Facts and figures | publisher=Rugby Football League | author= | date= | accessdate=2007-06-18] cite web | url= | title=Grassroots game set to take off next year | publisher=Doncaster Star | author= | date=2007-12-18 | accessdate=2007-12-24] cite web | url= | title=London Rugby League’s primary boost | publisher=Sport England | author= | date=2005-04-25 | accessdate=2007-12-24]

Within its heartlands, rugby league is often referred to as simply "rugby" though in the rest of England this would normally refer only to rugby union. It is on occasion called "football" though even in the North of England this would normally refer to Association football. For this reason, it is common among English rugby league fans to use the term "soccer" when talking about Association football.


:"See also": "History of rugby league"

Early years

Rugby has long been popular in the North of England, and by the 1880s the region's clubs had come to dominate. The game was largely popular amongst working class people, unlike the clubs in Southern England whose players belonged to the middle or upper class. Rugby competition at the time did not allow paying players any salary; the working-class players felt they could not afford time off to train and play, nor could they afford to miss work through injury sustained whilst playing. The principle of amateurism, and issues of class ensured that the Rugby Football Union would not countenance professional rugby.cite web | url= | title=1895: The Birth of Rugby League | | author=Sean Fagan | date= | accessdate=2007-12-25]

In 1895 representatives of the northern clubs met to form the "Northern Rugby Football Union" (NRFU)".cite web | url= | title=The Great Schism | | author= | date= | accessdate=2007-12-26] The NRFU was initially vehemently anti-professional, allowing only payments for time missed from other employment. A thriving amateur scene also soon developed, as local amateur clubs wished to maintain links with their "Northern Union" neighbours.

The Northern Union made reforms to the laws in 1897 and again in 1906 in an effort make the game more exciting. This resulted in Northern Union football becoming a sport in its own right rather than a form of rugby union.cite web | url= | title=The History Of Rugby League | publisher=Napit | author= | date= | accessdate=2007-06-20]

The sport spread outside England and soon international matches began to be played. The first international match was played in 1904 as England was beaten 9-3 at Wigan by "Other Nationalities" (largely Welsh players). This was followed by a tour of Britain by New Zealand in 1907. New Zealand met Great Britain in Great Britain's first ever Test match at Headingley on the 18 January 1908. The same year the first Australian Kangaroo tourists visit Britain. In 1910 the first British tour to Australia and New Zealand took place.

The Challenge Cup began in 1897 with Batley beating St Helens to win the first title.The final was first broadcast by BBC radio in 1927. The Wembley tradition was started in 1929 when Wigan beat Dewsbury 13-2 at the first Challenge Cup to be held at Wembley.

Rugby league continued to be played throughout the 1914-15 season, however, the loss of players to the First World War, a government ban on professionalism and reduced attendances forced all major competitions to be replaced by regional competitions.cite web | url= | title=Rugby League & World War One | | author=Sean Fagan | date= | accessdate=2007-12-25] The NRFU became the Rugby Football League in 1922.

During the Second World War professional rugby league was again discontinued, normal leagues were suspended, a War Emergency League was established, with clubs playing separate Yorkshire and Lancashire sections to reduce the need for travel.cite web | url= | title=League Champions | publisher=Virtual Rugby League Hall of Fame | author= | date=2007-12-15 | accessdate=2007-12-25]

Post war

In 1948 the first televised rugby league match was played when Wigan's 8-3 Challenge Cup Final victory over Bradford Northern was broadcast to the Midlands. In another first this was the first rugby league match to be attended by the reigning monarch, King George VI, who presented the trophy.

Several attempts were made to expand the game outside the heartlands, a Southern Amateur Rugby League being formed in 1949, however only Cumberland and South Yorkshire proved receptive with teams being founded in Workington, Whitehaven and Doncaster. Nonetheless the game survived, and continued to maintain popularity in its home regions. The introduction of regular internationals as other countries took up the sport provided a fillip.

