Rugby Football League

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Not to be confused with Rugby Football Union.
For other uses, see RFL (disambiguation).
Rugby Football League
Rugby Football League logo
Founded 29th August 1895
Formerly named Northern Rugby Football Union, Northern Rugby Football League
RLIF affiliation 1948
RLEF affiliation 2003 (Full member)[1]
Responsibility England
Headquarters Red Hall, Red Hall Lane, Leeds, England
Key people Brian Barwick[2] (Chair)
Nigel Wood (Chief Executive)
Competitions Super League
Challenge Cup
League 1
Championship Cup
Rugby League Conference
As of 30 June 2009

The Rugby Football League (RFL) is the governing body for professional rugby league football in England.[3] The name Rugby Football League previously also referred to the main league competition run by the organisation. This has since been supplanted by Super League, the Championship and League 1.

Based at Red Hall in Leeds, it administers the England national rugby league team, the Challenge Cup, Super League and the Rugby League Championships. The social and junior game is administered in association with the British Amateur Rugby League Association (BARLA). The Rugby Football League is a member of the Rugby League European Federation and as a senior Full Member has a combined veto power over the Council with France. The RFL is part of the Community Board, which also has representatives from BARLA, Combined Services, English Schools Rugby League and Student Rugby League.

Established as the Northern Rugby Football Union (often shortened to Northern Union) in August 1895 by representatives of twenty-one Rugby Football Union clubs at a meeting at the George Hotel, Huddersfield, it changed its name in 1922 to the Northern Rugby Football League,[4] mirroring its sister organisations overseas, the Australian Rugby Football League and New Zealand Rugby Football League. Eventually the "Northern" was dropped from its name at the beginning of the 1980s.

The turnover of the RFL was reported as £27 M in 2011.[5][6]


On Tuesday 27 August 1895, as a result of an emergency meeting in Manchester, prominent Lancashire rugby clubs Broughton Rangers, Leigh, Oldham, Rochdale Hornets, St Helens, Tyldesley, Warrington, Widnes and Wigan declared that they would support their Yorkshire colleagues in their proposal to form a Northern Union.

Two days later, on Thursday 29 August 1895, representatives of 21 clubs met in the George Hotel, Huddersfield to form the "Northern Rugby Football Union" (usually termed Northern Union or NU). Twenty clubs agreed to resign from the Rugby Football Union, but Dewsbury felt unable to comply with the decision. The Cheshire club, Stockport, had telegraphed the meeting requesting admission to the new organisation and was duly accepted with a second Cheshire club, Runcorn, admitted at the next meeting.

The 22 clubs and their years of foundation were:

RFL Founding Clubs
Colors Club Established City
Batley colours.svg
Batley FC 1880 Batley, West Yorkshire
Bradford FC 1863 Bradford, West Yorkshire
Brighouse Rangers 1873 Brighouse, West Yorkshire
Broughton Rangers 1877 Broughton, Lancashire
Halifax RLFC 1873 Halifax, West Yorkshire
Huddersfield FC 1864 Huddersfield, West Yorkshire
Hull F.C. 1865 Hull, East Yorkshire
Hunslet FC 1883 Leeds, West Yorkshire
Leeds FC 1864 Leeds, West Yorkshire
Leigh colours.svg
Leigh FC 1878 Leigh, Greater Manchester
Liversedge RFC 1877 Liversedge, West Yorkshire
Manningham F.C. 1876 Bradford, West Yorkshire
Oldham FC 1876 Oldham, Greater Manchester
Rochdale colours.svg
Rochdale Hornets 1871 Rochdale, Greater Manchester
Runcorn RFC 1895 Runcorn, Cheshire
St Helens RLFC 1873 St Helens, Merseyside
Stockport RFC 1895 Stockport, Merseyside
Tyldesley FC 1879 Wigan, Greater Manchester
Wakefield Trinity FC 1873 Wakefield, West Yorkshire
Warrington FC 1876 Warrington, Chesire
Widnes colours.svg
Widnes FC 1875 Widnes, Chesire
Wigan FC 1872 Wigan, Greater Manchester
The Northern Rugby Football Union Challenge Cup 1896

In 1908 the Northern Union's brand of rugby was taken up in Australia and New Zealand. The Union hosted touring sides from both countries before assembling a Great Britain representative team for a 1910 tour of Australia and New Zealand. These nations, particularly Australia, would go on to excel in the sport and gain significant influence over it over the following century.

