Rugby union in Queensland

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Rugby union in Queensland
Rugby fans celebrate Queensland Reds title win in Super Rugby 2011.jpg
Queensland Reds fans celebrate their title win in 2011
Governing body Queensland Rugby Union
State team Queensland Reds
First played 1876
Club competitions

Rugby union is one of the leading professional and recreational team sports in Queensland. The earliest known rugby football games played in Brisbane occurred 1876, when the Brisbane Football Club elected to change to Rugby instead of 'Victorian Rules' (now known as Australian Rules) which it had played since its founding in 1866, to permit competition with the newly formed Rangers and Bonnet Rouge football clubs. The Rugby game continued for three seasons, when clubs reverted to Victorian Rules in 1879.

History of rugby union in Queensland[edit]

Fred Lea, an Englishman educated at Allesley College near Rugby in Warwickshire, arrived in Brisbane in 1878 and was amazed to find that Victorian rules (now called Australian Rules) was the only form of football being played. Lea took up the Victorian game, playing it in 1879-81. However, in 1880 he was able to sway two of the local clubs, Brisbane F.C. (founded 1866) and Wallaroo (1878), to try rugby. Three matches were played between the clubs.

In the following seasons, Brisbane's four football clubs played matches under both codes, although the majority were overwhelmingly Victorian rules games. In the late winter of 1882 the Brisbane F.C. contacted the Sydney Wallaroo club, challenging them to a rugby match.

As the NSWRU were keen to keep the inter-colony matches going, a NSW team journeyed to Brisbane in 1883. Trained in readiness by Fred Lea, the Queensland team ambushed the visitors and gained a victory over the New South Welshmen.

The win gave rugby in Brisbane a huge boost, with many footballers wanting to try the code. It was thought that Brisbane's four clubs would simply increase the number of rugby matches for 1884, while still playing Victorian rules as well.

However, it soon became clear that moves were afoot to form a ‘Queensland Football [Victorian rules] Association’, meaning affiliated clubs could no longer play rugby. With Fred Lea (who would be later called 'The Father of Queensland rugby') actively involved, it was decided to form the Northern Rugby Football Union now named Queensland Rugby Union (QRU). On November 2, 1883, a meeting was held at the Exchange Hotel, in Brisbane and the decision was made to form a rugby association in the Colony of Queensland. The name of the newly founded union the Northern Rugby Union, was used to distinguish it from the Southern Rugby Union, which was the governing body of rugby in New South Wales. Enough players aligned with the rugby body to form two clubs.

The decisive blow to Victorian rules came after the decision to make the NSW v Queensland matches an annual fixture, and the visit of a British rugby team in 1888. Teams from New Zealand soon followed. Unable to provide comparable attractions, Victorian rules lost its grip on Brisbane and rugby union quickly spread throughout Queensland to Toowoomba, Rockhampton, Maryborough, Gympie and Charters Towers.

The formation of this new governing body generated large amounts of interest in Queensland. In fact, such was the development of rugby throughout the colony as a result of the formation of the new union, that the prestigious Great Public Schools' Association of Queensland (GPS) changed their main sport from Melbourne Rules to rugby. The top-level rugby competition begun by those schools all those years ago continues to this day.

The year 1893 saw the Northern Rugby Union formally constituted and the name changed to the Queensland Rugby Union. The first organised Brisbane club competition had begun in 1887, but by 1899 the Boer War had reduced player numbers and, to counteract this, electorate rugby was initiated which only allowed players to join the district club in the electorate in which they lived.[1] An annual challenge trophy competition, the Hospital's Cup was introduced in 1899. This trophy is now the Premiership trophy contested by Queensland Premier Rugby clubs.

The first decade of the 20th century brought with it a drop in the fortunes of rugby union in Queensland. Electorate rugby collapsed in 1905 allowing for the return of club rugby,[1] but the advent of the professional code, rugby league, in New South Wales saw many union players leaving for Sydney to play league and get paid in the process, something which the amateur code of rugby union could not offer. In 1908, the QRU banned its players from going to Sydney to play league, which resulted in disgruntled players forming the Queensland Rugby League. Of particular note was that at this time, league put down strong roots in the bush and in working class communities and these areas are still the heartland of the modern game of rugby league.

In 1913 nine Christian Brothers' College Football Club (Brothers) players represented Queensland in the interstate clash in Sydney and helped the team to a 22 - 21 victory.

1913 Qld Rep Rugby: Pat Murphy, Jimmy Flynn (2nd row 2nd from right), M J McMahon, R McManus, Hugh Flynn (Back row 3rd from right), Vin Carmichael, Tom Ryan, Bill Morrissey and Joe Russell (seated front).

Brothers were such a strong club in these years that they entered two teams "A" & "B" in the senior premiership in 1914 with the teams meeting each other in the Hospital Cup. Both sides were strong and contained internationals and interstate representative players. During these pre war years Brothers also won the inaugural "College" grade competition in 1911.

