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PostSubject: History of Rugby League   4th March 2008, 10:45 pm




The history of rugby league began with the early schism of 1895 in the sport of Rugby football. There are now two forms of "rugby": rugby league and rugby union. Although similar, they have different laws and governing bodies. The disagreement that led to the split was over the issue of "broken time" payments, and first came to a head in northern England in the late nineteenth century.
This article mainly covers the history of the sport of rugby league from this schism. For information on the history and evolution of rugby football prior to this split see also football and the history of rugby union.

Before the schism
Although many forms of football had been played across the world, it was only during the second half of the nineteenth century that these games began to be codified. It was in 1871 that English clubs playing the version of football associated with Rugby School (which involved much more handling of the ball than Association Football), met to form the Rugby Football Union. Many new clubs were formed, and it was in the northern English counties of Yorkshire and Lancashire that the game really took hold. Here rugby was largely a working man’s game, whilst the southern clubs were largely middle-class.
Rugby also spread to Australia and New Zealand, especially the cities of Sydney, Brisbane, Christchurch and Auckland. Here too there was a clear divide between the working- and upper-class players.
The strength of support for the rugby grew over the following years, and large paying crowds were attracted to major matches, particular in Yorkshire, where matches in the Yorkshire Cup (T’owd Tin Pot) soon became major events. England teams of the era were dominated by Yorkshire and Lancashire players. However these players were forbidden to earn any of the spoils of this newly-rich game. Predominantly working-class teams found it difficult to play to their full potential because in many cases player recreational time was limited by the need to earn a wage. Even if they could take time off to play regularly, training time was often curtailed. A further limit on the playing ability of working class-teams was the fact that rugby is a contact sport, hence working-class players had to be careful how hard they played. If injured, they had to pay their own medical bills and possibly take time off work, which for a man earning a weekly wage could easily lead to financial hardship.

The schism in England
In 1892, charges of professionalism were laid against clubs in Bradford and Leeds, both in Yorkshire, after they compensated players for missing work. This was despite the fact that the Rugby Football Union (RFU) was allowing other players to be paid, such as the 1888 England team that toured Australia, or the account of Harry Hamill of his payments to represent New South Wales (NSW) against England in 1904.
In 1893, Yorkshire clubs complained that southern clubs were over-represented on the RFU committee and that committee meetings were held in London at times which made it difficult for northern members to attend. By implication they were arguing that this affected the RFU's decisions on the issue of "broken time" payments (as compensation for the loss of income) to the detriment of northern clubs who made up the majority of English rugby clubs. Payment for broken time was a proposal put forward by Yorkshire clubs that would allow players to receive up to six shillings when they missed work due to match commitments. The idea was voted down by the RFU, and widespread suspensions of northern clubs and players began.
The professional Football League was formed in 1888, comprising 12 football (soccer) clubs from northern England. This may have inspired the northern rugby officials to form their own professional league. The rugby union authorities took drastic action, issuing sanctions against clubs, players and officials involved in the new organisation. This extended even to amateurs who played with or against Northern Union sides. Consequentially, northern clubs that existed purely for social and recreational rugby began to affiliate to the Northern Union, whilst retaining amateur status. By 1904 the new body had more clubs affiliated to it than the RFU.
Similar schisms in football (soccer) were threatened with the formations of the British Football Association in 1884 and the Amateur Football Association in 1907, but were averted.
Initially the Northern Union continued to play under rugby union laws. The first minor change (awarding a penalty for a deliberate knock-on) was introduced during the first season of the game. Other new laws were gradually introduced until, by the arrival of the All Golds in 1907, the major differences between the games had been introduced. Summarised, these major difference were:
Thirteen players per team (as opposed to fifteen in union, the two "missing" are the flankers)
The "play the ball" (heeling the ball back after a tackle) rather than rucking and mauling
The elimination of the line out
A slightly different scoring structure
During this period the Northern Union began to develop the British game's major tournaments. The league championship, after initially being played as one competition, was split into two sections, the Lancashire and Yorkshire leagues, with only a limited number of inter-county games. This necessitated a play-off structure to determine the overall champions. A nationwide cup, the Challenge Cup was introduced, and soon became the biggest draw in the sport. Finally, in 1905, the Yorkshire and Lancashire Cups were introduced, thus completing a structure that was to last until the sixties. There were therefore four trophies on offer to any one club, and the "Holy Grail" was to win "All Four Cups".
As it became obvious that two codes of rugby were going to co-exist for the foreseeable future, those interested in the game needed to be able to distinguish between them. It became customary to describe those teams affiliated to the NU as 'playing in the league' hence "rugby league" while those which remained affiliated to the RFU (who did not play in a league) as playing "rugby union".

