A history of the Rugby League World Cup

1:30pm Tuesday 1st October 2013

The oldest established global competition for rugby of either code, the Rugby League World Cup, came to the northern hemisphere in the autumn of 2013.

Fourteen nations nations played matches locally in Warrington, St Helens, Leigh, Manchester and other cities and towns across England, as well as in Wales, Ireland and France.

The proposal to create the Rugby League World Cup was made by the French RL president, M Paul Barriere, in 1953 – a time when soccer’s World Cup had only just been reluctantly embraced by the English FA and the national team had lost to the USA part-timers in South America.

Rugby expansionists felt it would promote ‘the greatest game’ around the globe – and the first tournament staged in France the following year was a massive success.

But it would take many years before the global dream would be realised. Today the game is played in more than 40 countries.

Great Britain won that first series – yet they had been given no chance. The international side had just returned from a tour of the Antipodes and so an almost ‘reserve’ side was selected.

Captained by a Scot, Dave Valentine, they reached the final and – in front of 30,000 Parisians at the Parc des Princes stadium and an international audience, courtesy of the newly introduced Eurovision – Britain won 16-12.

Few people had TVs then, and Saturday afternoon shoppers gathered around store windows to watch the action.

Formats over 12 competitions since have included deciding the winners with a league table and two tournaments played across the world over three years.

Today there are qualifying tournaments ahead of the main event, which has a pool system culminating in the excitement that only a final can generate. The 2013 final was at Old Trafford.

With the 2013 victory included, Australia have won the tournament 10 times, but they lost the original cup itself when it was stolen from the team’s hotel during the 1970 series. It was found on a Bradford tip 20 years later.

Two sponsors’ trophies were superseded in 1995 by a £10,000 cup made by Tiffanys to celebrate the centenary of the game, and the equally magnificent original was restored for 2000.

There have been many great World Cup games over the years, with particular highlights being the finals at Wembley in 1992 and 1995; the epic at Wilderspool when New Zealand defeated Tonga 25-24 in injury time, also in 1995; the semi-final at Huddersfield in 2000 when Wales led Australia 22-14 after 54 minutes before going down to defeat; the semi final at Wembley in 2013 when Shaun Johnson converted his own try with the last play of the game to knock out England 20-18.

World Cup Stats

The winners

1954  Great Britain 16 France 12 in Paris

1957 Australia won on league table basis

1960 Great Britain won on league table basis

1968 Australia 20 France 2 in Sydney

1970  Australia 12 Great Britain 7 in Leeds

1972  Great Britain 10 Australia 10 after extra time in Lyon; GB awarded cup having topped the table

1975 Australia won on league table basis

1977 Australia 13 Great Britain 12 in Sydney

1985-88 Australia 25 New Zealand 12 in Auckland

1989-92 Australia 10 Great Britain 6 at Wembley

1995 Australia 16 England 8 at Wembley

2000 Australia 40 New Zealand 12 at Old Trafford

2008 New Zealand 34 Australia 20 in Brisbane

2013 Australia 34 New Zealand 2 at Old Trafford

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