Rugby league experienced a surge in interest following the end of World War II. Large crowds came to be the norm for a period of around 20 years. The total crowds for the British season hit a record in 1949-50, when over 69.8 million paying customers attended all matches. The 1954 Challenge Cup Final Replay between Halifax and Warrington, held at Odsal Stadium drew 102,575 paying spectators with an estimated 20,000 others getting in free after a section of fencing collapsed.cite web | url= | title=Biggest crowd | publisher=Virtual Rugby League Hall of Fame | author= | date=2007-02-03 | accessdate=2007-06-19]

The boom had begun to subside by the early sixties; rugby league now had to compete against television and other new forms of entertainment and attendances began to fall. David Attenborough, then controller of BBC2, made the decision to screen games from a new competition the BBC2 Floodlit Trophy in 1965. It proved a success, and rugby league has featured on television ever since.

Attendances fell even further in the 1970s. Britain won the Ashes for the last time in 1970 with a 2-1 series win in Australia.

The foundation of the Universities and Colleges Rugby League in 1969 and the British Amateur Rugby League Association in 1973 responded to the need to develop the game below professional level.cite web | url= | title=Culture, Media and Sport - Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence: Appendix 21 | publisher=House of Commons | author=Maurice Oldroyd | date=1999-12-09 | accessdate=2007-12-26]

Eighties and onwards

In June 1980, Fulham Football Club announced the formation of a rugby league team, with the primary intention of creating another income stream for the soccer club. The Rugby Football League was keen to expand outside the heartlands and accepted the new club (now known as Harlequins Rugby League). This was not the first rugby league club to be based in London: three London-based clubs had come and gone in the 1930s. However unlike the past ventures the new team would survive despite numerous moves and name changes.

The 1982 Kangaroos won all their tour games for first time ever, they became known as 'The Invincibles'. This was the time when the gap between English and Australian rugby league became apparent and has never been fully closed.

The [ All-Party Parliamentary Rugby League Group] was formed in 1987 to support the sport of rugby league and tackle the key issues facing the game in Parliament. Ian McCartney MP was the first chairman and David Hinchliffe MP the secretary. In 1987 a ‘free gangway’ between the two codes of rugby at amateur level was introduced but individual cases of discrimination continued, resulting in the Sports (Discrimination) Bill, which was introduced by David Hinchcliffe in 1994.cite web | url= | title=Rugby Union and signing for Bradford | publisher=The Rugby League Oral History Project | author= | date=2007 | accessdate=2008-06-13]

In the mid eighties Wigan began an era of domination of English rugby league that would end only with the formation of Super League. By 1995 they had won the Challenge Cup a record eighth consecutive times and the league title for a record seventh consecutive times.

The traditional Origin series between Yorkshire and Lancashire was abandoned in 1989. Although the matches had provided a good test for selecting players for the full England and Great Britain sides, the crowds had been poor and the games had little attraction for the rest of the country. The series was revived again in 2001 before being abandoned in 2003.

The Combined Services Rugby League (CSRL) was formed in 1994 after the official recognition of rugby league by the Armed Services, since then rugby league has been the fastest growing army sport.cite web | url= | title=Army Rugby League | publisher=Army Rugby League | author= | date=2007-09-12 | accessdate=2007-12-26] The rival code rugby union went professional in 1995 and,cite web | url= | title=RFU History | publisher=Rugby Football Union | author= | date= | accessdate=2007-12-26] as a result, other restrictions on rugby league were relaxed by the Rugby Football Union. This opened up the possibility of expanding the game into areas where it had never been played before as it allowed rugby league clubs to groundshare with rugby union clubs and for union players to try out the other code without fear of persecution.

In 1995, the fallout from the Super League war hit Britain, and the game underwent massive re-organisation. A new elite league, Super League was formed, and the sport switched from a winter to a summer season.cite web | url= | title=Rugby International | publisher=World of Sport | author=Carl Ellis | date=2005-09-11 | accessdate=2007-12-26] Super League has largely been a success as the value of its TV contract and top tier game crowd attendances and have both grown year upon year since 2001.cite web | url= | title=Trying – and succeeding – to convert rugby league into a winning formula | publisher=Yorkshire Post | author=Ian Briggs | date=2007-12-04 | accessdate=2007-12-26]

The Rugby League Conference was founded in 1998 with the aim of providing regular fixtures for new clubs based outside the 'heartland' of rugby league.cite web | url= | Rugby League Conference Expands | publisher=British Amateur Rugby League Association | author= | date=2004-01-21 | accessdate=2007-12-26] It began with a mere fourteen teams but nine years later this had become eighty-eight clubs spread throughout England and the rest of Britain.cite web |title=Rugby League Community Board Strategy:Year One Report |url= |publisher=Rugby League Community Board |format=PDF |accessdate=2007-12-26]

Governing bodies

There is no governing body for the sport in England - that role is filled by the Rugby Football League, whose remit covers the United Kingdom as a whole. With the advent of Wales Rugby League, Scotland Rugby League and Rugby League Ireland, the RFL are increasingly becoming an English organisation. The RFL are affiliated with the Rugby League International Federation and the Rugby League European Federation. The Community Board is made up of representatives of the RFL, BARLA, Combined Services, English Schools Rugby League and Student Rugby League.