The British Amateur Rugby League Association (BARLA) was created in 1973 in Huddersfield by a group of enthusiasts concerned about the dramatic disappearance of many amateur leagues and clubs. Fewer than 150 amateur teams remained with a mere 30 youth rugby league teams. The 'breakaway' from the RFL was acrimonious and was strongly contested, with a vote 29-1 against recognising BARLA. Thanks to Tom Mitchell, this changed to a unanimous vote of approval for BARLA within 12 months.

Maurice Lindsay became the Chief Executive of the RFL in 1992, proposing the Super League, which replaced Championship as the sport's premier league competition from 1996 onwards. Lindsay returned to Wigan in 1999 for his second stint at the club after Sir Rodney Walker, then chairman of the RFL, sacked him after a campaign to unseat him failed.[7]

The RFL accumulated losses of £1.9 million at the end of 2001, shortly before a major restructuring of the governing body and the appointment of Richard Lewis as executive chairman in May 2002.[8] Within a year of joining the RFL, he oversaw reunification with BARLA after nearly 30 years of division.[9] Lewis left in 2012 to become Chief Executive of the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club.[10] The RFL net value has been positive every year since 2004, being £1.7M in 2011.[5]

In 2011 a major change to the game was agreed, changing from a winter to a summer game, starting in 2012 with a playing season from March to November, aligning with the Super League, which has played this way since 1996. The regional leagues may include winter competitions in addition.[5]

In 2012, the Rugby Football League were awarded the Stonewall Sport Award in recognition of their work in embracing inclusivity and tackling homophobia.[11] They also became the first UK sporting organisation to make the top 100 employers in the Stonewall Index that measures attitudes towards lesbian, gay and bisexual staff.[12]


The RFL runs the top three divisions of rugby league in England and partly runs the National Conference League which is run by the BARLA. It also runs two domestic cups and organises the World Club Series against three British clubs and three other Australian clubs.

RFL Leagues
Name Tier Established Winners
Super League 1 1996
Saintscolours.svg St Helens
Championship 2 2003
Leigh colours.svg Leigh Centurions
League 1 3 2003
Hunsletcolours.svg Hunslet Hawks
National Conference League 4 1986
Australian colours.svg West Hull
RFL Domestic Cups
Name Established Winners
Challenge Cup 1890
Rhinoscolours.svg Leeds Rhinos
League 1 Cup 2015
NWCrucolours.png North Wales Crusaders
RFL International Cup
Name Established Winners
World Club Series 1976
South Sydney colours.svg South Sydney Rabbitohs

England National Rugby League Team[edit]

Badge of England team
Governing body Rugby Football League
Region RLEF
Head coach Steve McNamara
Captain Sean O'Loughlin
Most caps Kevin Sinfield (34)
Top try-scorer Ryan Hall (24)
Top point-scorer Kevin Sinfield (208)
RLIF ranking 3rd
First international
 England 9–3 Other Nationalities
(Wigan, England; 5 April 1904)
Biggest win
 United States 0–110 England 
(Orlando, Florida, USA; October 2000)
Biggest defeat
 Australia 52–4 England 
(Melbourne; 2 November 2008)
World Cup
Appearances 5 (first time in 1975)
Best result Runners-up, 1975; 1995

The RFL is also in charge of overseeing the national team. The current coach and captain are Steve McNamara and Sean O'Loughlin.


