Rugby league in New Zealand

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search
Rugby league in New Zealand
Country New Zealand
Governing body New Zealand Rugby League
National team 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. It is a popular team sport played in New Zealand with participation and interest considered to be concentrated in the Auckland region.[citation needed] There are around 22,000 registered rugby league players in New Zealand.[2]

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.

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. From there, they went on to England and for the first time, played by the Northern Union'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.

During the All Gold's tour, their founder, Baskerville fell ill and later died of pneumonia. 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.

Rugby league had now its sights firmly set on New Zealand, however, the New Zealand Rugby Union's infiltration into every aspect of New Zealand society, 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.[3]

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.[4]

Rugby league made great advances since the Second World War. It was well established between 1918 and 1939, but many strong leagues went into recess between 1939 and 1945, never to revive, or to suffer severely from the loss of players. Rotorua, Otago, and Northland were examples. Those areas, strong provinces before the war, are only starting to make good progress.

Ironically, New Zealand founded the fully international rugby league, was responsible for strengthening English professional rugby and gave the rugby rebels of Australia a leg up, which resulted in the formation of the New South Wales Rugby League. However, they weren't able to replicate their overseas success to the same levels on home soil.

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.[5]

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.[6] 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%).[7]

The finals form of the Warriors in 2011 increased the NRL's television audience in New Zealand by 29 per cent that year.[8]

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 fifteen districts,[9] six of which field representative teams in the National Provincial Competition:

The nine 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

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]

Main article: National Rugby League

The National Rugby League (NRL) is Australia's top level competition for the sport of rugby league.[10]

The New Zealand Warriors are New Zealand's only side in the National Rugby League. 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



Rugby league is the 7th most popular sport amongst Māori which equates to 10% of Māori having played the sport over a 12-month period. In comparison, 7% of 'other ethnicities' play the sport, placing rugby league as the 11th most played sport among people of other ethnicities.

The National Rugby League, in recent years has become a hotbed of talent for up and coming New Zealand players. Most of these players are of Māori or other Pacific Islander origin, a number of Māori also play in the European Super League.

There may be many reasons why rugby league is more popular among those of Pacific Islander origin. Size is an important aspect in rugby league which emphasizes heavy body contact and Pacific Islanders are on average significantly larger than caucasian New Zealanders, Asian New Zealanders and Maori New Zealanders. The game is also seen as a means of defending and maintaining Polynesian cultural identities against a white establishment.[11]

Another theory is that Auckland has more Māori and Pacific Islanders than other parts of New Zealand and Auckland is the centre of rugby league in New Zealand.

By geographical area[edit]

Young people[edit]

The young of Auckland, Manukau, Greater Auckland, North Harbour and Waitakere participate in rugby league more so than any other area of New Zealand. This is not surprising, as Auckland is New Zealand rugby league's founding city. In any 2-week period, 3% of young people in Auckland will play rugby league; 50% greater than the next largest participants of rugby league, Waikato and the Bay of Plenty, not too far from Auckland.

Heading further south, the likelihood of finding those who participate in rugby league decrease the further south one goes. The next largest regions to play rugby league are those of the southern and western areas of the North Island; Northland, Taranaki, Wanganui and Manawatu, Wellington and the central east and western parts of the South Island: Canterbury and Westland. These areas experience a decrease in participation by 50% in comparison to Waikato and the Bay of Plenty or by 66% in comparison to Auckland.

Perhaps the most interesting thing to have come from these statistics is that rugby league appears to be less popular in the Hawke's Bay & Eastland regions of the North Island than some areas of the South Island. This goes against the general perception that rugby league is a strong sport in this region of New Zealand. The Hawke's Bay region has a participation rate of nil/less than 1%, much like the areas of the New Zealand not yet mentioned: Otago, Southland, Tasman and Northland (Northland also being on the North Island.)


Participation among adults is more spread out, although methods for gathering adult participation and youth participation vary widely. One should realise this when drawing conclusions from what follows.

Nearly every region in New Zealand participates in rugby league to some extent; again the general perception of the north being the strongest regions for rugby league are echoed in adult participation figures. The Hawks Bay and Eastland region represents an area where massive differences are seen in terms of rugby league participation. Going by participation rates alone for juniors, this region could be perceived as a rugby league waste land; for adults, the picture couldn't be much different; in any 4 weeks, 3% of its adults population will participate in rugby league; equal to the participation rate of Auckland.

Another interesting difference between adults and youth participation is the proximity between rugby league and rugby union participation. In each case, rugby union is the more popular code, but rugby league in many cases throughout the Auckland region is almost on par with rugby union. This is out of line with the junior and youth participation, where rugby union far outnumbers league.

Taking New Zealand as a whole, rugby league does not rate among the top 15 sports in New Zealand among male adults. In comparison, rugby union is the 5th most popular sport in New Zealand for men, behind other team sports such as touch rugby (itself a form of rugby league) and cricket. However, the 18-24 year age bracket suggests rugby league is the 13th most played sport by adults (male and female); the same segregation rates rugby union as 7th most popular sport.

So whilst rugby league is not the most popular sport in New Zealand, there are regions and people that share significant interest in it.

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. ^ "Rugby League World Cup 2008 teams". Rugby League World Cup 2008 Official Site. Retrieved 2008-04-24. 
  3. ^ "Outside Chat.". NZ Truth, Issue 170. New Zealand. 1908-09-19. p. 3. Retrieved 2009-12-02. 
  4. ^ "Thacker, Henry Thomas Joynt - Biography" at
  5. ^ Hadfield, Dave (1992-07-14). "League breaks union's power". The Independent. UK: Independent News and Media Limited. Retrieved 2010-01-07. 
  6. ^ Brown, Michael (15 July 2007). "League: Kiwi Roots clash part of competitions shake-up". The New Zealand Herald. Retrieved 6 November 2011. 
  7. ^ NEWSTALK ZB (22 September 2010). "League tops rugby in Auckland: poll". New Zealand Herald. New Zealand: APN Holdings NZ Limited. Retrieved 14 October 2010. 
  8. ^ 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. 
  9. ^ NZRL - Districts
  10. ^
  11. ^ Spracklen, Karl (2001). 'Black Pearl, Black Diamonds' Exploring racial identities in rugby league. Routledge. p. 79. ISBN 9780415246293. 

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]