British Amateur Rugby League Association (BARLA) are responsible for amateur rugby league chiefly in the sport's north of England heartlands. Though many Rugby League Conference teams are affiliated to BARLA, the Conference itself is not a BARLA organisation. The top division under their control is the National Conference League, with regional leagues including the North West Counties and Pennine leagues. BARLA selects an international team consisting of amateur players, the BARLA Lions. This team tours many parts of the rugby league world, and have competed in the Rugby League Emerging Nations Tournament.

Rugby league was recognised as a military sport in 1994. The [ Combined Services Rugby League] (CSRL) is the co-ordinating group for the Army Rugby League, Royal Navy Rugby League and the Royal Air Force Rugby League. Each constituent body organises its own competitions at unit and formation level. Players are fed into representative teams to represent each of the services, and the best players are selected to represent the Combined Services.

The Women's Amateur Rugby League Association (WARLA) is the governing body of female rugby league in the United Kingdom; it currently falls under the Rugby Football League association which oversees its running and management. It was originally established in 1985 and was recognized by the RFL in its first year.

Touch rugby is governed by the ETA who are supported by the Federation of International Touch and are affiliate members of the Rugby Football Union. They are not affiliated to the RFL or BARLA.cite web | url= | title=About us | publisher=ETA | author= | date= | accessdate=2007-12-25]


:"See also": "British rugby league system"

Super League is the top league for the game in England. It is the only full-time professional rugby league competition operating in the northern hemisphere. The French team, Paris St. Germain competed in the first Super League but folded in 1999. The French presence was re-established in 2006 when Catalans Dragons were admitted to Super League. The winner of the league is awarded the League Leader's Shield whilst the overall winner of Super League is determined by play-offs and a grand final.

The winner of the Super League plays the winner of the Australian NRL competition in the World Club Challenge.

Below Super League, there are National Leagues one and two. There is promotion between National League one and two as well as between National league one and Super League. The National League Cup is a competition with groups and a knock-out phase for clubs in the National Leagues. In 2006 Welsh team Celtic Crusaders joined National League two.

The Challenge Cup remains as a knockout competition, though entry has now been expanded to make it a pan-European tournament bringing in teams from France and Russia. Amateur teams also have the chance to partcipate in the Challenge Cup and have been victorious over several National League sides.

BARLA administer different amateur competitions which run throughout the winter in the heartlands. The leading competition is the National Conference League which consists of three divisions (Premier Division, Division One and Division Two) of up to 14 teams each. The National Conference takes teams from all over England but since the advent of the Rugby League Conference has been contested only by heartlands teams. Other major amateur leagues include the North West Counties League, CMS Yorkshire League, Pennine League, Cumberland League, Barrow & District League and the Hull & District League. Teams from these regional leagues can apply for election to the National Conference League if they meet minimum criteria.

The Rugby League Conference (played in summer) has many grass roots teams but is considered 'open' rather than amateur though most teams do not pay their players. Most of the teams are based outside the game's heartlands. The London League and RL Merit League act as feeders for the Conference.

Defunct competitions

At various times English clubs have either competed in a national Championship with a Second Division and sometimes a Third Division as well or had separate county leagues for Yorkshire and Lancashire.

There were also county cups for Yorkshire and Lancashire between 1905 and 1993. The Regal Trophy and BBC2 Floodlit Trophy were two other knock-out tournaments. A Trans-Pennine Cup was played for a short-time but it was replaced by the National League Cup.

The Rugby League Charity Shield was a one-off match at the beginning of each season between 1985 and 1995. It was contested by the Champions and the holders of the Challenge Cup.