World War I, from 1916 to 1918, was almost the final death blow to rugby union in Queensland. Many players went away to war and never returned, and the burgeoning popularity of the professional code saw some major clubs and all the GPS schools switch to rugby league. It seemed that the resultant disbandment of the QRU at the end of the 1919 season, heralded the end of rugby union in Queensland.

However, all was not lost. In 1928, the QRU reformed and the major clubs and GPS schools returned to union as a result of bickering amongst league officials and the Senior Club competition restarted in 1929. World War II saw the game struggle once more, but this time it was strong enough to pull through and rugby union continued to grow. In 1950, the QRU secured the use of Normanby at a nominal rent from the Brisbane Grammar School Board of Trustess. In 1961, the Queensland Junior Rugby Union was formed and 1965 saw the formation of the Queensland Country Rugby Union. And finally, in 1966, the QRU moved to the home of Queensland rugby union, Ballymore.

Having paid a secretary to perform various tasks during the 1960s and 1970s, Terry Doyle was appointed as the first chief executive officer of the QRU in 1980. He stayed with the QRU until 1996 and saw the organisation grow from one person to 32 personnel.

From 1980 to 1997, the QRU offices were located underneath the McLean Stand at Ballymore. In 1997, the administration arm moved to Mallon Street, in the Brisbane suburb of Bowen Hills. The Reds staff, however, remained at Ballymore and were joined in 1998 by the staff of the Reds Rugby College. And finally, in 2004, the administration personnel were relocated to the newly built Rugby House at Ballymore, bringing the entire organisation back to one location.

Queensland Rugby Today[edit]

Rugby union in QLD has seen extremely high growth since the 2003 Rugby World Cup.

There are now more than 50,000 players throughout Queensland, including 8,600 seniors, 23,000 regular school players (more than any other state) and over 14,000 junior club players.[citation needed]

There are 200 clubs throughout the state and more than 235 Queensland schools - with many non-traditional rugby schools adopting the code as well.

Rugby is held together by the strong and dedicated supporters. More than 8,000 volunteers work tirelessly weekly to support their clubs around the state.

Queensland Rugby has often been criticised in the recent past, with votes of no confidence against ARU director Gary Flowers being highly publicised. Organisationally, the union has developed a stronger administrative team to help develop all levels of the code throughout Queensland.[citation needed]

In 2006 Queensland Rugby invested almost $3.6m in Community Rugby (including almost $2.5m in ARU grant funding) and provided over $130,000 in complimentary Reds match tickets to schools and clubs.

Queensland Rugby in 2006 finished in debt and had to sack numerous employees to get their bank balance back on track.[citation needed]

Queensland State Team[edit]

Queensland Reds kit
Main article: Queensland Reds

Intercolony/Interstate Matches[edit]

The year 1882 saw the first of many intercolony and interstate matches between Queensland and New South Wales rugby union teams. New South Wales took out the inaugural match, 28-4. The following year, Brisbane hosted its first intercolony match, defeating New South Wales 12-11 at the Eagle Farm Racecourse. Today, the Queensland team in Super Rugby, the Queensland Reds, face NSW, ACT, WA and Victoria representative teams home and away each season.

Australian Rugby Championship[edit]

In 2007, the Australian Rugby Championship, a professional competition below Super 14 level, was launched with eight teams throughout the country. Queensland was represented by two sides in this competition:

The ARC, however, proved unsuccessful, losing more than twice as much money as the ARU expected, and was scrapped after only one season.

National Rugby Championship[edit]

In 2013, the ARU announced that a new professional competition below Super Rugby level would be launched in 2014. It was ultimately unveiled with nine teams throughout the country, and will begin play in August 2014 with the season running through to November. As with the ARC, Queensland is represented by two sides; both are based in the same cities as the former ARC sides.


Premier Rugby[edit]

Queensland Premier Rugby is currently the highest level competition in the state and equivalent to the Shute Shield in NSW. There are currently nine teams that compete in the annual competition:

Country Rugby[edit]

Country Heelers kit

There are 11 Regional Sub-Unions in the Queensland Country Rugby Union.

The Regional Championships are played by Representative teams from these three Regional Rugby Unions and this is Queensland Country rugby's equivalent competition to the Queensland Premier competition.

Each Regional Rugby Union also run their own club competitions during the year.



  • Rockhampton
  • Central Highlands
  • Western Queensland
  • Wide Bay – selected from Bundaberg and District Rugby Union, plus teams from Fraser Coast, Gympie, and South Burnett.


Following the Country Championships, a representative Queensland Country Heelers team is elected by selected by the Queensland Country Rugby Union to play regular fixtures including City-Country matches against Brisbane selections, and the "Battle of the Borders" Cup against the New South Wales Country Cockatoos.[2]

Queensland State Cup[edit]

The Queensland State Cup was an early-season state-wide premier competition in Queensland and involved 16 teams; 9 Brisbane clubs and 7 teams based in the major sub-unions of Queensland Country. The competition ran prior to the Queensland Premier Rugby competition. Due to logistical issues the competition has now ceased.