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PostSubject: Rugby League   21st April 2008, 10:00 pm

Australasia & New Zealand
In 1905, as New Zealand's rugby union team (the All Blacks), toured Britain, they witnessed first-hand the growing popularity of the Northern Union games. In 1906, All Black George William Smith, while on his way home, met an Australian entrepreneur, James J. Giltinan to discuss the potential of professional rugby in Australasia.
In the meantime, a less-well known New Zealand rugby union player, Albert Henry Baskerville (or Baskiville), was already about to recruit players for a group of players for a professional tour of Great Britain. It is believed that Baskerville first became aware of the profits to be made from such a venture while he was working at the Wellington Post Office in 1906: a colleague had a coughing fit and dropped a British newspaper. Baskerville picked it up and noticed a report about a Northern Union match that over 40,000 people had attended. Baskerville wrote to the NRFU asking if they would host a New Zealand touring party. George Smith learned of Baskerville's activities and they joined forces to recruit a team.

Professional rugby begins in Australia
In Australia, especially in the rugby stronghold of Sydney, issues of class and professionalism were beginning to cause friction. Rumours and claims of "shamateurism" (see Amateur sports) in the New South Wales Rugby Union were circulating. The growing tension was exacerbated by an incident in 1907, when a working class player, Alick Burdon, broke his arm while playing for the New South Wales team, and received no compensation for his time off work.

George Smith cabled a friend in Sydney to enquire whether there might be any support for a tour by his New Zealand professional team. Word reached Giltinan, who took great interest. Giltinan announced that he had invited Baskerville's team to play three matches in Sydney. The Australian press responded by dubbing the travelling New Zealand team "All Golds", a sardonic play on the nickname of the existing amateur New Zealand rugby team, the "All Blacks" and the supposed "mercenary" nature of the new code. The games were a great success; leaving the rugby rebels of Australia with much needed funds which soon proved to be vital for rugby league in Australia.
A meeting was held at Bateman's Crystal Hotel in Sydney on August 8, 1907, to organise professional rugby in Australia. Giltinan, Burdon and the Test cricketer Victor Trumper were among those who attended. The meeting resolved that a "New South Wales Rugby Football League" (NSWRFL) should be formed, to play the Northern Union rules. This was the first time that the words "rugby" and "league" were used in the name of an Australian organising body. Players were soon recruited for the new game; despite the threat of immediate and lifetime expulsion from the New South Wales Rugby Union. The NSWRFL managed to recruit Herbert "Dally" Messenger, the most famous rugby player in Sydney at the time.
The first season of the NSWRFL competition was played in 1908, and has continued to be played every year since (despite changes in administration and name), eventually going national and becoming the world's premier rugby league club competition.

The All Golds tour
When the All Golds stopped off in Australia, three games were played at the Sydney Showground, against a professional NSW rugby team. These games were played under rugby union laws, as no copies of the Northern Union laws were available. Baskerville was greatly impressed by Dally Messenger, and persuaded him to join the touring party. For this reason, the All Golds are sometimes known as Australasia, rather than New Zealand.

The All Golds arrived in Britain late in 1907 having never even seen a match played under the new Northern Union laws. They undertook a week's intensive coaching in Leeds to bring them up to speed, and after playing a number of touring matches the first true rugby league test was played, with the team going down 8-9 to Wales in Aberdare on 1st January 1908. The All Golds gained revenge however, defeating the full Great Britain side in two of the three Test matches, which were played at Leeds, Chelsea and Cheltenham; a surprising choice of venues given rugby league's northern base. The tour was a great success, and gave a much needed boost to the game in Britain, which was struggling financially against the rise of association football.

