Rugby League World Cup

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Rugby League World Cup
Current season or competition:
2017 Rugby League World Cup
RLWC trophy.jpg
Sport Rugby league football
Instituted 1954
Number of teams 17 (Finals)
Region International (RLIF)
Holders  Australia (2013)
Most titles  Australia (10 titles)
Related competition Women's Rugby League World Cup

The Rugby League World Cup is an international rugby league tournament, contested by national teams of the Rugby League International Federation, which was first held in France in 1954, the first World Cup in either rugby code.[1] The idea of a rugby league world cup tournament was first mooted in the 1930s with the French proposing holding a tournament in 1931, and again in 1951.[2] The fourteen tournaments held to date have been at intervals ranging from two to eight years, and have featured a number of different formats.[3] So far three nations have won the competition (Australia ten times, Great Britain three times and New Zealand once). Australia, France and New Zealand are the only teams to have played in all tournaments (Great Britain has been split into England, Wales, Scotland and Ireland since 1995, while England and Wales had previously competed as separate teams in the 1975 World Cup). Since 2000, the RLIF has also organised World Cups for women, students and other categories. The 2013 Rugby League World Cup was held in England, France, Ireland and Wales[4] and won by Australia.[5]


1935-1954: Establishment[edit]

The Rugby League World Cup was an initiative of the French who had been campaigning for a competition since 1935. The idea was raised in 1951 by Paul Barrière, the President of the French Rugby League. In 1952, Rugby Football League secretary Bill Fallowfield persuaded the Rugby League Council to support the concept.[6] At a meeting in Blackpool, England in 1953, the International Board accepted Paul Barrière’s proposal that France should be the nation to host[6] the first tournament to be officially known as the "Rugby World Cup".[7] In addition to the hosts, the tournament featured teams from Britain, Australia and New Zealand.[8] The 1954 Rugby League World Cup was won by Great Britain who defeated France in Paris on 13 November to claim the title.

Captain of the winning British team, Dave Valentine, presented with the trophy at the inaugural World Cup in 1954

1955-1974: Sporadic competitions[edit]

The World Cup was initially contested by the four Test nations: Australia, Great Britain, France and New Zealand. The teams played each other in a league format. After a final was played between the top two teams in 1954, it was decided that the team that finished first in the league standings would be declared the winner for the second World Cup in Australia in 1957. Australia proved victorious on their home ground.

After the successful 1960 competition, in which Great Britain won the title for the second time, there would be no further World Cup for eight years. The competition had been scheduled to be held in France in 1965, this time with the inclusion of the South African team.[9] However, after an unsuccessful tour of Australia, the French withdrew. The tournament was next held in 1968, and followed a two-year cycle until the mid-1970s. The 1972 World Cup final ended in a 10-all draw, and the title was awarded to Great Britain by virtue of their superior record in the qualifiers.

1975-1990s: International hosts[edit]

In 1975, the competition underwent a radical overhaul. It was decided to play matches on a home and away basis around the world instead of in any one host nation and the Great Britain team was split into England and Wales. Australia won that tournament and in 1977 it was decided that Great Britain should once more compete as a single entity. Although the final between Australia and Great Britain was a closely fought affair, public interest in the tournament waned due to the continuing tinkering with the format and it was not held again until the mid-1980s.

From 1985 to 1988, each nation played each other a number of times on a home and away basis. At the end of that period, Australia met New Zealand at Eden Park. The match was a physical encounter, and Australian captain Wally Lewis played part of the match with a broken arm. The Kangaroos won the competition 25-12. This format was repeated from 1989–1992 and Australia won again, defeating Great Britain 10-6 at Wembley Stadium in front of 73,361 people. This crowd remained a Rugby League World Cup record (and a record for any rugby league international match) until beaten by the 74,468 crowd which attended the 2013 World Cup Final at Old Trafford.[10]

1995-2008: Expansion[edit]

In 1995, the competition was once again restructured, returning to the traditional 'host' format with ten teams entering. New teams competing included Fiji, Tonga, Samoa and South Africa. Due to the Super League war, players aligned with the rebel competition were not selected by the ARL to represent the Kangaroos. This meant the absence of many star players from the Australian team's line-up. The tournament, which was also held to celebrate the centenary of the sport in England, was highly successful with over 250,000 people attending the group stages and over 66,000 people attending the final to see Australia defeat England 16-8.

