Origins of the Game of Rugby League

The Game of Rugby League was born on 29th August,1895 at an historic meeting at the George Hotel, Huddersfield when England's new Northern Union was formed. 

Rugby League came into being in Australia in 1907 and the first Rugby League game was played in Australia at the Agricultural ground on 17th August, where New Zealand defeated New South Wales 12-8. There were 3 matches played in all and were 15-a-side and New Zealand won all 3 of them.

It was the following year when the very First Rugby League Club was born on January 8th 1908, it was Newtown. Over the next month other teams formed in Glebe (Jan 9), South Sydney (Jan 17), Balmain (Jan 23) Western Suburbs (Feb 4) and North Sydney (Feb 7). The First NSWRL competition was played between 9 teams, Newtown, Glebe, South Sydney, North Sydney, Balmain, Western Suburbs, Eastern Suburbs, Newcastle and Cumberland. The First Round was played on Easter Monday, 20th April 1908, where 4 Games were played at 2 venues (Wentworth Park & Birchgrove Oval). The Results of the matches were as follows:

Eastern Suburbs def Newtown 32 - 16
Glebe def Newcastle 8 - 5
South Sydney def North Sydney 11 - 7
Balmain def Western Suburbs 24 - 0
Cumberland did not enter until Round 2.

Rugby League Club History Timeline

Milestones of Rugby League in Australia


The signing of Rugby Union champion Dally Messenger to Rugby League for the All Golds match is the catalyst for the beginning of a new game.

The first premiership games, at Wentworth Park and Birchgrove Oval, are played on April 20 with Glebe, Souths, Newtown, Easts, Norths, Balmain, Wests and Newcastle the foundation clubs. Cumberland join in second round then exit at end of season. Souths become the first Premiers. Australian tradition of numbering players from 1-13 (fullback to prop) is established.

The signing of Chris McKivat and other members of the 1908 Wallabies team guarantees Rugby League’s future. Newcastle exit at end of season.

The first English Rugby League team arrives for a Test series in Australia. Annandale join an eight-team premiership.

Rugby League is first played at the Sydney Cricket Ground and Sydney Sports Ground.

Harold Horder scores the greatest try on debut in the game's history, running more than 100 metres in a match against Glebe.

Easts win their third straight premiership and become permanent holders of the Royal Agricultural Society Shield.

England's victory in the famous 'Rorke's Drift Test' remains one of the greatest against-the-odds wins the game has seen.

Rugby League elects to 'play on' though the war years despite seriously depleted teams and the loss of the NSWRL secretary Ted Larkin on the first Gallipoli landing. Balmain win their first Premiership.

"The first referees' Appointment Board (Alec Burdon, Harry Flegg and Les Mead) is established. The league decrees that 10% of gross gate receipts at all matches will be donated to the war effort. For the second year running, Balmain achieve a 'black and gold sweep', winning all three grades.

Glebe's first-grade team, including the famous Burge brothers, goes on strike and is suspended by the NSWRL.

South Sydney, inspired by one of the game's greatest fullbacks in Howard 'Silver Belt' Hallett, win the Premiership.

First tour to New Zealand by an Australian Test team.

THE 1920's:

Australia win the Ashes at home for the first time but won’t win another series for 30 years. Sydney University join a nine-team competition but Annadale exit at end of season. Rugby League News (now Big League) is first published.

St George enter the Sydney competition.

North Sydney win the Premiership for the second year in succession, and for what turns out to be the last time in the club’s history. Queensland score their first win in an interstate Rugby League match following 22 defeats.


Duncan Thompson, Norths' champion halfback and captain, is controversially suspended for kicking and never plays in Sydney again.

The first radio broadcast of Rugby League expands the reach of the game. In Queensland, the Galloping Toowomba Clydesdales begin a two-year undefeated run of matches that would include a win against the English touring team of 1924. The Australian Rugby League Board of Control is established.

Souths begin a brilliant run of seven Premierships in eight years.

University reach the Premiership decider for the first and only time in the club’s short history.
1927 A record crowd of more than 56,000 sees NSW defeat Queensland 14–10 in the opening interstate match of the season.

Sensational riot at Earl Park after a match between St George and Balmain. Easts play Souths in the first ever night match, held as part of a speedway program at the Sydney Showground. The tradition of an annual Combined Country versus City match is begun, Country winning 35-34 (previous contests between Country and Metropolis involved 'ad hoc' teams and sporadic timing of matches).

Glebe are voted out of the competition.

THE 1930's:

Wests win their first Premiership, against St George, in the first recognised Grand Final.

Radio broadcasts are banned by the NSWRL in the belief that they are affecting crowd numbers.

Australia defeat Great Britain 15–6 in a Test that becomes known as 'The Battle of Brisbane'.

Centre Ray Morris dies en-route to England with the Kangaroos.

Establishment of the Country Rugby League.

Canterbury join the competition and lose 87–7 to Easts, with Dave Brown scoring 45 points.

