Rugby League - History

History

In 1895, a schism in Rugby football resulted in the formation of the Northern Rugby Football Union (NRFU). Although many factors played a part in the split, including the success of working class northern teams, the main division was caused by the RFU decision to enforce the amateur principle of the sport, preventing "broken time payments" to players who had taken time off work to play rugby. Northern teams typically had more working class players (coal miners, mill workers etc.) who could not afford to play without this compensation, in contrast to affluent southern teams who had other sources of income to sustain the amateur principle. There were similar movements in other countries. In 1895 a decree by the RFU banning the playing of rugby at grounds where entrance fees were charged led to the famous meeting on 29 August 1895. Twenty-two clubs (plus Stockport who negotiated by telephone) met at the George Hotel, Huddersfield in the West Riding of Yorkshire and formed the "Northern Rugby Football Union". Within fifteen years of that first meeting in Huddersfield, more than 200 RFU clubs had left to join the rugby revolution.

In 1897, the line-out was abolished and in 1898 professionalism introduced. In 1906, the Northern Union changed its rules, reducing teams from 15 to 13 a side and replacing the ruck formed after every tackle with the play the ball.

A similar schism to that which occurred England took place in Sydney, Australia. There, on 8 August 1907 the New South Wales Rugby Football League was founded at Bateman's Hotel in George Street. Rugby league then went on to displace rugby union as the primary football code in New South Wales and Queensland.

On 5 May 1954 over 100,000 (official figure 102,569) spectators watched the 1953–54 Challenge Cup final at Odsal Stadium, Bradford, England, setting a new record for attendance at a rugby football match of either code. Also in 1954 the Rugby League World Cup, the first for either code of rugby, was formed at the instigation of the French. In 1966, the International Board introduced a rule that a team in possession was allowed three play-the-balls and on the fourth tackle a scrum was to be formed. This was increased to six tackles in 1972 and in 1983 the scrum was replaced by a handover. 1967 saw the first professional Sunday matches of rugby league played.

The first sponsors, Joshua Tetley and John Player, entered the game for the 1971–72 Northern Rugby Football League season. Television would have an enormous impact on the sport of rugby league in the 1990s when Rupert Murdoch's News Corporation sought worldwide broadcasting rights and refused to take no for an answer. The media giant's "Super League" movement saw big changes for the traditional administrators of the game. In Europe it resulted in a move from a winter sport to a summer one as the new Super League competition tried to expand its market. In Australasia, the Super League war resulted: long and costly legal battles and changing loyalties, causing significant damage to the code in an extremely competitive sporting market. In 1997 two competitions were run alongside each other in Australia, after which a peace deal in the form of the National Rugby League was formed. The NRL has since become recognised as the sport's flagship competition and since that time has set record TV ratings and crowd figures.

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