Following the Super League war, the subsequent re-structuring of rugby league's international governing bodies meant that the proposed 1998 World Cup was postponed.[11]

The 2000 World Cup expanded the field further, with sixteen teams entering. However numerous issues including poor organization and blown-out scorelines meant that this tournament was seen as highly unsuccessful, and the competition was put on indefinite hiatus. In the same year, the first Women's Rugby League World Cup was held.

The World Cup returned in 2008 with a 10-team format. Australia hosted the tournament and New Zealand were crowned champions for the first time.

2009-present: Regular competition[edit]

The 2013 tournament, hosted by England and Wales, expanded to 14 teams and was considered the most successful competition to date in terms of attendances, exposure and financial output. Following this tournament, the World Cup is scheduled to take place every four years, with the next competition in 2017.


The original and current Rugby League World Cup trophy, commissioned by Paul Barrière for the 1954 inaugural contest.

Original and current trophy[edit]

The World Cup trophy was commissioned by French Fédération Française de Rugby à XIII president Paul Barrière at a cost of eight million francs, and then donated to the International Rugby League Board to be used for the inaugural competition in 1954.[12] This trophy was used and presented to the winning nation for the first four tournaments, before being stolen in 1970. After its recovery, the trophy was reinstated for the 2000 tournament.

Theft and recovery of original trophy[edit]

While competing in the 1970 tournament, reigning champions Australia put the trophy on display at the Midland Hotel, Bradford.[13] The trophy was stolen from the hotel six days before the final, on the night of Sunday, November 1, 1970, and remained unseen for the next twenty years.[13][14] Before its theft, the trophy was last held aloft by Johnny Raper after Australia's 20-2 win over France at the Sydney Cricket Ground on 10 June 1968 to claim the fourth World Cup title.

The Midland Hotel, Bradford, whence the trophy was stolen in November 1970. It was not rediscovered for another 20 years.

Ironically, the stolen trophy was not the one which was due to be competed for and presented in the 1970 World Cup Final the following Saturday at Headingley Stadium, Leeds. With the commencement of sponsorship in the game, administrators had decided to play for a new sponsored trophy, with the original being kept safe and on display at the hotel in a symbolic capacity only.[15]

Following its disappearance, nothing is known of the trophy's whereabouts for the next twenty years until, in 1990, a Bradford resident discovered the trophy (minus the plinth) amongst rubbish dumped in a ditch near the Bradford and Bingley Rugby Club in Bingley.[13] Unaware of the significance of his find, he made enquiries at local rugby clubs without success. He turned the trophy in to the police but it was returned to him 28 days later after no-one claimed it. He tried contacting Yorkshire Television's Calendar programme but could not interest them in the story. At one point there were plans for the trophy to be used as a bodybuilding trophy by a local gym.[16] He eventually contacted the local Telegraph & Argus newspaper, who ran an article on it. The trophy was identified from this by rugby league historian Trevor Delaney, who notified the police, the papers and the Rugby Football League.[15]

On 1 June 1990, the trophy was presented to Roger Millward of the RFL outside the White Rose health club in Bradford before being taken to the RFL's headquarters in Leeds.[17] Speaking on its return, RFL spokesman David Howes commented, "It is like the return of the Holy Grail. No-one knows what its value is, but in rugby league terms it is priceless".[13] The RFL agreed to pay a reward for the trophy's return, "anything except a place in the team" Howes joked,[13] but the finder asked only for some match tickets.[13]

The original World Cup trophy was brought back into use for the 2000 World Cup, minus the cockerel that had adorned it initially. It was presented to the victorious Australian team. The trophy featured again during the 2008 World Cup, when it was used prominently as the basis for the competition logo, and was retained for 2013 and beyond.

Past trophies[edit]

While no trophy could be presented in 1970 due to the original's disappearance a few days before the final, several other trophies were used from 1972 until 1995. For the 1995 tournament, a £10,000 cup was made by Tiffanys to celebrate the centenary of the game.[18]


The Rugby League World Cup has followed a varied range of formats throughout its history as the number of teams participating has increased.

1954 to 1972 and 1977 format[edit]

From 1954 until 1972, the World Cup competition had only featured four teams in Australia, France, Great Britain and New Zealand; because of this a current format of World Cup would have been impractical. Instead the RLIF adopted a league format with a points system, with all four teams playing each other. The two teams with the most points after the designated matches played off in a final to decide the champion. This style was re-introduced for the 1977 tournament.