The rugby union county championship was continued as a rugby league county championship after the 1895 great schism. Teams representing Yorkshire, Lancashire, Cumberland / Cumbria and sometimes Cheshire and Northumberland & Durham took part in the championship. This continued as the Rugby League War of Roses played between Yorkshire and Lancashire.


Many of the professional teams are separated by only a few miles but not all matches between teams from the same traditional county are considered derbies. There has been some debate as to whether St Helens versus Wigan Warriors or Bradford Bulls versus Leeds Rhinos is the biggest derby in English rugby league. The North West derby is between two sides that have usually been among the strongest in the game whilst the West Yorkshire derby attracts bigger crowds. Unlike in soccer, there is no segregation of supporters at matches and rival fans mingle freely.

Some of the teams involved no longer play in the same league and so derby games are either arranged as pre-season friendlies or take place as part of the National League Cup.

*Calder derbies - between Castleford Tigers, Featherstone Rovers, and Wakefield Trinity
*Cheshire derby - Widnes Vikings v Warrington Wolves
*Greater Manchester derby - Oldham Roughyeds v Rochdale Hornets
*Heavy Woollen derby - Batley Bulldogs v Dewsbury Rams
* Humberside or Hull derby - Hull FC v Hull KR
* Manchester derby - Salford v Swinton
* North West derby - St Helens v Wigan Warriors
* South Yorkshire derby - Sheffield Eagles v Doncaster Lakers
* West Cumbria derbies - between Barrow Raiders, Whitehaven and Workington Town
* West Yorkshire derbies - Bradford Bulls, Leeds Rhinos, Halifax RLFC and Huddersfield Giants

Junior rugby league

Rugby league is played at a school level in many schools in the heartlands; recently it has been introduced into some schools outside the traditional areas in particular in London and Hertfordshire. Thirty-three percent of schools across the UK offer rugby league as a school sport.cite web | url= | title=Only half of pupils compete in sports | publisher=Daily Mail | author=Laura Clark | date=2007-10-15 | accessdate=2007-10-16]

The RFL uses two modified forms of rugby league created by ARL Development in Australia. Mini league (known as mini footy in Australia) is played by all children up to Year 4 of Primary School. It is designed to provide children with a safe environment, a firm knowledge of the laws of rugby league and a chance to practice the skills such as tackling, passing and common defensive and attacking tactics. Players up to and including Year 6 of Primary School play mod league. Mod league is a bridge between mini league and full contact rugby league. On completion of mod league, players make a move to full international rugby league laws.

The Champion Schools tournament is a national competition for secondary schools. In the 2005/6 academic year over 1,200 teams and 20,000 players competed in the Champion Schools tournament, making it the largest rugby league competition in the world.cite web | url= | title=Champions Schools Tournament| publisher=Rugby Football League | author= | date= | accessdate=2007-06-18] Eighty percent of participants are new to rugby league.cite web | url=| title=Rugby league | publisher=North Yorkshire sport | author= | date= | accessdate=2007-06-18] The growth of the Champion Schools tournament led to the creation of the Carnegie Champion Colleges competition for Years 12 and 13. The regionally based competition was introduced in 2008 and started in January. [ [ "Carnegie Champion Schools"] , "The Rugby Football League", 13 May 2007]

BARLA runs the Halifax Home Insurance National Youth League as well as the Yorkshire combination, Hull Youth and Junior and London Youth League.

Super League and National League teams run academy sides to develop young talent. Players under the age of 21 years are eligible to play for the senior academy, the rules also permit three players over the age of 21 to play in academy matches. Junior academies are the second tier in the Youth Development system. Only players under the age of 18 years are eligible to play for the junior academy; no players over the age limit are allowed to play. Some of the better junior academy players may get experience in the senior academy and it is not uncommon for some players to play regularly in both junior and senior academies.

Student Rugby League

:"See also" Student Rugby League

Though the game remains close to its working-class origins, changes in social demographics and attitudes have allowed many working class people to attend university where they have continued their association with the game.

The Student Rugby League was founded in 1967 when a team was created at Leeds University by Andrew Cudbertson, Jack Abernathy and Cec Thompson, other teams soon joined in areas of the United Kingdom which lay outside of the games traditional heartlands.

