Rugby league in Wales

Rugby league in Wales

Rugby league is a sport played in Wales. The governing body of the game in Wales is the Wales Rugby League.

There is a long history of rugby league in Wales. Over the decades many hundreds of players have "gone north" to play for the leading English clubs. Consequentially the national side, nicknamed the "Dragons", have often been a very strong force in the international game.


Rugby football was an increasingly popular sport for Wales in the 1890s and particularly in the south where its popularity was known to rival that of association football. The Welsh coal miners shared the same working class ethos of the miners from the northern counties of England. The impending schism of 1895 tore apart the English rugby union and in the early 1900s, the shock waves where being felt in rugby worldwide, including Wales, though the Welsh Rugby Union were less strict in their interpretation of the amateur ethos and avoided a schism.

Nonetheless, many Welsh players signed for English clubs. The Northern Union's administrators began to ponder the possibilities of international competitions against an English representative side. The first attempt met with a lack of public interest, and the first scheduled Northern Union international, also became the first postponed Northern Union international. It was rescheduled for the 5 April, 1904. The team opposing England was labelled Other Nationalities and consisted of Welshmen and a few Scots. The Other Nationalities proved too strong, defeating the English 9 - 3. In 1905, England gained back some credibility with a 21 - 11 win.

In 1908 a professional version of the "All Blacks" rugby team from New Zealand (nicknamed the All Golds by Australian press) would tour England in what became the first set of international games played under the new NU rules. The All Golds had not played under the Northern Union rules and underwent a week of intensive training. Wales went on to defeat New Zealand 9-8.

In 1907, the Welsh Northern Union was formed in Wrexham, but the Northern Union refused it affiliation as they wanted the body located in the South of Wales and the WNU soon folded.

Briefly during the 1908-09 season, there were sufficient numbers of clubs to run a separate Welsh section of the competition, alongside the Northern Union's Yorkshire and Lancashire Leagues.

In 1926, the RFL formed a Welsh commission in an attempt to convert rugby union clubs to rugby league.

From 1949 to 1955 a Welsh league was run by the Welsh commission but it was disbanded due to lack of interest and finance.

Harsh economic times in the eighties meant that rugby union players such as Jonathan Davies and Scott Gibbs 'went North' to play professional rugby league in order to earn a living. This flow of players was halted by rugby union becoming professional in 1995.

With the Rugby League Conference’s growth throughout England, the RFL and its WRL arm, setup an amateur club, the Cardiff Demons who joined the Central South Division of the Rugby League Conference in 2001. The Demons, who were mainly made up of former players from the university UWIC rugby league club were quite successful and instantly saw interest from other parts of Wales grow.

In 2002, two former students of Swansea University decided to setup a local club called the Swansea Bulls - now Swansea Valley Miners - with the view to play friendly matches against the Demons and other touring clubs. Peter Thomas and Gareth Jones, both former Welsh Student R.L team members started an amateur team out of the Morriston R.F.C. ground with a mixture of University and local Union players. Junior teams soon started playing league and one team, coached by Neville Price was coached by the Bradford Bulls team coaches on a weekend tour.

The following year, the RFL saw that it was time to expand, letting in six more open-aged sides to form the Welsh division of the Rugby League Conference with North Wales Coasters playing in one of the English divisions.

With the traditional venue of Wembley being rebuilt, the Challenge Cup was played at the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff in 2003, 2004 and 2005.

Wales Rugby League achieved governing body status in 2005 and employed its first professional chairman, Mark Rowley, in 2006.

Celtic Crusaders joined National League Two in 2006. They played against Brisbane Broncos in the Bulmers Original Cider Challenge at the Brewery Field on Thursday 15 February 2007, losing with a respectable scoreline of 6-32. They achieved promotion to National League One in 2007.

More recently, the Rugby Football League (RFL) took an entire round of Super League matches to the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff, Wales on the weekend of May 5-6 th, 2007. This was called Millennium Magic.

Welsh professional clubs

Attempts to introduce professional rugby league for Welsh clubs have, until the recent formation of the Celtic Crusaders, all failed. Merthyr Tydfil and Ebbw Vale joined for the 1907/8 season; followed closely behind Aberdare, Barry, Mid-Rhondda, and Treherbert joined in 1908/9.