1975 to 1992 format[edit]

For the 1975 tournament, a new format was introduced where no single country would host the World Cup; rather each country playing in the tournament would host all home fixtures in their own country and play away in the country of their opposition. There was no final, with the team at the top of the points table being declared winner. This style of tournament saw a further three countries enter the cup under the league format; England, Papua New Guinea and Wales. The home and away style was dropped for 1977, but was used for a further two tournaments in the 1980s; (1985-88 and 1989-92), which saw the length of the series stretched from 8 months in 1975 to 3 years.

Qualification since 1995[edit]

Since the 1995 tournament, the majority of teams have had to qualify for the World Cup tournament. In 1995, there were 10 teams split into one group of four, and two groups of three. The top two teams progressed in the group of four and the top team progressed from each of the groups of three into the semi-finals. The winners of the semi-finals progressed to the final. Moldova, Russia, USA, Cook Islands, Morocco, Ireland and Scotland competed in a parallel Emerging Nations World Cup.[19]

In 2000, sixteen teams were split into four groups of four. The top two teams from each group progressed to the knockout quarter finals. The winners of the quarter finals played in the semi-final and the winners of the semi-finals progressed to the final. The parallel Emerging Nations tournament was repeated with debuts from teams from Japan, Canada and Italy

The 2008 tournament followed a similar format to the 1995 competition. The 10 teams were split into one group of four, and two groups of three. Three teams progressed into the semi-finals in the group of four and the winners of the two groups of three went to a playoff for a position in the semi-final. The winners of the semi-finals progressed to the final. For the 2008 tournament five teams were granted automatic entry into the cup and therefore did not have to gain admission through the qualifying stages. These five teams included England and the original four nations that had entered the World Cup between 1954 and 1992; Australia, France, Papua New Guinea and New Zealand.

The 2013 edition saw an expansion to 14 teams, in two groups of four and two groups of three. As in 2008, due to the groups of four consisting of more higher seeded nations, three nations from each group of four qualified for the quarter-finals where they were joined by the two winners of the groups of three.

The 2017 competition will again feature 14 teams. However, unlike the previous World Cup, only seven teams (seven of the eight quarter-finalists from the last tournament) will qualify automatically. The remaining seven spots will come from four different qualification zones; three from Europe, two from Asia/Pacific, one from Americas and one from Middle East/Africa.[20]


A final has decided the champions of every World Cup tournament apart from two, in 1957 and 1960 when the tournaments were decided by league leaders. Australia have won the most final games with nine wins (a tenth came as 1957 league leaders) and appeared in every single one but the first in 1954 which was contested by Great Britain and France. Great Britain have been runners-up more times than any other team with four final losses while England and France are the teams with the lost losses without winning the tournament with two losses each. New Zealand have appeared in four finals and won once in 2008.

The highest attendance in a final was in 2013, when 74,468 people watched Australia defeat New Zealand at Old Trafford in Manchester, England, this becoming the highest attended match in the Rugby League World Cup ever. The lowest attended final was in 1972, when just 4,500 people watched Great Britain defeat Australia at the Stade de Gerland in Lyon, France. The highest attended final in the southern hemisphere was in 1968, when 54,290 people attended the game between Australia and France, with Australia coming out on top; this game took place at the Sydney Cricket Ground. Only 4 out of 12 finals have taken place in the southern hemisphere with a 5th due to take place in 2017.

Year Host(s) Final Number of teams
Winner Score Runner-up
1954  France
Great Britain
1957  Australia
Table Leader
Great Britain
1960  England
Great Britain
Table Leader
1968  Australia
 New Zealand

1970  England
Great Britain
1972  France
Great Britain
1975 International
1977  Australia
 New Zealand

New Zealand
Great Britain
1995  England

2000 United Kingdom UK

New Zealand
2008  Australia
New Zealand
2013  England

New Zealand
2017  Australia
 New Zealand
2021 TBD 16
  • (*- Highest ranked team during Round Robin round won)
    • (**- Challenge Match, played as Australia won the 1975 World Cup, decided by ranking in Round Robin round, without beating England)

Successful national teams[edit]

Up to and including the 2013 tournament only Australia, New Zealand and Great Britain have been crowned World Champions with Australia easily the most successful, winning ten of the fourteen tournaments. Great Britain have won three times, and New Zealand once. New Zealand have also finished runners-up in three World Cups, while France have been runners-up on two occasions, including the inaugural cup where they were captained by Puig Aubert. England have also finished runners-up on two occasions while the Great Britain team were runners-up four times. Fiji have reached the semi-finals on two occasions, while Wales also made the semi-final in 2000. Ireland and Samoa have twice made it past the qualifying pool stages. Other nations to have proceeded to the knock-out stages are Papua New Guinea, Scotland and the United States.