The first university game was between Leeds and Liverpool in 1968. A year later the Universities and Colleges Rugby League was formed after student pioneers fought hard to get the sport recognised in higher education. The first Oxford versus Cambridge University match took place in 1981. The varsity match has 'discretionary full blue' status. The game is now played in over 70 Universities.cite web | url= | title=Triline Sports | publisher=Triline Sports | author= | date= | accessdate=2007-06-18]

Rugby league in universities has been an important vehicle for expansion of the game as players from outside the heartlands often first began to play at university level. Many continue to play after leaving university and this has led to the creation of teams in non-traditional areas such as London Skolars.

Derivatives of rugby league

Rugby league sevens is particularly popular with pub teams drawn from the regulars at a pub, the reason for this is that it is often difficult for a single pub to form a full squad of 13 players and four substitutes.

Rugby league nines is the more common form of the shortened version of the game. The Middlesex 9s and the York International 9s are two of the best known rugby league nines tournaments in England. The York nines began in 2002 and the Middlesex nines a year later. Both competitions feature professional and amateur teams from England as well as teams from abroad.

Touch football (known as touch rugby in England) is administered by the England Touchrugby Association (ETA). They provide affiliated leagues around the country. Despite touch rugby being a derivative of rugby league rather than union; the ETA are affiliate members of the Rugby Football Union rather than the Rugby Football League.

Tag Rugby UK Limited runs Tag Rugby adult leagues. In 2008, a Tag Merit League was established based on the RL Merit League format. The league was developed with the intention to encourage new clubs outside the older IMBRL circuit to play tag rugby league. The Merit League operates on normal rugby league laws with tags taking the place of tackles.

Wheelchair rugby league was first introduced to England in 2005.cite web | url= | title=Wheelchair Rugby League | publisher=The Rugby Football League | author= | date= | accessdate=2008-06-18] There are no competitive leagues or regular fixtures established as yet.

Masters Rugby League which uses modified rules to allow older players to continue playing has only recently arrived in England and is not widely played. cite web | url= | title=Masters Rugby League | publisher=The Rugby Football League | author= | date= | accessdate=2008-06-18]


Rugby league is one of a number of sports vying for (distant) second place to Association football in the nation's affection. The MORI Sports Tracker consistently reports that rugby league interests around 15% of British adults. It was the fourth most popular team sport in the February 2005 list behind football, cricket and rugby union; 12% of British adults watched it regularly.cite web | url= | title=MORI Sports Tracker 1996-2005 | publisher=Mori | author= | date=2005-03-01 | accessdate=2007-06-18]

Rugby league is extremely popular in its "heartland" and, in those areas, interest in the sport rivals that of soccer. Many large towns with rugby league traditions do not have football teams as a result of the monopoly on local interest: for example, St Helens, Whitehaven, Warrington, Keighley, Castleford, Dewsbury, Batley and, until recently, Wakefield. It is striking how interest in rugby league can be very widespread in such towns whilst towns just a few miles away might have hardly any fans of the sport.

The regions in which rugby league is played most are West Cumbria, where the amateur version has a high participation rate; south Lancashire outside the cities of Liverpool and Manchester; West Yorkshire and the city of Hull. The sport is present in South Yorkshire and in York, but on a much smaller scale; it has little presence in the North East or the largely rural county of North Yorkshire. Many of the professional and semi-professional teams are connected by the M62 motorway and so the term 'M62 corridor' is sometimes used, often in a derogatory manner, to refer to the area where rugby league is most popular.cite web|url=| author=Dave Hadfield | title=Making the long walk from Hull to Widnes | date=2003-07-28|accessdate=2007-11-21| publisher=The Independent] A 1994 survey revealed that sixty percent of people regularly attending rugby league fans lived in only four postal districts along the M62.cite web|url=|title=To Prezzagrad with Love|date=2006-12-11|accessdate=2007-11-17|publisher=New Statesman]

Rugby league is considered by most English people to be a regional sport, which perhaps prevents rugby league making further inroads in to the English psyche in the South, and those cities which already thrive on soccer, and to a lesser extent, cricket and rugby union. Neither is it played in as great numbers elsewhere in England, although semi-professional and amateur clubs do exist in the lower national leagues and conference leagues and there is significant schools participation in London.

