The Origin of the National Rugby League

Like if this Guide is helpful
The Origin of the National Rugby League

The crowd goes wild as the football passes from one player to another, working their way down the field until stopped by the opposing team or they cross into the ingoal area. Unlike American football, rugby players cannot pass the ball forward; every pass is thrown across the field or backwards to another player. While rugby originated in England, Australia was the first country outside of the British Isles to take up the sport, with its original Union evolving into today's National Rugby League.


Rugby in Australia

While rugby was already played in Australia, notably by the Sydney University Club in 1863, and 13 clubs existed in Sydney by 1872, it was formalised by the formation of the Southern Rugby Union in 1874. The name was changed to the New South Wales Rugby Union in 1893. Affiliated with the English Rugby Football Union, which strictly enforced the rule of amateur players, conflict arose as rugby increased in popularity and the players became aware of their value to the sport.     

The New South Wales Rugby League

With the arrival of the talented and popular rugby player Dally Messenger in 1906, the debate between amateurism and the need for players to be compensated for time lost from work and injuries was coming to a head. The working class players questioned why the RFU refused to pay for their time, while the sport was drawing in crowds of spectators. The record crowd of 52,000 fans at the NSW vs. New Zealand All Blacks game in 1907 added to the discontent of the star players. Only a month later, Messenger led the New South Wales Rugby League team against the Kiwi team — the first professional rugby game in Australia. The following year, nine teams took to the field for the first NSWRL season.    

The Queensland Rugby League

Meanwhile, the Queensland Rugby Union — founded in 1883 as the Northern Rugby Union — was facing similar issues. Seven discontented players broke away from the Union, forming the Queensland Rugby Football League in 1908. In May of 1908, the team had already played the New Zealand All Golds and three exhibitions games against New South Wales. League play began in 1909.

The World Wars

Both World Wars affected the amateur Union and professional League games. During the Great War, RFU suspended play in 1914 and many players moved to the NSWRL. All interstate play was suspended in 1916 and resumed in 1919. Play was again suspended in 1942 due to WWII and resumed in 1945.  

The Australian Rugby League

While the NSWRL and QRL controlled League competitions until the 1990s, the national rugby team and international competitions were administered by the Australian Rugby League. Formed as the Australian Rugby League Board of Control in 1924, the ARL was controlled by the NSWRL until 1984. At that time, it became a completely separate entity, independent of both the NSWRL and QRL.


The Super League war

By 1995, the ARL invited four more teams outside of New South Wales to participate in league competition, making rugby a national competition for the first time. With the advent of pay television in Australia, a power struggle developed between Rupert Murdoch's News Corporation and Kerry Packer's Optus Vision over the broadcasting rights for rugby games. Because Optus Vision backed the ARL, News Corporation started a new league, called the Super League. The battle was fought in the courts and on the field during the 1997 season when both leagues played at the same time.


The formation of the National Rugby League

The Super League war was settled at the end of the 1997 season, with the two parties agreeing to the formation of the National Rugby League. The 1998 season included 20 teams. Several financially-strapped teams on both sides were disbanded. Encouraged by the NRL, other teams combined to form a single team to cement a place in the 2000 NRL Competition. Since that time, the NRL continues to expand its fan base, with traditional rivalries between the one New Zealand  and 15 Australian teams keeping the fans excited for each new season.


How to buy NRL gear on eBay

The convenient search bar located on every eBay page allows you to type in the name of your favourite NRL team or player, such as the Brisbane Broncos or Dally Messenger, and with a click on the search button, a wide variety of listings appear for your review. Whether you are looking for a new football, jersey, shoes, or historic rugby memorabilia, the detailed descriptions and photographs allow you to choose the best items to complete your wardrobe or rugby collection. 

Have something to share, create your own Guide... Write a Guide
Explore more Guides