The first Rugby League World Cup was held in France in 1954 and was officially known as the "Rugby World Cup". Four nations competed in the tournament: Australia, France, Great Britain and New Zealand. A group stage was held first, with Great Britain topping the table as a result of points difference. They went on to defeat France (who finished second in the table, level on points) in the final, which was held at the Parc des Princes, Paris, in front of around 31,000 spectators.
The prime motivators behind the idea of holding a rugby league world cup were the French, who were short of money following the seizing of their assets by the rugby union in World War II. The first rugby league World Cup was an unqualified success. It was played in uniformly good spirit, provided an excellent standard of play and was a fitting celebration of France's 20th anniversary as a rugby league-playing nation. The trophy, which was donated by the French, was worth eight million francs.
The World Cup was a French initiative. Led by Paul Barrière, who donated the World Cup trophy himself, they had been campaigning for such a tournament since before World War II. Teams from America, Australia, Britain and New Zealand were invited to join hosts, France for the first World Cup in 1953. However the tournament was not held till 1954, with all teams except America participating.
The uncertainty of the ultimate outcome was of particular interest. In the early 1950s all four competing nations were quite capable of beating each other – no test series in the period was a foregone conclusion.
If there was a favourite it was Australia who had just won back the Ashes. However, in 1953 they had lost series to both the French and the Kiwis, while Great Britain had defeated New Zealand on the second half of their 1954 Australasian tour.
The form book merely provided a conundrum which was made more confusing when the British were forced, through injuries and players making themselves unavailable, to select a raw and largely untried squad which was given little credibility by the cynics.