Fifty-percent of viewers who watch rugby league on Sky Sports live in the South of England. Over 40% of active rugby league supporters are female. At the beginning of the 2006 season there were between thirty and forty female-only rugby league clubs running in England,cite web | url= | title=Women's rugby league | publisher=BBC Sport | author= | date= | accessdate=2007-06-18] not including clubs that have teams of both sexes. The majority of these clubs are located in Lancashire and Yorkshire.

Perhaps because of its regional character, rugby league as a whole has a lower participation rate compared to the other three major sports in England. Rugby league has for much of its history been banned in the armed forces and in many schools and universities, further stifling growth. These barriers have largely been dismantled in the past ten years due to professionalisation of the rival code of rugby union.

In 2004 the Rugby Football League reported 62,463 registered players (this is a UK-wide figure). However in 2008, the RFL noted that there were only 2,000 registered club players aged 30 or over.

The 2006 Super League generated the highest weekly average attendance in the 11-year history of the competition. The average weekly attendance for the regular season stood at 9,026, generated by an aggregate attendance of 1,516,342 supporters. This is an increase on the 2005 season average of 8,887. The attendances are not evenly spread between clubs within Super League; whilst the best supported team, Leeds Rhinos with average gates of 15,683, a couple of clubs failed to attract averages of above 5,000. Crowds at matches below the top flight can exceed 3,500, however most of the clubs in this division have attendances lower than this.

Although attendances outside Super League can be quite low, many of the teams play in small towns and the attendance figures represent a large percentage of the local population.cite web | url= | title=2005 RL Attendances by Population | publisher= | author= | date=2006-01-11 | accessdate=2007-06-18]

Current trends

The success of Super League in England and the return of competitive international matches with Australia and New Zealand have seen growth for the sport.

The ending of discrimination against rugby league resulting from professionalism in rugby union led to an increase in numbers in the amateur game, with many rugby union amateurs keen to try out the other code. In 2004 the Rugby Football League was able to report a 94% increase in registered players in just two years, whilst attendance figures for Super League matches rose 8% from the 2003 season.

The annual Powergen Schools Cup competition from 2003 onwards has increased the number of school teams from 300 to 1,500 and the participation levels to 25,000 from 6,000. Though these figures include participants from Wales.

Whilst rugby union was officially an amateur sport, many rugby union players came to play rugby league. In recent years this trend has reversed and some rugby league players have crossed codes to play union.cite web | url= | title=Union eyes league young blood | publisher=BBC Sport | author=Jonathan Davies | date=2006-09-14 | accessdate=2007-06-18]

Expansion by the governing body, the Rugby Football League sees continual growth in the south of England, notably the London area, which now boasts two professional clubs (Harlequins Rugby League - formerly known as London Broncos - and London Skolars). One of the prime vehicles for expansion has been the Rugby League Conference, a set of competitions for clubs in those development areas.

Rugby league and race

Rugby league has had a tradition of being inclusive and for some notable firsts in terms of black participation. Professional black players first took to the professional rugby league pitch prior to the first world war.

George Bennet became the first black player to play for Great Britain while it was another 44 years before Viv Anderson became the first black footballer to play Association football for England.cite web | url= | title=Viv Anderson | publisher=100 Great Black Britons | author= | date= | accessdate=2007-12-26]

Clive Sullivan became the first black captain of the Great Britain team in 1972,cite web | url= | title=Tackling the life story of a legend | publisher=Yorkshire Post | author= | date=2006-05-19 | accessdate=2007-12-26] 21 years before Paul Ince became the first black captain of England's soccer team.cite web | url= | title=10 key moments in UK race relations | publisher=BBC | author= | date=2001-08-31 | accessdate=2007-12-26]

Roy Francis was the first black coach of a leading club but, almost half a century later, Paul Ince was appointed on 22 June 2008 to become the first black British manager in England's top division.cite news|url=|title=Blackburn appoint Ince as manager|publisher=BBC Sport|date=2008-06-22|accessdate=2008-06-22]

Ellery Hanley earned the distinction of being the first black coach of any British national sporting team when he took charge of Great Britain in the home Ashes series of 1994.cite web | url= | title=Wigan legend Hanley returns to rugby league as coach of National League Doncaster | publisher=The Daily Mail | author= | date=2007-12-18 | accessdate=2007-12-26]

Despite the sport being popular in West Yorkshire and Greater Manchester, which both have large South Asian communities, the sport has little following amongst South Asian communities. The [ British Asian Rugby Association] (BARA) was set up in 2004 to encouraging participation in rugby among British Asians.