Brisbane Club Rugby[edit]

Club rugby in Brisbane starts at an Under 7 years of age level and goes right up to an open age group level just below the premier level.

Suburban Rugby[edit]

The grassroots rugby competition colloquially known as "Subbies" in Brisbane and South East Queensland is run by the Queensland Suburban Rugby Union (QSRU). The purpose of this competition is to provide community-based recreation for participants, irrespective of ability.[3] It provides another tier of rugby behind the main Brisbane club competition.

The "Subbies" competition has around 1,000 players and 25 clubs competing across 3 divisions:[4] As of 2014, the First Division clubs competing for the Barber Cup and Pegg Cup are:[5]

  • Goodna RFC
  • Ipswich RFC
  • Pine Rivers Boars RFC
  • Redlands RFC
  • Springfield RFC
  • Wynnum RFC

The QSRU also selects a Queensland Suburban team to play an annual match against New South Wales Suburban for the Barraclough Shield.[6]

For more details on this topic, see Barraclough Shield.

Women's Rugby[edit]

Club competitions for women's 15-a-side teams are run in Brisbane, Sunshine Coast and Cairns. The Queensland Rugby Union sends a Queensland side to the ARU National Championships each year. Queensland also selects a 7-a-side team to compete in national championships and tournaments such as the Darwin Hottest Sevens.

The ten clubs in the Brisbane Women's competition, as of 2014, are:[7]

  • Albany Creek-GPS
  • Colleges
  • Goodna
  • GPS
  • Logan City
  • Norths
  • Redlands
  • Sunnybank
  • University of Queensland
  • Wests

Important Dates[edit]

  • 1876 - Earliest record of rugby football being played in Queensland
  • 1882 - First interstate matches between Queensland and NSW
  • 1883 - QRU formally constituted (known as the Northern Rugby Union)
  • 1883 - First interstate match in Brisbane; Queensland beating NSW 12-11 at Eagle Farm Racecourse
  • 1887 - First organised club competition in Brisbane
  • 1896 - First visit by a Queensland team to New Zealand
  • 1899 - Queensland defeat Great Britain 11-3 at Exhibition Ground to record first win against an international team
  • 1929 - Revival of Club competition after code was inactive since start of First World War
  • 1949 - Australian Rugby Football Union formally constituted
  • 1961 - Formation of Queensland Junior Rugby Union
  • 1964 - Sub-districts Rugby Union started
  • 1965 - Queensland Country Rugby Union formed
  • 1966 - Barraclough Shield played for the first time between Queensland (QSRU) and New South Wales (NSWSRU)
  • 1971 - Queensland Schools Rugby Union formed
  • 1980 - Queensland defeated New Zealand All Blacks, their first win against New Zealand
  • 1982 - Queensland defeated NSW 41-7 in Centenary match
  • 1987 - Ballymore hosts five inaugural World Cup matches including quarter and semi finals
  • 1995 - Reds Super 10 champions
  • 1996 - Rugby becomes professional
  • 1996 - Reds finish season on top of Super 12 table
  • 1999 - Reds finish season on top of Super 12 table
  • 2005 - Chris Latham wins Australian Super 12 player of the year for a record 4th year
  • 2011 - An epic Reds final win at Suncorp Stadium See's a "Nightmare wallabies revival" in time for the rugby world cup
  • 2013 - Queensland Suburban / Sub-Districts celebrate 50 years of competition


  1. ^ a b "The History of Darling Downs rugby". Darling Downs Rugby. Archived from the original on 24 January 2014. Retrieved 6 May 2014. 
  2. ^ "Border Cup Heads North". New South Wales Country Rugby. 2012. Archived from the original on 26 May 2014. Retrieved 26 May 2014. 
  3. ^ "Strategic Plan: Grass Roots Rugby 2007 - 2009" (PDF 1.1 MB). Queensland Suburban Rugby Union. 2006. Archived from the original on 20 Mar 2012. Retrieved 6 May 2014. 
  4. ^ "Brisbane Club Rugby 2014 Draws, Results & Ladders". Archived from the original on 6 May 2014. Retrieved 6 May 2014. 
  5. ^ "Brisbane Club Rugby 2014 Queensland Suburban » Division 1 » Barber Cup". Retrieved 6 May 2014. 
  6. ^ "The Barraclough Shield". Queensland Rugby. 2012. Archived from the original on 6 May 2014. Retrieved 6 May 2014. 
  7. ^ "Brisbane Premiership » Brisbane Women Brisbane Club Rugby 2014 Queensland Suburban » Division 1 » Barber Cup". Retrieved 6 May 2014. 

Further reading[edit]

  1. Horton, Peter A (1990). A history of Rugby Union football in Queensland 1882-1891 (PhD thesis Portable Document Format101MB). The University of Queensland. 

External links[edit]