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 football is one of the leading professional and recreational team sports in Queensland.

The earliest known Rugby football games in Queensland were played in Brisbane from 1876 through to 1878, with the clubs reverting to 'Victorian rules' for the 1879 season. The Rugby code became popular again in the early 1880s, with inter-colonial matches against New South Wales and the formation of the Northern Rugby Union. The game then developed rapidly and became the dominant local football code by 1890.

Rugby continued to develop until the early 1900s, when the advent of professional Rugby (later 'Rugby league') in 1908 and the Great War ultimately saw the disbandment of the Queensland Rugby Union (‘QRU’) after the 1919 season. The QRU was revived in the late 1920s, and continues to this day as ‘Queensland Rugby’.

History of rugby union in Queensland[edit]

Rugby football commenced in Queensland in 1876, when the Brisbane FC (which had played according to the ‘Melbourne Rules' (now Australian football) since its founding in 1866), and two newly formed football clubs (Bonnet Rouge FC and Rangers FC) elected to play Rugby football. Rugby continued to be played for three seasons, when the clubs reverted to ‘Victorian rules’ (formerly ‘Melbourne rules’) for the 1879 season, together with periodic Rugby games.

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. Such was the development of Rugby throughout the colony as a result of the formation of the new union, that the three large grammar schools in the south-east region (Brisbane, Ipswich and Toowoomba) changed their football code from Victorian Rules to Rugby. The top-level Rugby competition begun by those schools continues in the local Great Public Schools' Association of Queensland (GPS) system 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 rugby 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 rugby 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.

Recent events[edit]

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

Queensland state team[edit]

Queensland Reds kit

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.

National championships[edit]

The National Rugby Championship (NRC) was launched by the ARU in 2014,[2] reinstating the national competition after an absence of six years. The previous competition was the Australian Rugby Championship (ARC) which was discontinued after only one season in 2007.[3] The NRC is contested by nine professional teams from around Australia, with the season running from August through to November.[4]

Queensland is represented by two teams in the NRC:[4]

The teams are based in the same cities as the former ARC sides, the Ballymore Tornadoes, and East Coast Aces respectively. Both are managed by the QRU, with the coaching and training programs used at the Queensland Reds extended to players joining the NRC teams from the Reds and local Queensland clubs.[5][6]

Brisbane City won the inaugural NRC competition, defeating Perth Spirit in the 2014 grand final.[7]


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

The Queensland Country Rugby Union has eleven country sub-unions, each running their own club competitions during the year. The sub-unions are grouped into three regional divisions in Northern, Central, and Southern Queensland:

North Queensland

Central Queensland

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

South Queensland

Sub-union teams compete in Regional Championships against other teams in their regional division. Representative sides from the three regions are then selected to play at the Queensland Country Championships.

Following the Country Championships, a representative Queensland Country Heelers team is 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.[8]

Queensland State Cup[edit]

The Queensland State Cup was an early-season statewide premier competition that was run for just one season in 2009.[9] It involved 16 Queensland teams; 9 Brisbane clubs and 7 teams based in the major sub-unions of Queensland Country.[10] The competition ran prior to the Queensland Premier Rugby competition. Due to logistical issues the competition has now ceased.[11]

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.[12] 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:[13] As of 2014, the First Division clubs competing for the Barber Cup and Pegg Cup are:[14]

The QSRU also selects a Queensland Suburban team to play an annual match against New South Wales Suburban for the Barraclough Shield.[15]

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's National Championship each year. Queensland also selects 7-a-side teams to compete in the National Sevens Championships and tournaments such as the Darwin Hottest Sevens.