There are two weekly rugby league newspapers, Rugby Leaguer & League Express with around 23,000 subscribers and League Weekly with around 11,000 subscribers. In and around the heartlands, these publications are stocked in newsagents but in the rest of England they are only available via subscription. There is also one monthly magazines, Rugby League World which can be bought throughout the UK.


BBC Sport own the rights to broadcast a highlights package called the Super League Show which was first broadcast across England and the rest of the UK in 2008. Prior to this it had only been broadcast in the North of England.cite web | url= | title=Super League Show to get repeat | publisher=BBC Sport | author= | date=2008-02-11 | accessdate=2008-02-11]

End of season play-offs are shown across the whole country in a highlights package. The BBC covers the Challenge Cup from the rounds in which the top clubs enter with the final attracting over 4 million viewers. The Challenge Cup final is considered by government to constitute a 'Group A' event which must be shown by a free-to-air channel available to at least 95% of the UK population.

Rugby League Raw is a series of four programmes on BBC One in the North West, Yorkshire & North Midlands, North East & Cumbria, and East Yorkshire & Lincolnshire regions. It covers the National League play-offs. More than 400,000 viewers regularly watched the 2006 series.cite web | url= | title=Rugby League Raw | publisher=BBC Sport | author= | date=2006-09-21 | accessdate=2007-06-18]

Sky has the rights to show live Super League games; one or two live matches are broadcast often fronted by Mike Stephenson and Eddie Hemmings. Live Super League broadcasts regularly rank amongst the top 10 most watched programmes in a week on Sky Sports with in excess of 250,000 viewers. Highlights are shown on Boots N' All which is shown on Sky Sports and is rebroadcast on the Internet. Sky also hold the rights to show the Rugby League Tri-Nations live, whilst highlights are shown on BBC Sport. Australia's National Rugby League and State of Origin were shown until 2005-06 season when Setanta Sports outbid Sky for the rights. British Eurosport were in negotiations over covering national league games from 2007 but talks broke down and Sky Sports agreed to screen games instead.cite web | url=,,1980827,00.html | title=National League looking to go live on Thursdays | publisher=The Guardian | author=Andy Wilson | date=2007-01-01 | accessdate=2007-06-18] cite web | url= | title=Sky confirm two year Rugby League contract| publisher=HDTV UK | author= | date=2007-02-01 | accessdate=2007-06-18]

Manchester based Channel M show some National League, amateur rugby and academy games on their Code XIII programme. Code XIII: Grassroots is a spin-off series that focuses on amateur rugby league. Highlights of games involving Celtic Crusaders are shown on the rugby union programme ScrumV on BBC 2W and their home games can be seen live on Y Clwb Rygbi 13 on S4C; both of these channels are available to viewers in England with satellite TV.


BBC Radio Five Live and BBC Five Live Sports Extra carry commentary from a selection of Super League matches each week, while BBC local radio also broadcasts throughout the season.

*BBC London 94.9 covers every Harlequins game. [cite web|publisher="BBC London"|title=Harlequins RL |url= |accessdate=2007-12-27|date=2007]
*BBC Radio Cumbria report on Barrow Raiders, Whitehaven and Workington Town throughout the season as well as the local amateur scene throughout their season on "The Rugby League Show". [cite web|publisher="BBC Cumbria"|title=The Rugby League Show |url= |accessdate=2007-12-27|date=2007]
*BBC Radio Humberside broadcasts both Hull FC and Hull KR matches on "The Oval Ball" and does simultaneous broadcasts when games clash. [cite news|publisher="BBC Humber"|title=The Oval Ball |url= |accessdate=2007-12-27|date=2007]
*BBC Radio Leeds covers Leeds Rhinos. [cite web|publisher="BBC Leeds"|title=Leeds Rhinos | url= |accessdate=2007-12-27|date=2007]
*BBC Radio Manchester covers Wigan, Warrington, Leigh, Oldham, Salford, Saint Helens, Swinton and Rochdale.
*BBC Radio Merseyside gives live commentary of St Helens, Widnes and Warrington. [cite web|publisher="BBC Liverpool"|title=Live commentaries |url= |accessdate=2007-12-27|date=2007]

