Rugby league in New Zealand

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Rugby league in New Zealand
Country New Zealand
Governing body New Zealand Rugby League
National team(s) New Zealand
Nickname(s) Kiwis
First played 13 June 1908, Wellington
Registered players 24,000 (total)[1]
3,550 (adult)
Clubs 142
Club competitions
Audience records
Single match 47,363 - 1988 Kiwis vs Australia. Eden Park, Auckland

Rugby league in New Zealand dates to the beginning of the sport in England.

New Zealand played an integral role in the history of rugby league football. Of all rugby league nations New Zealand was second only to England to compete in international competition.


A professional New Zealand team was touring England and Australia before it was even considered that there should be a professional league in New Zealand.[citation needed]

The first makings of a New Zealand rugby football schism, such as seen in other countries was the creation of Albert Henry Baskerville who set out to sign a group of professional rugby players to tour England. Baskerville's team of professional "All Golds", on their way to England, made a stop over in Australia, playing a 3-game series against a professional New South Wales rugby team.[citation needed] From there, they went on to England and for the first time, played by the Rugby Football League's rules. On their return home, they stopped over in Australia to play another 10 games against clubs from the newly formed New South Wales Rugby League.[citation needed]

During the All Gold's tour, their founder, Baskerville fell ill and later died of pneumonia.[citation needed] 13 June 1908 saw the first game of rugby league played by the Northern Union's new rules on New Zealand soil; as a benefit match for Baskerville's widowed mother. The first match in New Zealand was played at Wellington on 13 June 1908 before a crowd of nearly 7,000, which saw an exhibition between two teams drawn from the touring side.[citation needed]

Rugby league had now its sights firmly set on New Zealand, however, the New Zealand Rugby Union's dominance in New Zealand sport, government and business would prove a lot tougher than the unions of Australia or England. The NZRU took it upon themselves to pressure potential converts, officials, sponsors and ground owners into not giving the rugby league upstarts any room to move. The Wellington Rugby Union even went to the length of naming, under false pretenses, famous players in the team lineup for a match at Athletic Park in order to lure interest away from a Northern Union match being played in Petone on the same day.[2]

None of this succeeded in stopping the establishment of the game and by 1910 it was being played in Auckland, Taranaki, Rotorua, Nelson, Southland, Wanganui, Marlborough, Invercargill, Hawke's Bay, and South Auckland. The New Zealand Rugby League was formed in 1909 and other provinces joined the league.

In the year after that, Auckland Rugby League became the first to start a regular competition. The Auckland League had a full season in 1912, with its headquarters at Eden Park. That same year saw the formation of Wellington's local rugby league competition.

In 1913 Henry Thacker set up the Canterbury Rugby Football League, donating the Thacker Shield.[3]

By the early 1990s New South Wales' club competition matches were being broadcast in New Zealand with far greater viewing numbers than that of domestic rugby union.[4]

A New Zealand club team, the Auckland Warriors, was added to the top-level Australian Rugby League competition in 1995. Soon after when the Australian Super League war shook the game to its very foundations in that country, the New Zealand Rugby League, along with the governing body in Britain, aligned itself with Super League. The Warriors continued to participate in the National Rugby League competition after many expansion teams were cut and foundation teams merged. In 2001 the club's name was changed to New Zealand Warriors.

In 2005, the New Zealand national side won the Tri-Nations final, beating Australia 24-0. This was the first series defeat of Australia in 25 years and also their equal biggest losing margin.

The New Zealand national team won the Rugby League World Cup for the first time in 2008.

In 2009, the much-mooted State of Origin-like concept called "Kiwi Roots", which would involve two domestic New Zealand representative teams playing each other, was announced to commence in 2010.[5] but has yet to eventuate.

In 2010 a poll released by UMR Research showed that in Auckland, home of the Warriors, more people were interested in the NRL premiership (33%) than rugby union's ITM Cup (26%).[6]

The finals form of the Warriors in 2011 increased the NRL's television audience in New Zealand by 29 per cent that year.[7]

Governing body and competitions[edit]

The New Zealand Rugby League is responsible for governing of rugby league in New Zealand. The Auckland Rugby League is a partner of the NZRL and is responsible for the governing the sport in the Auckland Region.

The premier competition organised by the governing body of rugby league in New Zealand is the National Provincial Competition, formed in 2008. Significant former competitions included the Lion Red Cup, run from 1994–96, and the Bartercard Cup, run from 2000-07.

On a regional level, the sport is administered by Sixteen districts,[8] six of which field representative teams in the National Provincial Competition:

The ten who do not compete in the NPC are:

  • Coastline Rugby League
  • Gisborne Tairawhiti Rugby League
  • Rugby League Hawke's Bay
  • Manawatu Rugby League
  • Northland Rugby League
  • Otago Rugby League
  • Southland Rugby League
  • Tasman Rugby League
  • West Coast Rugby League
  • Aoraki Rugby League

New Zealand based teams also take part in Australian competitions. New Zealand Warriors are the only non-Australian team in the National Rugby League and Auckland Vulcans participate in the New South Wales Cup.

National Rugby League Teams[edit]

The National Rugby League (NRL) is Australia's top level competition for the sport of rugby league.[9]

The New Zealand Warriors are New Zealand's only side in the National Rugby League. The club also fields a team in the NRL Women's Premiership.[10]

Wellington Orcas unsuccessfully bid for a National Rugby League licence in 2006.

Club Location Home Ground(s) First season
New Zealand colours.svg New Zealand Warriors Auckland Mt Smart Stadium 1995 (men's side)
2018 (women's side)

The national team[edit]

The New Zealand national rugby league side represent New Zealand at rugby league, and are commonly known as the Kiwis, after the native bird of that name. They are administered by the New Zealand Rugby League. On 22 October 2008, The Kiwis defeated Australia to win their first Rugby League World Cup. The team's most recent title came in the 2014 Rugby League Four Nations tournament by beating Australia, which brings their Rugby League Four Nations championships total to two. Accordingly, the Kiwis are currently the number one ranked rugby league nation as at 2015.

See also[edit]


  1. ^
  2. ^ "Outside Chat". NZ Truth, Issue 170. New Zealand. 1908-09-19. p. 3. Retrieved 2009-12-02.
  3. ^ "Thacker, Henry Thomas Joynt - Biography" at
  4. ^ Hadfield, Dave (1992-07-14). "League breaks union's power". The Independent. UK: Independent News and Media Limited. Retrieved 2010-01-07.
  5. ^ Brown, Michael (15 July 2007). "League: Kiwi Roots clash part of competitions shake-up". The New Zealand Herald. Retrieved 6 November 2011.
  6. ^ NEWSTALK ZB (22 September 2010). "League tops rugby in Auckland: poll". New Zealand Herald. New Zealand: APN Holdings NZ Limited. Retrieved 14 October 2010.
  7. ^ Roy Masters (14 October 2011). "Numbers add up for NRL clubs in pursuit of more cash from rights". The Sydney Morning Herald. Fairfax Media. Retrieved 22 August 2014.
  8. ^ NZRL - Districts
  9. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 19 October 2007. Retrieved 12 October 2008.
  10. ^ Newton, Alicia (27 March 2018). "Geographic location the focus as NRL women's teams announced". Retrieved 27 March 2018.

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]