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Rugby League World Cup
The World Cup Trophy, silver, embossed with rugby imagery.
The World Cup Trophy, first awarded in 1954.
Sport Rugby league
Instituted 1954
Number of teams 10 (Finals)
Region International (RLIF)
Holders  New Zealand (2008)

The Rugby League World Cup is an international rugby league football competition contested by the men's national teams of the member nations of the Rugby League International Federation (RLIF), the sport's global governing body.

The first tournament was held in France in 1954, making it the first World Cup of either rugby code; it was the first competition to be officially known as the "Rugby World Cup".[1][2]

The championship has been awarded at various intervals since and is used to determine the best playing nation in the world. The most recent tournament was contested in Australia in 2008 and was won by New Zealand.

In the thirteen tournaments held to date, only three nations have ever won the competition. Australia is by far the most successful World Cup team, having won the tournament nine times. Great Britain has claimed the World Cup on three occasions, and New Zealand once. Since 2000, the RLIF has also organised World Cups for Women, Students and numerous other categories. In 2013 the United Kingdom will host the games for the 5th time.



The Rugby League World Cup was an initiative of the French, who had been campaigning for a Rugby League World Cup since 1935. The idea was further pursued in 1951 in post-war France, with the pioneer of the concept being Paul Barrière, the President of the French Rugby League. In January 1952 the idea gained momentum as Rugby Football League secretary Bill Fallowfield persuaded the Rugby League Council to support the concept.[3] At a meeting held in Blackpool, England, November 1953, the International Board accepted Paul Barrière’s proposal that France should be the nation to host the first World Cup, the inaugural "World Cup" of either rugby code.[3] In addition to the hosts, the tournament was intended to feature teams from Britain, Australia, New Zealand and America.[4] The first World Cup was held the following year, with all invited teams playing except for America, and Great Britain defeated France in Paris on 13 November to claim the title.

British captain Valentine in 1954

The World Cup was initially contested by the four Test nations: Australia, Great Britain, France and New Zealand. The teams played each other in a league format. After a final was played between the top two teams in 1954, it was decided that the team that finished first in the league standings would be declared the winner for the second World Cup in Australia in 1957. Australia proved victorious on their home ground.

After the successful 1960 competition, in which Great Britain won the title for the second time, there would be no further World Cup for 8 years. The competition had been scheduled to be held in France in 1965, this time with the inclusion of the South African team.[5] However after an unsuccessful tour of Australia, the French withdrew. The tournament was next held in 1968, and followed a 2 year cycle until the mid-1970s. The 1972 World Cup final ended in a 10-all draw, and the title was awarded to Great Britain by virtue of their superior record in the qualifiers.

In 1975 the competition underwent its most radical overhaul to date. It was decided to play matches on a home and away basis around the world, instead of in any one host nation. Furthermore, the Great Britain team was split into England and Wales. Australia won that tournament, and in 1977 it was decided that Great Britain should once more compete as a single entity. Although the final between Australia and Great Britain was a closely fought affair, public interest in the tournament waned due to the continuing tinkering with the format, and it would not be held again until the mid-1980s.

From 1985 to 1988, each nation played each other a number of times on a home and away basis. At the end of that period Australia met New Zealand at Eden Park. The match was a physical encounter, and Australian captain Wally Lewis played part of the match with a broken arm. The Kangaroos won the competition 25-12. This format was repeated from 1989–1992, and Australia defeated Great Britain 10-6 at Wembley Stadium in front of 72,000 people. This crowd remains a rugby league World Cup record.

Captains of the ten teams to contest the 2008 World Cup.

In 1995 the competition was once again restructured, and the largest number of teams to date (10) entered. New teams competing included Fiji, Tonga, Samoa and South Africa. Due to the Super League war, players aligned with the rebel competition were not selected by the ARL to represent the Kangaroos. This meant the absence of many star players from the Australian team's lineup. The tournament, which was also held to celebrate the centenary of the sport in England, was highly successful with over 250,000 people attending the group stages and over 66,000 people attending the final to see Australia defeat England 16-8.

Following the Super League war, the subsequent re-structuring of rugby league's international governing bodies meant that the proposed 1998 World Cup was postponed[6].

The 2000 world cup expanded the field further, with 16 teams entering. Blown out score lines meant that this tournament was not as successful as the previous one. In the same year, the first women's rugby league world cup was held.

In 2008 Australia hosted the tournament again and New Zealand became only the third team to win the World Cup.


Several trophies have been presented to the winners of the Rugby League World Cup.

Original and current trophy

The original World Cup trophy, which is the one currently in use, was commissioned by the French Fédération Française de Rugby à XIII president Paul Barrière at a cost of eight million francs and then donated to the Rugby League International Federation to be used for the inaugural competition in 1954.[7] This trophy would be used and presented to the winning nation for the next four tournaments.