Various commercial radio stations also give coverage to their local rugby league teams:-

*107.2 Wire FM - Warrington Wolves and Widnes Vikings.
*Buzz 97.1
*KCFM - covers Hull FC and Hull KR and will switch between games when both sides play at the same time.
*NE1fm - Gateshead Thunder
*Ridings FM - Wakefield Trinity Wildcats, Castleford Tigers and Featherstone Rovers.
*Salford City Radio - covers Salford City Reds in the Rugby Roundup. [cite web|publisher="Salford City Radio"| title=Salford Radio Sport|url= |accessdate=2008-06-13|date=2008-05-17]
*Wish FM - Wigan Warriors and St Helens.


The 1963 film, This Sporting Life, is set around the life of a rugby league player, Frank Machin, whose romantic life is not as successful as his sporting life. The film stars Richard Harris, Rachel Roberts and Alan Badel. It is considered to be one of the last major films of the British New Wave or "Free Cinema" movement. Many of the scenes in This Sporting Life were filmed at Wakefield Trinity's Belle Vue stadium.

The highly acclaimed play, Up n Under was made as a film in 1998. It has been compared to The Full Monty and Brassed Off in that it's a comedy set in the north of England and revolves around a bunch of losers. The film stars Samantha Janus, Gary Olsen, Neil Morrissey, Brian Glover, Griff Rhys Jones and Tony Slattery. The play was recently revived on stage with England rugby union star Gareth Chilcott in the Gary Olsen role. The film follows the story of an inept pub team in a rugby league sevens competition.

National teams


On the 5 April 1904, England played its first game losing 9-3 to 'Other Nationalities' at a 12-a-side match at Wigan. With the exception of the 1995 World Cup, matches involving England were not deemed to have Test status which applied only to the full Great Britain side.

Usually the nation of England was represented by Great Britain in international tournaments but for the 1975, 1977, 1995, 2000) World Cup; England along with other Home Nations took part in their own right. However, unlike Great Britain an England side has never won the World Cup.

Between 1935 and 2004 they also competed in the European Nations Cup. In recent years they had come to dominate this tournament, and in 2005 they withdrew to level the playing field. They also took part in the World Sevens (2002, 2003).

In addition to the England team, there has also been an England A and England "Lionhearts" team selected since 2002. The England A team is selected up and coming players who are not yet ready for selection in the Great Britain team. [ England Lionhearts] are selected from players in the Rugby League Conference. It competes against Wales A, Scotland A "Bravehearts" and Ireland A "Wolfhounds" each year in the Amateur Four Nations competition.

Great Britain

The Great Britain side are also referred to as "the Lions" or "the British Lions". At international level the Women's Great Britain side is commonly referred to as the Great Britain Lionesses.

England has historically provided the vast majority of players for the Great Britain team, one of the major national teams playing rugby league. They compete against Australia for The Ashes, and New Zealand for the Baskerville Shield.

The first Great Britain game took place on 18 January 1908 when they beat New Zealand 14-6 at Headingley. Great Britain took part in the 1954, 1957, 1960, 1968, 1970, 1972, 1977, 1985-1988 and 1989-1992 World Cups. They won a total of three World Cups in 1954, 1960 and 1972.

Great Britain also played in the 1999, 2004, 2005 and 2006 Tri-Nations against New Zealand and Australia. Although Great Britain never won the Tri- Nations, they finished top of the table in 2005 but lost to Australia in the final.

In 2007 Great Britain will be replaced by separate England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales teams, there after, Great Britain will only play on special occasions and tours.

ee also

*British Rugby League Hall of Fame
*Sport in England
*English rugby league stadia by capacity


External links

* [ The Rugby Football League]
* [ BARLA]
* [ English Superleague]
* [ Community Rugby League - Covering the amateur game in the UK]
* [ Midlands rugby league site]
* [ London rugby league site]
* [ League Weekly]
* [ Rugby league on the BBC]

Touch and Tag Rugby

* [ England touch rugby]
* [ Touch rugby site]
* [ Tag Rugby UK]
* [ Tag Merit League]


* [ The Guardian rugby league blog]
* [ The Independent rugby league blog]
* [ The Telegraph rugby league blog]
* [ The Times rugby league blog]

Wikimedia Foundation. 2010.

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