Team Champions Runners-up
 Australia (10) 1957, 1968, 1970, 1975, 1977,
1988, 1992, 1995, 2000, 2013
(3) 1960, 1972, 2008
 Great Britain1 (3) 1954, 1960, 1972 (4) 1957, 1970, 1977, 1989–92
 New Zealand (1) 2008 (3) 1985-88, 2000, 2013
 France (2) 1954, 1968
 England (2) 1975, 1995


Rugby league world cup countries prior to the 2017 tournament

Australia, France and New Zealand are the only nations who have appeared at every Rugby League World Cup from 1954 to 2013. England has also been at all, but participated under the banner of Great Britain in the majority of the earlier tournaments. Wales, including as Great Britain, has competed in all but the 2008 tournament.

In total, 19 different teams have taken part in the world cup. While 18 of these teams represented nations, 1 did not; in 2000, the Aotearoa Māori team was granted entry to the competition. This team is made up of New Zealand Māori players and was knocked out of the world cup in the pool stage. Along with this team, 4 others have appeared in only 1 world cup; United States, Italy, Russia and Lebanon although Lebanon are set to take part in the 2017 world cup. It is yet to be determined whether the other 3 teams will qualify as the relevant qualifying tournaments are yet to take place.

Host Nations[edit]

Seven teams have hosted and co-hosted the World Cup. Only 1975, 1985-88 and 1989-92 were held internationally and not in a specific country. Although games were played in Papua New Guinea during the 1985-88 and 1989-92 World Cups, they are due to become the eighth nation to host game in 2017 alongside Australia and New Zealand.

Host Count
 Australia 4
 New Zealand 4
 England 3
 France 3
 United Kingdom 1
 Ireland 1
 Wales 1

Records and statistics[edit]

Overall Championships[edit]

Championships Nation
10  Australia
3  Great Britain
1  New Zealand

Overall top pointscorers[edit]

Points Scorers
112 Australia Mick Cronin
108 Australia Michael O'Connor
94 United Kingdom/England George Fairbairn

Most appearances[edit]

Appearances Individual
25 New Zealand Kurt Sorensen
17 United Kingdom/England John Atkinson; Australia Bob Fulton
15 Australia Mal Meninga; Australia Michael O'Connor

World Cup winning captains and coaches[edit]

Year Captain Coach Team
1954 Dave Valentine G. Shaw United Kingdom
1957 Dick Poole Dick Poole Australia
1960 Eric Ashton Bill Fallowfield United Kingdom
1968 Johnny Raper Harry Bath Australia
1970 Ron Coote Harry Bath Australia
1972 Clive Sullivan Jim Challinor United Kingdom
1975 Graeme Langlands Graeme Langlands Australia
1977 Arthur Beetson Terry Fearnley Australia
1988 Wally Lewis Don Furner Australia
1992 Mal Meninga Bob Fulton Australia
1995 Brad Fittler Bob Fulton Australia
2000 Brad Fittler Chris Anderson Australia
2008 Nathan Cayless Stephen Kearney New Zealand
2013 Cameron Smith Tim Sheens Australia


Year Hosts Total
Matches Avg
 % change Stadium Capacity  % Capacity
1954 France 138,329 7 19,761 N/A 285,100 48.51%
1957 Australia 214,918 6 35,820 +81.26% 370,000 58.08%
1960 England 110,200 6 18,367 -48.72% 217,000 50.78%
1968 Australia, New Zealand 220,683 7 31,562 +71.84% 350,000 63.05%
1970 England 68,710 7 9,816 -68.69% 181,200 37.91%
1972 France 62,456 7 8,922 -9.10% 222,700 28.04%
1975 Worldwide 204,476 21 9,737 +9.13% 294,500 69.43%
1977 Australia, New Zealand 109,688 7 15,670 +60.93% 274,000 40.03%
1985-1988 Worldwide 218,246 18 12,125 -22.62% 456,000 47.86%
1989-1992 Worldwide 300,059 21 14,289 +17.84% 521,500 57.57%
1995 England, Wales 265,609 15 17,707 +23.92% 413,300 64.26%
2000 England, Wales, Scotland,
Ireland, France
263,921 31 8,514 -51.91% 704,400 37.46%
2008 Australia 293,442 18 16,302 +91.47% 533,800 54.97%
2013 England, Wales, France, Ireland 458,483 28 16,374 +0.44% 573,200 79.98%