Queensland
The All Golds tour also served to kick start the game in the Australian state of Queensland, the great rival of NSW in rugby. On May 16, 1908, the returning New Zealanders played a hastily assembled Queensland team in Brisbane. Observers of the new game were shocked when Albert Baskerville fell ill in Brisbane and died of pneumonia. (Test series between Great Britain and New Zealand are played for the Baskerville Shield, named in his memory.)
A "Queensland Rugby Football Association" was founded, and in early July, informal club games were played in Brisbane. Later that month there were three representative games against NSW, and these acted as selection trials for a national team. The first game was also notable for a Queensland tackle which rendered one NSW player, Ed "Son" Fry, completely naked from the waist down — an event which did not stop him from scoring a try.
The Brisbane Rugby League premiership began in 1909. By the 1920s the Queensland Rugby League had established itself as a force to rival the NSWRL
.
Early setbacks for the game in New Zealand
Apart from the blow presented by the sudden and premature death of Baskerville, other difficulties would soon trouble the game in New Zealand. In some ways, the All Golds were too successful for the good of New Zealand rugby league, as many team members would soon accept lucrative contracts with British clubs. Baskerville's game would soon establish a strong following, especially in Auckland, but rugby union's strong grassroots organisation and finances in New Zealand — its "veiled professionalism" in the eyes of many observers at the time — meant that rugby league was unable to become quite as dominant there as in some regions of Australia and England.

Rugby League's "Ashes"
Also in 1908, the Australian rugby union team returned from a tour of the British Isles, for which the team had received three shillings a day, for out-of-pocket expenses. Thirteen of the players immediately joined rugby league teams. By the northern winter of 1908-09, an Australian touring party was headed for Great Britain, and the test series was dubbed "The Ashes" by the press, in imitation of The Ashes cricket matches, contested by Australia and England.

Later in 1909, when New Zealand toured Australia, the home team's jersey featured a kangaroo for the first time, giving them the enduring nickname of "The Kangaroos".

From 1910 to 1995

Rugby league before and during the First World War
The early years of the 20th century also saw attempts to establish the game in Wales, with several teams being formed in the principality. None of these ventures lasted long, however Wales remained a source of playing talent for rugby league. Over the years many hundreds of Welsh rugby union players "moved north" to the major English clubs, attracted by the opportunity to earn money playing rugby. (It was not until rugby union officially allowed professionalism, in the late 20th century that this supply of talent ceased.)
In Australasia, the game entred around local, regional or state-wide leagues, and there were no national competitions in either country until late in the 20th century. In both Australia and New Zealand, club championships were based on one set of home and away matches leading to a play-off, rather than the multiplicity of trophies available to British clubs. Rugby league quickly took over from rugby union as the most popular form of football in New South Wales and Queensland. The rest of the country was already dominated by Australian rules football. The amateur code still held sway in New Zealand, although the emergence of rugby league meant that it was no longer unrivalled in popularity.

Sport in general suffered as a result of the First World War, and rugby league was no exception. In Britain, the government discouraged all professional sports, and the major competitions were abandoned. In Australia, the situation was slightly less serious, and rugby league continued. The rugby union authorities opted to suspend play throughout the war, and this decision is often cited as one of the prime reasons for the traditional dominance of rugby league over rugby union in Australia.
Although the clubs continued to play, many of them were short of players due to the fighting. In 1917, Australia's first rugby league club, the Glebe "Dirty Reds" (founded on January 9, 1908), unleashed controversy when it fielded a player named Dan "Laddo" Davies. Local rivals Annandale protested that Davies lived within their designated recruiting area. Glebe were deducted two competition points and Davies received a lifetime ban. Many Glebe players already believed the NSWRL was biased against them and they went on strike; the league responded by suspending the first grade team until the following April. Davies returned to his native Newcastle, where his previous club, Western Suburbs — not to be confused with the Sydney club of the same name — sought to use him in the local league. They tried repeatedly to have Davies' suspension lifted, but the NSWRL refused. When Western Suburbs fielded him in a match the NSWRL disqualified most of the local officials for a year. Disgruntled Novocastrians formed a breakaway competition, which lasted until 1919. The fortunes of Glebe — both on the field and financially — did not improve greatly after the Davies affair, and it was expelled from the main NSWRL competition in 1929.
Internationally, the game had settled into a steady pattern of alternating tours, with either Australia or New Zealand visiting Britain once every two years, and Britain reciprocating in the southern hemisphere. The war had intervened, but the schedule was picked up again after hostilities ceased.
An increasing number of Australian and New Zealand players headed for the bigger pay packets on offer in England, many of them destined never to be seen again on the playing fields of their home countries.

The 1930s and early 1940s
For many years, the rugby union authorities had suspected that the French rugby union was abusing the idea of amateurism, and in the early thirties the French Rugby Union was suspended from playing against the other nations. Looking round for an alternative, many French players turned to rugby league, which soon became the dominant game in France, particularly in the south west of the country. The arrival of a French team on the international scene allowed more variety in the touring pattern, and also for the introduction of a European Championship.
During the Second World War, the British government took a more benign view of professional sports, viewing them as a vital aid to public morale. Although normal leagues were suspended, a War Emergency League was established, with clubs playing separate Yorkshire and Lancashire sections to reduce the need for travel. This period also saw a temporary relaxation of the regulations prohibiting rugby union players from contact with rugby league. In an extraordinary development a team representing rugby league met a rugby union equivalent in two matches, held to raise money for the Red Cross. Both games were held under rugby union rules; both were won by the rugby league side.