While competing in the 1970 tournament, the reigning champions, Australia, put the trophy on display in the Midland Hotel, Bradford.[8] The trophy was stolen six days before the final and remained unseen for the next 20 years.[8][9] Then, in 1990, a father-of-four named Stephen Uttley found the trophy amongst rubbish dumped in a ditch near the Bradford and Bingley Rugby League Club, in Bingley.[8]

Mr Uttley presented officials of the Rugby Football League with the 61 centimetre high silver-plated trophy in Bradford, where he lived, it was then taken to the RFL's headquarters in Leeds.[8] Speaking on its return, RFL spokesman David Howes commented, "It is like the return of the Holy Grail.[8] No-one knows what its value is, but in rugby league terms it is priceless".[8] The RFL were pleased to offer a reward to Mr Uttley for the trophy's welcome return, offering "anything except a place in the team" Howes joked.[8] Mr Uttley asked only for some tickets to matches.[8]

The original World Cup trophy was brought back into use for the 2000 World Cup minus the cockerel that had adorned it initially. It was presented to the victorious Australian team. The trophy featured again during the 2008 World Cup, when it was used prominently as the basis for the competition logo. It is likely this trophy will be retained for the 2013 competition and thereafter.

Past trophies

While no trophy could be presented in 1970 due to the original's disappearance a few days before the final, several other trophies were used from 1972 until 1995.


The Rugby League World Cup has followed a varied range of formats throughout its history.

Since 1995, groups of teams have been placed in a qualifying pool followed by a finals system. The top teams in each pool qualify into the next round. In 1995, there were 10 teams split into one group of four, and two groups of three. The top two teams progressed in the group of four and the top team progressed from each of the groups of three into the semi-finals. The winners of the semi-finals progressed to the final.

In 2000, sixteen teams were split into four groups of four. The top two teams from each group progressed to the knockout quarter finals. The winners of the quarter finals played in the semi-final and the winners of the semi-finals progressed to the final.

The 2008 tournament followed a similar format to the 1995 competition. The 10 teams were split into one group of four, and two groups of three. Three teams progressed into the semi-finals in the group of four and the winners of the two groups of three went to a playoff for a position in the semi-final. The winners of the semi-finals progressed to the final.

Alternative formats

From 1954 until 1972 the World Cup competition had only featured four teams in Australia, Britain, France and New Zealand; because of this a current style format of World Cup would have been impractical and instead the RLIF adopted a league style format where each team played each other and whichever two teams sat atop of the table after the designated matches played off in a final and be declared champion. This style was again re-introduced for the 1977 tournament.

For the 1975 tournament a new format was introduced where no single country would hold the world cup but rather each country playing in the tournament would hold all home fixtures in their own country and play away in the country of their opposition. This style of tournament saw a further three countries enter the cup under the league format in England, Papua New Guinea and Wales. With the exception of the 1977 tournament this format was used all the way up until the 1995 competition. The current format also allows for the cost of the tournament to be reduced as all of the players are based in Australia.


Since the 1995 tournament the majority of teams have had to qualify for the World Cup tournament. Teams from Europe have qualified through the European qualifying groups, Oceania and Pacific Island teams attempt to qualify for the tournament via Pacific qualifying groups and teams from the Atlantic region qualify through the Atlantic qualifying group. The remaining teams attempt to gain entry via the repêchage rounds of the World Cup qualifiers.

For the 2008 tournament five teams have been granted automatic entry into the cup and will therefore not have to gain admission through the qualifying stages. These five teams include England and the original four that entered the World Cup between 1954 and 1992 in Australia, France, Papua New Guinea and New Zealand.


World Cup summaries

Year Host nation(s) Teams Final result Final details
Winner Score Runner-up Venue Attendance
France 4
Great Britain
16 - 12
Parc des Princes, Paris 30,368
Australia 4
Great Britain
United Kingdom 4
Great Britain
New Zealand
20 - 2
Sydney Cricket Ground, Sydney 54,290[10]
United Kingdom 4
12 - 7
Great Britain
Headingley, Leeds 18,776
France 4
Great Britain
10 - 10
Stade de Gerland, Lyon 4,500[10]
Worldwide 5
New Zealand
13 - 12
Great Britain
Sydney Cricket Ground, Sydney 24,457[10]
Worldwide 5
25 - 12
New Zealand
Eden Park, Auckland 47,363[10]
Worldwide 5
10 - 6
Great Britain
Wembley Stadium, London 73,631[10]
United Kingdom 10
16 - 8
Wembley Stadium, London 66,540[10]
United Kingdom
40 - 12
New Zealand
Old Trafford, Manchester 44,329
Australia 10
New Zealand
34 - 20
Suncorp Stadium, Brisbane 50,599
United Kingdom Unconfirmed Unconfirmed

Successful national teams

Australia, France and New Zealand are the only nations who have appeared at every Rugby League World Cup from 1954 to 2008. England and Wales also have been at all, but participated under the banner of Great Britain from the majority of the earlier tournaments.