Attendance Records[edit]

Top 10 match attendances.

Year Venue City Event Attendance
2013 Old Trafford England Manchester Final 74,468
1989-92 Wembley Stadium (1923) England London Final 73,631
2013 Wembley Stadium England London Semi Final (double header) 67,575
1995 Wembley Stadium (1923) England London Final 66,540
1968 Sydney Cricket Ground Australia Sydney Group Stage 62,256
1957 Sydney Cricket Ground Australia Sydney Group Stage 57,995
1968 Sydney Cricket Ground Australia Sydney Final 54,290
2008 Lang Park Australia Brisbane Final 50,599
1957 Sydney Cricket Ground Australia Sydney Group Stage 50,077
1985-88 Eden Park New Zealand Auckland Final 47,363

See also[edit]



  1. ^ Folkard, 2003: 337
  2. ^ Richard William Cox, Wray Vamplew, Grant Jarvie (2000). Encyclopedia of British Sport. UK: ABC-CLIO. p. 426. 
  3. ^ McCann, Liam (2006). Rugby: Facts, Figures and Fun. UK: AAPPL Artists' and Photographers' Press. p. 80. 
  4. ^ "Hosts announced for the 2013 RLWC". The Rugby Football League. Retrieved 28 November 2011.  External link in |work= (help)
  5. ^ Fletcher, Paul. "Rugby League World Cup 2013: New Zealand 2-34 Australia". BBC Sport. Retrieved 1 December 2013. 
  6. ^ a b Waddingham, Steve (2008-06-14). "Why this trophy for winning the rugby league World Cup?". Brisbane: The Courier-Mail. Archived from the original on 2010-01-10. Retrieved 10 January 2010. 
  7. ^ SPARC, 2009: 28
  8. ^ AAP (1953-01-19). "World Cup Suggestion". The Sydney Morning Herald (Australia). p. 7. Retrieved 2009-12-25. 
  9. ^ AAP; Reuter (1962-08-15). "League Cup Year Fixed". The Sydney Morning Herald (Auckland). p. 18. Retrieved 2009-10-06. [dead link]
  10. ^ AAP (1 December 2013). "Record rugby league crowd for World Cup final". Retrieved 1 December 2013. 
  11. ^ John Coffey, Bernie Wood (2008). 100 years: Māori rugby league, 1908-2008. Huia Publishers. p. 302. ISBN 9781869693312. 
  12. ^ RLIF. "Past Winners: 1954". Rugby League International Federation. Retrieved 2008-10-25. 
  13. ^ a b c d e f "Trophy back home - after 20 years". The Sun-Herald (Sydney: Fairfax Digital). 1990-06-02. p. 90. Archived from the original on 2010-01-10. Retrieved 2009-10-07. 
  14. ^ Harlow, Phil (2008-10-21). "Rugby League World Cup history". BBC Sport. Retrieved 10 January 2010. 
  15. ^ a b "League Freak- Rugby League History - The Rugby League World Cup". The First Rugby World Cup,January 25, 2007 02:37:29. Retrieved 1 September 2011. 
  16. ^ Laybourn, Ian. "World Cup History". Sporting Life, rugby league news. 365 Media Group Ltd. Retrieved 2 September 2011. 
  17. ^ "Rugby League World Cup". RLWC Trophy. Rugby League International Federation Ltd. 
  18. ^ "A history of the Rugby League World Cup". St Helens Star. 1 October 2013. Retrieved 4 January 2014. 
  19. ^ "Rugby League World Cup History". Rugby League World Cup 2013 official website. Rugby League International Federation Ltd. Retrieved 2 September 2011. 
  20. ^ "Qualification details for 2017 RLWC announced". Retrieved 2015-04-08. 


External links[edit]

Further reading[edit]