Easts dominate the competition, building their reputation as one of the greatest ever teams.

The last Kangaroos team to tour before the war leaves for England.

Canterbury win their first premiership, ending Easts’ hopes of four in a row.

Queensland square the series with NSW, despite losing the first two games 50–15 and 54–13.

THE 1940's:

NSWRL decides to play on during World War II, responding to the call of Prime Minister Menzies.

St George win their first Premiership.

A crowd stampedes from the hill to the members' area as Canterbury defeat St George on a wet Grand Final day.

A war-weary nation flocks to the Rugby League finals series, with 60,992 attending the Grand Final, won by Newtown over Norths.

"Newtown are accused of throwing the season final to force a Grand Final play-off and an extra gate - in any case Balmain have the last laugh, winning both matches and thus the Premiership. Claude Corbett, one of the game's pioneering journalists, dies. His stated principle 'was to encourage and not to knock'.

Bumper Farrell of Newtown and Bill McRitchie from St George feature in the infamous 'ear bite' incident. Roosters legend Dick Dunn scores 19 points to beat Balmain 22-18 in the final and win the Premiership.

The British Lions team, known as the 'Indomitables', tour Australia and are unbeaten in the Test series.

Parramatta and Manly join the competition.

The omission of Len Smith from the Kangaroo tour ranks as one of the greatest injustices in the game’s history.

Johnny Hawke heroically leads St George to the club’s second Premiership.

THE 1950's:

The nation rejoices as Australia win the Ashes against Great Britain for the first time in 30 years.

French sensation Puig-Aubert and his team tour Australia, captivating crowds with the brilliance of their play.

Wests down Souths in a hugely controversial Grand Final.

Farcical tour of the American All Stars … but the crowds are huge.

Referee Aub Oxford abandons a wild NSW v Great Britain match. Great Britain defeat France in the first World Cup. Compulsory Grand Finals introduced to the NSWRL Premiership.

Souths win 11 games straight to take the Premiership. They are inspired by Clive Churchill who, despite a broken arm, lands a winning goal against Manly.

St George secure their third Premiership to begin a history-making run of titles.

The World Cup comes to Australia for the first time with the Kangaroos taking the trophy. Rugby League also comes to Australian television for the first time as Channel Nine broadcasts Balmain v Canterbury from Leichhardt Oval on April 27.

A brilliant Great Britain team, inspired by Vince 'Wild Bull of the Pampas' Karalius, defeats Australia.

St George go through the season undefeated, as Rugby League mourns the death of 'The Master' Dally Messenger.

THE 1960's:

Keith Barnes boots one of the game’s greatest goals, from 59 metres out, to inspire Balmain to victory over St George in a Premiership match at Leichhardt Oval.

Don Parish becomes the first fullback to score a try in a Rugby League Test, crossing as Australia lose 12-10 to New Zealand at Carlaw Park. St George become the first team to win six premierships in a row - and they keep 'marching in'.

Ken Irvine takes advice from referee Darcy Lawler and lands a sideline goal to get Australia home in a sensational third Test win over Great Britain.

Fairfax photographer John O'Gready captures his famous 'Gladiators' photo in the aftermath of a controversial St George v Wests Grand Final.

Australia beat France in a series for the first time at home.

A record Grand Final crowd of 78,056 crams in to the SCG to see St George win their 10th straight Premiership.

St George claim a world record 11th consecutive Premiership.


Introduction of four-tackle rule, the most significant rule change in the game's history, as Penrith and Cronulla-Sutherland join the competition.

Cronulla halfback Terry Hughes wins the first Rothmans Medal.

In a huge upset, Balmain slow the pace and steal the Grand Final from hot favourites Souths.

THE 1970's:

John Sattler plays almost the entire Grand Final against Manly with a broken jaw.

NSWRL introduces the six-tackle rule.

Manly win their first premiership after 25 years.

Death of NSWRL president W.G. Buckley sees Balmain’s Kevin Humphreys as the game's new leader.

The televised night-time Amco Cup begins, producing a fairytale win for the team from Western Division, NSW.

Easts, coached by Jack Gibson, defeat St George by a record 38-0 in the Grand Final - remembered, sadly, as the day the great Graeme 'Changa' Langlands wore white boots.

Easts become first Premiership team to wear a sponsor's name on their jersey - City Ford.

The game's first drawn first-grade Grand Final - St George v Parramatta. St George would score a runaway win in the Grand Final replay the following Saturday.

Referee Greg 'Hollywood' Hartley is at the epicentre of a dramatic, fierce and controversial finals series. The Grand Final, this time between Manly and Cronulla, is drawn for the second year running and the replay a week later is another runaway result - to Manly.

Australia smash Great Britain in a Test series at home to highlight a widening gap between the Rugby League powers.

THE 1980's:

State of Origin football begins sensationally with Queensland winning the first game 20-10 at Lang Park.