Red Hall, RFL HQ

The RFL is based at Red Hall in Leeds, a Grade II listed brick building dating from 1642.[13][14] It moved there in 1995 from 180 Chapeltown Road, Leeds, where it had been since 1922.[14]

In 2015, some departments moved to Quay West in Trafford.[15]

The board[edit]

The RFL board consists of the following:[5][10]

Young People's Advisory Panel[edit]

The RFL launched the Young People's Advisory Panel in 2010, a group consisting of young people aged 16–25 from across England. The national panel meet at least three times a year at the RFL's Red Hall headquarters to discuss and debate the following:

  • Changes in the structure of youth rugby;
  • Communications between young rugby league enthusiasts and the RFL;
  • RFL policies which impact on young people.

Two nominated members will also sit on the youth & junior forum, a key device used to advance youth rugby league.[16][17]

Match officials[edit]

All Super League matches are governed by the laws set out by the RFL; these laws are enforced by match officials. Former Hull player and Huddersfield Head Coach Jon Sharp is the current Head of the Match Officials Department of the RFL. He assumed this role following Stuart Cummings' departure in March 2013 having previously held the role of Match Officials Coach & Technical Director.

Coaching & performance staff[edit]

  • Jon Sharp – Head of the Match Officials Department
  • Steve Ganson – Match Officials Coach & Technical Director
  • Ian Smith – Match Officials Coach

Full time match officials[edit]

Country Name Referee Touch Judge First Super League Game Date Venue
England Phil Bentham Wakefield Trinity v Hull 11/09/2005 Belle Vue
England James Child Wakefield Trinity v Catalans Dragons 15/03/2009 Belle Vue
England Robert Hicks Leeds v Crusaders RL 20/06/2010 Headingley
England Tim Roby Wakefield Trinity v Harlequins RL 10/04/2011 Belle Vue
England Richard Silverwood Halifax v Salford 06/05/2001 The Shay
England Ben Thaler London Broncos v Leigh 29/05/2005 Griffin Park

Cadet match officials[edit]

Cadets primarily referee in the Kingstone Press Championship and the Kingstone Press Championship 1 and Touch Judge in the First Utility Super League. There are opportunities for cadets to referee in the First Utility Super League when games become available.

Part time match officials[edit]

Part-time match officials referee in the Kingstone Press Championship and the Kingstone Press Championship 1. Some also touch judge in the First Utility Super League.

(*) Denotes match officials who also touch judge in the First Utility Super League.

Past Presidents of the RFL[edit]

Entrance hall to the Headquarters building

See also[edit]


  1. ^ RLEF. "Overview". RLEF. Retrieved 2009-06-30. 
  2. ^ a b "RFL appoints ex-FA boss Brian Barwick as chairman". BBC Sport. 30 January 2013. Retrieved 30 January 2013. 
  3. ^ "RLIF Confederations". Retrieved 27 August 2011. 
  4. ^ "The History Of Rugby League". Rugby League Information. Retrieved 2 January 2014. 
  5. ^ a b c d 2011 RFL Annual Report
  6. ^ BBC Sport - Rugby Football League announces record turnover of £29m. (2012-07-18). Retrieved on 2013-08-20.
  7. ^ "League's cease-fire is over as superpowers prepare for War". Dave Hadfield, The Independent. 1998-01-29. Retrieved 2007-08-30. [dead link]
  8. ^ [1]
  9. ^ "Multi-tasking Lewis a southerner happy to work at northern union". The Guardian. 1 June 2007. 
  10. ^ a b The board of directors (retrieved 23 Dec 2012)
  11. ^ [2]
  12. ^ Wilson, Andy (12 January 2011). "RFL is named among top 100 employers in Stonewall Index". The Guardian. 
  13. ^ British Listed Buildings
  14. ^ a b RFL: The History of Red Hall (Sep 2012)
  15. ^ Place North West,
  16. ^ "Midlands Rugby League". Midlands Rugby League. 2010-07-12. Retrieved 2011-11-15. 
  17. ^ "London Broncos Rugby League". 2011-10-20. Retrieved 2011-11-15. 
  18. ^ Irving, A. "Ralph handles league's hot seats". News & Star, 01 March 2007. Retrieved 7 September 2011. 

External links[edit]