Rugby league world cup countries.png

Up to and including the 2008 tournament only Australia, New Zealand and Great Britain have been crowned World Cup champions with Australia easily the most successful winning nine of the thirteen tournaments but many other nations have performed well in the tournament since its inception over fifty years ago. France have been runners-up on two occasions including the inaugural cup where they were captained by Puig Aubert, New Zealand and England have also finished runners-up on two occasions.

Ireland and Wales have twice made it past the qualifying pool stages. Other nations to have proceeded to the knock-out stages in one tournament are Papua New Guinea, Fiji and Samoa.

The following list, are all the teams that have competed in a World Cup tournament since its inception; the number of times they have appeared; their most recent appearance; consecutive appearances and their highest result:

Nation Number of appearances First appearance Most recent appearance Most consecutive cups Best result
 Australia 13 1954 2008 13 Champion, 1957; 1968; 1970; 1975; 1977; 1988; 1992; 1995; 2000
 Great Britain 9 1954 1992 6 Champion, 1954; 1960; 1972
 New Zealand 13 1954 2008 13 Champion, 2008
 France 13 1954 2008 13 Runner-up, 1954; 1968;
 England 4 1975 2008 3 Runner-up, 1975; 1995
 Wales 3 1975 2000 2 Semi-finalist, 1995; 2000
 Fiji 3 1995 2008 3 Semi-finalist, 2008
 Ireland 2 2000 2008 2 Quarter-finalist, 2000, 2008
 Papua New Guinea 5 1988 2008 5 Quarter-finalist, 2000
 Samoa 3 1995 2008 3 Quarter-finalist, 2000
 Tonga 3 1995 2008 3 Two wins, 2008
 Scotland 2 2000 2008 2 One win, 2008
 Aotearoa Māori 1 2000 2000 1 One win, 2000
 South Africa 2 1995 2000 2 No games won
 Cook Islands 1 2000 2000 1 No games won
 Lebanon 1 2000 2000 1 No games won
 Russia 1 2000 2000 1 No games won


The top point scorer for each tournament is recognised with an official award by the Rugby League International Federation. In the début tournament the highest point scorer was the France national rugby league team's Puig Aubert.

Records and statistics

Overall Championships

Championships Nation
9 Australia Australia
3 United Kingdom Great Britain
1 New Zealand New Zealand

Overall top pointscorers

Points Scorers
112 Australia Mick Cronin
108 Australia Michael O'Connor
94 United Kingdom/England George Fairbairn

Most appearances

Appearances Individual
25 New Zealand Kurt Sorenson
17 United Kingdom/England John Atkinson; Australia Bob Fulton
15 Australia Mal Meninga; Australia Michael O'Connor

World Cup winning captains and coaches

Year Captain Coach Team
1954 Dave Valentine G Shaw United Kingdom
1957 Dick Poole Dick Poole Australia
1960 Eric Ashton William Fallowfield United Kingdom
1968 Johnny Raper Harry Bath Australia
1970 Ron Coote Harry Bath Australia
1972 Clive Sullivan Jim Challinor United Kingdom
1975 Arthur Beetson Graeme Langlands Australia
1977 Arthur Beetson Terry Fearnley Australia
1988 Wally Lewis Don Furner Australia
1992 Mal Meninga Bob Fulton Australia
1995 Brad Fittler Bob Fulton Australia
2000 Brad Fittler Chris Anderson Australia
2008 Nathan Cayless Stephen Kearney New Zealand

See also

External links



  1. ^ Folkard, 2003: 337
  2. ^ SPARC, 2009: 28
  3. ^ a b Waddingham, Steve (2008-06-14). "Why this trophy for winning the rugby league World Cup?" (in English). Brisbane: The Courier-Mail. Archived from the original on 2010-01-10. Retrieved 10 January 2010.  
  4. ^ AAP (1953-01-19). "World Cup Suggestion". The Sydney Morning Herald (Australia): pp. 7.,2047144. Retrieved 2009-12-25.  
  5. ^ AAP; Reuter (1962-08-15). "League Cup Year Fixed". The Sydney Morning Herald (Auckland): pp. 18.,4068871. Retrieved 2009-10-06.  
  6. ^ John Coffey, Bernie Wood (2008). 100 years: Māori rugby league, 1908-2008. Huia Publishers. pp. 302. ISBN 1869693310, 9781869693312.  
  7. ^ RLIF. "Past Winners: 1954". Rugby League International Federation. Retrieved 2008-10-25.  
  8. ^ a b c d e f g h "Trophy back home - after 20 years" (in English). The Sun-Herald (Sydney: Fairfax Digital): pp. 90. 1990-06-02. Archived from the original on 2010-01-10. Retrieved 2009-10-07.  
  9. ^ Harlow, Phil (2008-10-21). "Rugby League World Cup history" (in English). BBC Sport. Retrieved 10 January 2010.  
  10. ^ a b c d e f McCann, 2006: 83


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