Aberdare, Barry, and Mid-Rhondda dropped out after that season, with Treherbert following the next year. Merthyr Tydfil lasted until 1910/11, and Ebbw Vale was the last of these to leave, after 1911/12. The next Welsh club was Pontypridd, who joined in 1926/27; only to dropped out after 8 games of the 1927/8 season. A Cardiff club participated in the 1951/2 season, but disbanded after that season.

Following in the footsteps of Fulham F.C. (who founded the RL team that is now Harlequins Rugby League), Cardiff City F.C. decided to enter a team for the 1981/2 season. The Blue Dragons, as they were known, shared Ninian Park with the Bluebirds until the 1983/4 season, when the club went into liquidation. They were then moved to Bridgend for the 1984/5 season, where they placed on the bottom of the table, and were expelled after the season for failing to obtain a home ground. The final professional rugby league club was South Wales RLFC, who placed 6th in the Second Division in 1996. Because of small crowds, the club withdrew from the league before the next season.

In 2006 a new professional team, Celtic Crusaders entered the Rugby League National Leagues in League Two. They achieved promotion to National League One in 2007. The Crusaders have been promoted further, being invited to compete in Super League in 2009.

Governing body

The Rugby Football League were the governing body for rugby league in the UK. They were formed as the Northern Rugby Union in 1895.

In 1907, the "Welsh Northern Union" was formed in Wrexham, but the Northern Union refused it affiliation as they wanted the body located in the South of Wales, which is the heartland of Welsh rugby union, and the WNU soon folded.

In 1926, the newly renamed RFL formed a Welsh commission in an attempt to convert rugby union clubs to rugby league.

The Wales Rugby League achieved governing body status in 2005 and employed its first professional chairman, Mark Rowley, in 2006.


Domestically, Welsh rugby league is now largely integrated with English competitions (see British rugby league system). Amateur Welsh teams form a division in the Rugby League Conference, this division being one of the four Premier divisions. Celtic Crusaders represent Wales at the professional level within the RFL's structures.

In 2007 and 2008, Super League took an entire round on the road to the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff.


Matches between teams in the Welsh Premier division generally draw crowds of around 300 spectators.

During the reconstruction of Wembley stadium the Challenge Cup final was played at Cardiff's Millennium Stadium and one year a reported 15,000 tickets were sold in Wales out of an overall attendance of around 70,000.


There are two weekly rugby league newspapers Rugby Leaguer & League Express and [ League Weekly] and two monthly magazines, Rugby League World and Thirteen Magazine. These cover the sport world-wide and across the UK. As most British rugby league takes place in the North of England, the coverage tends to reflect this. These publications are usually only available by subscription in Wales though Rugby League Express can be bought at outlets in South Wales.

BBC Sport own the rights to broadcast a highlights package called the Super League Show which was first broadcast in Wales 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] . Rugby League Raw is not broadcast in Wales despite the BBC owning the rights to do so. The BBC covers the Challenge Cup from the rounds in which the top clubs enter.

Highlights of Celtic Crusaders games are shown on the rugby union programme ScrumV and their home games can be seen on Y Clwb Rygbi 13 on S4C. The BBC covers the Challenge Cup from the rounds in which the top clubs enter.

BBC Radio Five Live and BBC Five Live Sports Extra carry commentary from a selection of Super League matches each week. GTFM carries a weekly rugby league spot throughout the season on their Saturday afternoon "The Season Ticket" show.

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. 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.

Manchester based Channel M show some National League and amateur rugby on their Code XIII programme.

The national team

The national side, nicknamed the "Dragons", have often been one of the stronger sides in international rugby league and have also provided a number of players for the Great Britain team. The two great eras of Welsh Rugby League coincide with the playing careers of Jim Sullivan and Jonathan Davies. They compete in the Rugby League European Nations Cup and the Rugby League World Cup.

There is a very successful "Wales A" team selected from domestic Welsh players, which competes in the Amateur Four Nations competition. Wales have only ever lost two matches in this tournament and have won the title in all four years of its existence.

Wales also play in regular international tournaments at under 19, under 15 and student level.

ee also

*Magic Weekend
*British Rugby League Hall of Fame
*Sport in the United Kingdom
*Cardiff Demons
*Celtic Crusaders
*Rugby union in Wales


External links

* [ Wales Rugby League]
* [ WRL official photographer]
* [ First RL International]
* [ Wales History]

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