Parramatta, coached by Jack Gibson, win their long-awaited first Premiership in what will be Newtown's last ever first grade Grand Final.

Winfield’s sponsorship of the NSWRL Premiership begins as Canberra and Illawarra join an expanded competition.

Newtown withdraw from the competition at the end of the season while Kevin Humphreys resigns after the ABC’s Four Corners program 'The Big League' goes to air.

Parramatta and Canterbury build a fierce rivalry that lasts through the ’80s - with Canterbury taking the Grand Final 6-4 to crush the Eels' hopes of a fourth straight title.

A year of mixed emotions as 'The Little Master' Clive Churchill dies, and the NSW Blues win their first State of Origin series.

Peter Sterling is the inaugural Clive Churchill Medallist, named the best player in the Grand Final that saw the Eels stop the Bulldogs from claiming a third successive Premiership.

Manly win the last Grand Final at the SCG, beating Canberra. State of Origin football heads to the USA.

Brisbane, Newcastle and the Gold Coast Giants join a 16-team competition.

Tina Turner’s 'What You Get Is What You See' is the game's anthem in a wonderful year, highlighted by Canberra’s epic extra time Grand Final win over Balmain. The Giants become the Seagulls. The NSWRL adopts the international system of numbering forwards from the prop (No 8) down to the lock (13).

THE 1990's:

Rugby League pushes the boundaries as State of Origin is played in Melbourne.

Penrith win their first Premiership with retiring hooker Royce Simmons scoring two tries on a magic day.

The Premiership trophy heads north as Brisbane take the Grand Final over St George 28-8.

A crowd of 58,593 watches Brisbane and St George at ANZ Stadium, establishing a new record for a single regular season match. The Bulldogs and the Broncos play the first NSWRL Premiership game in New Zealand at Auckland's Carlaw Park. Canterbury win 20-10.

After leading Canberra to the Premiership, Mal Meninga becomes the first player to captain two Kangaroo tours, leading Australian to a 2-1 Test series win over Great Britain. It is the last 'traditional' Kangaroo tour format.

Auckland, North Queensland, the South Queensland Crushers and the Western Reds join a 20-team competition as the Super League war begins behind the scenes.

As Federal Court orders maintain one competition, the ARL takes control of the Gold Coast, who are reborn as 'the Chargers'. Manly defeat St George 20-8 in the Grand Final while a Federal Court appeal later gives Super League the go-ahead for 1997.

The Adelaide Rams and the Hunter Mariners join a 10-team 'Super League' competition. The ARL runs a 12-team competition. In a memorable ARL finale, Darren Albert scores with just six seconds on the clock to give Newcastle a stunning victory over Manly, while Brisbane beat Cronulla in the Super League decider. The Western Reds, the South Queensland Crushers and Hunter Mariners are the casualties as News Ltd and the ARL vote to end the Rugby League war.

Melbourne join a 20-team united competition as the National Rugby League is formed to administer the Premiership. Canterbury achieve the “comeback of the century” to defeat Parramatta 32-20 in extra time but lose to Brisbane in the Grand Final. Adelaide and the Gold Coast exit at the end of the season, while the Dragons and Steelers merge to form St George Illawarra.

St George Illawarra join a 16-team competition. The first joint venture team into a Grand Final, they lose to the Melbourne Storm courtesy of a penalty try in the dying moments. Souths exit the competition at the end of year. Norths and Manly announce a merger, as do Balmain and Wests.


The Wests Tigers and the Northern Eagles join a 14-team competition. Brisbane's Shane Webcke plays the Grand Final with a broken arm against the Roosters as the Broncos win the Premiership.

Souths win their fight to be readmitted to the competition, while Manly take control of the Northern Eagles licence, effectively ending North Sydney's existence in the top grade. Allan Langer, playing for Warrington in the UK, makes a guest appearance for Queensland in Origin Three and snatches the series.

South Sydney return to a 15-team competition. Canterbury breach the salary cap and are stripped of 37 of their 41 competition points as the Roosters go on to win their first Premiership in 27 years.

The Manly-Warringah Sea Eagles return to the premiership in their own right. The Kangaroos come back from the dead in three successive Tests against Great Britain in a series that revives the international game. Penrith’s Scott Sattler makes an unforgettable tackle as the Panthers stun the Roosters in the Grand Final.

Shaun Timmins’ extra time field goal for the NSW Blues wins State of Origin's first golden-point shoot-out.

Andrew 'Joey' Johns returns from representative football retirement to inspire NSW to victory in the State of Origin series, while the Wests Tigers become the first joint venture team to win a Grand Final, beating the Cowboys. The Gold Coast Titans are announced as a new franchise to join the NRL in 2007.

Russell Crowe and Peter Holmes a Court buy South Sydney. State of Origin sells out Melbourne's Telstra Dome while Darren Lockyer captains Brisbane to a Premiership, Queensland to Origin success and Australia to a Tri Nations series win.

Gold Coast Titans enter the premiership.

Centenary of Rugby League.