The ten clubs in the Brisbane Women's competition, as of 2014, are:[16]

Schools and Junior rugby[edit]

The Queensland Rugby Football Schools Union (QRFSU) administers the game within Queensland schools and selects state teams for national championships at various age group levels, including the Australian Schools Rugby Championships.[17]

Clubs for junior rugby players (up to 17 years of age) operate within the Queensland Junior Rugby Union (QJRU), which also holds state championships for representative teams from metropolitan and country regions.[18]

Ballymore Cup[edit]

The Ballymore Cup is the largest school boys rugby competition in Queensland.[19] It was founded to promote the sport of rugby across rural and metropolitan Queensland. The winner of the 2012 Ballymore Cup in the open age went to Rockhampton Grammar, and in the under-15's St Brendan's College, Yeppoon.[19]

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
  • 1992 - Queensland Reds won Super Six
  • 1994 - Reds Super 10 champions
  • 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
  • 2006 - Reds begin playing all Super 14 matches at Suncorp Stadium
  • 2011 - An epic Reds final win at Suncorp Stadium sees 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. ^ Harris, Bret (24 March 2014). "ARU announces national club competition". The Australian. News. Archived from the original on 25 Mar 2014. Retrieved 13 July 2014. 
  3. ^ "Australia relaunches National Rugby Championship". 24 March 2014. Archived from the original on 24 March 2014. Retrieved 24 March 2014. 
  4. ^ a b "ARU Board approves nine team National Rugby Championship to start in August 2014". (Press release). 24 March 2014. Archived from the original on 24 March 2014. Retrieved 24 March 2014. 
  5. ^ "NRC frequently asked questions". Queensland Rugby. 2014. Archived from the original on 3 July 2014. Retrieved 3 July 2014. 
  6. ^ "NRC update part 1: Queensland, Perth, Melbourne and Canberra". The Roar. 8 July 2014. Archived from the original on 3 July 2014. Retrieved 8 July 2014. 
  7. ^ Cook, Paul (2 November 2014). "NRC Grand Final: Brisbane City See Off Spirit To Lift Inaugural Title". Rugby News. Archived from the original on 10 November 2014. Retrieved 10 November 2014. 
  8. ^ "Border Cup Heads North". New South Wales Country Rugby. 2012. Archived from the original on 26 May 2014. Retrieved 26 May 2014. 
  9. ^ "About the State Cup". Queensland Rugby. 2009. Archived from the original on 31 March 2009. Retrieved 13 October 2014. 
  10. ^ "State Cup Draw" (PDF). Queensland Rugby. 2009. Archived from the original (PDF 0.2 MB) on 13 October 2009. Retrieved 13 October 2014. 
  11. ^ "Annual Report 2009" (PDF). Queensland Rugby Union. p. 35. Archived (PDF) from the original on 2 May 2014. 
  12. ^ "Strategic Plan: Grass Roots Rugby 2007 - 2009" (PDF 1.1 MB). Queensland Suburban Rugby Union. 2006. Archived (PDF) from the original on 20 Mar 2012. Retrieved 6 May 2014. 
  13. ^ "Brisbane Club Rugby 2014 Draws, Results & Ladders". Archived from the original on 6 May 2014. Retrieved 6 May 2014. 
  14. ^ "Brisbane Club Rugby 2014 Queensland Suburban " Division 1 " Barber Cup". Retrieved 6 May 2014. 
  15. ^ "The Barraclough Shield". Queensland Rugby. 2012. Archived from the original on 6 May 2014. Retrieved 6 May 2014. 
  16. ^ "Brisbane Premiership " Brisbane Women Brisbane Club Rugby 2014 Queensland Suburban " Division 1 " Barber Cup". Retrieved 6 May 2014. 
  17. ^ "Home Page". Queensland Rugby Football Schools Union. Archived from the original on 27 February 2015. Retrieved 27 February 2015. 
  18. ^ "Annual Report 2013" (PDF). Queensland Rugby Union. pp. 27–29, 40. Archived (PDF) from the original on 8 July 2014. 
  19. ^ a b "Ballymore Cup". Queensland Rugby Football Schools Union. Archived from the original on 30 December 2014. Retrieved 30 December 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]