In Australia, the war years produced large crowds, and financially at least, the sport did not suffer the hardships endured during the First World War. Nonetheless, the loss of many young men in fighting undoubtedly weakened the talent pool available.
The defeat of France had serious implications for rugby league. The Vichy regime saw that rugby league was banned (at the request of Berlin) and numerous players, clubs and officials switched codes to union. A part of the assets of the rugby league and its clubs were handed over to the Union.
The consequences of this action reverberate to this day; the assets were never returned, and although the ban on rugby league was lifted, it was prevented from calling itself rugby from 1949 to the mid-eighties, having to use the name Jeu de Treize (Game of Thirteen, in reference to the number of player in a rugby league side).

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PostSubject: Rugby league   21st April 2008, 10:01 pm

The late 1940s and 1950s
The rules of the sport had continued to evolve, and until the forties there was no world governing body to oversee this and ensure consistency. Negotiations between the respective governing bodies were required to fix rules to be used for tours, though generally the other nations took their lead from the British authorities.
This situation endured until 1948, when at the instigation of the French, the Rugby League International Federation (RLIF) was formed at a meeting in Bordeaux. The French were also the driving force behind the staging of the first Rugby League World Cup (also the first tournament to be officially known as the "Rugby World Cup". This competition has been held intermittently since then, in a variety of formats. Unlike many other sports the World Cup has never really been the pinnacle of the international game, that honour falling to international test series such as the Ashes.
All spectator sports in the United Kingdom experienced a surge in interest in the years following the end of World War II. Rugby league was no different, and large crowds came to be expected as the norm for a period of around 20 years. The surge in public interest in the game was demonstrated by the 1954 Challenge Cup Final Replay between Halifax and Warrington, held at Odsal Stadium, Bradford on Wednesday, 5th May, 1954. The officially recorded attendance was at 102,575 (a record for a single match of rugby league that stood until 107,558 watched Melbourne Storm defeat St George Illawarra Dragons at the Telstra Stadium in 1999). It is estimated that a further 20,000 spectators were present, as many got in free after a section of fencing collapsed. For the record, Warrington beat Halifax 8-4.
The total crowds for the British season hit a record in 1949-50, when over 69.8 million paying customers attended all matches. This period also saw growth in crowds in Australia, New Zealand and France. This was a golden age for the French, who lead by the incomparable Puig Aubert, travelled to Australia and defeated their host in a three test series in 1951. On their return to France the victorious team were greeted by an estimated 100,000 fans in Marseille. They repeated the feat in France 1952-53 and again in Australia in 1955.
In 1956, the state government of New South Wales legalised the playing of poker machines ("pokies") in profit clubs, and this rapidly became the major source of income for NSW "leagues clubs", some of which became palatial "homes away from home" for their supporters. The pokie windfall stemmed the steady trickle of Australian players to the better-financed clubs in England, and led to increased recruiting of rugby union and league players from Queensland and overseas by New South Welsh clubs. Within the space of several years, the Sydney-based league had come to dominate the code within Australia. The large profits accrued from gambling have never been controversial; many questioned the morality of such an income stream and felt that it would inevitably lead to financial peace and security.

The 1960s to Present
In the UK, the boom in interest had begun to subside by the early sixties, and the game's rulers looked to television to provide a new source of income. David Attenborough, then controller of BBC2, made the decision to screen rugby league games from a new competition specially designed for evening televising, the BBC2 Television Floodlit Trophy. Although it was widely seen as a gimmick, it proved a success, and rugby league has featured on television ever since, to the point where (like most sports) income from selling broadcasting rights is the single greatest source of revenue for the game.
This period also saw further alterations to the rules of the sport. In 1967 the number of times a team could retain possession after a play-the-ball was limited to four tackles. It was hoped that this would encourage more attacking play, and prevent teams from simply playing to maintain possession of the ball at all costs. Although successful in this respect, it was felt that four tackles did not give sufficient time to develop an attack, with play often being characterised by pure panic. In 1971, the number of tackles allowed was increased to six, and has remained so ever since
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