Giltinan, Burdon and the Test cricketer Victor Trumper were among those who attended. This was the first time that the words "rugby" and "league" were used in the name of an Australian organising body.
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Players were soon recruited for the new game; despite the threat of immediate and lifetime expulsion from the New South Wales Rugby Union. The first season of the NSWRFL competition was played in , and has continued to be played every year since despite changes in administration and name , eventually going national and becoming the world's premier rugby football club competition. That [the touring New Zealand side ] is a professional team makes little difference to the crowd of Sydney people who want to see football. That it plays the Northern Union game is in its favour with the crowd.
The Sydney newspapers are, generally speaking, supporters of the Rugby Union game. Nevertheless, their notices have been most favourable. In September , when the new " Northern Union " code was still in its infancy in Australia, a match between the Kangaroos and the Wallabies was played before a crowd of around 20,, with the Rugby League side winning 29— Union had to relinquish leases on major sporting grounds, with most being taken over by rugby league. Observers of the new game were shocked when Albert Baskerville fell ill in Brisbane and died of pneumonia.
A " Queensland Rugby Football Association " was founded, and in early July, informal club games were played in Brisbane. Later that month there were three representative games against NSW, and these acted as selection trials for a national team. The first game was also notable for a Queensland tackle which rendered one NSW player, Ed "Son" Fry , completely naked from the waist down—an event which did not stop him from scoring a try.
The Brisbane Rugby League premiership began in On 8 May the first match was played in Brisbane between Norths and Souths before a handful of spectators at the Gabba.
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Also in , the Australian rugby union team returned from a tour of the British Isles , for which the team had received three shillings a day, for out-of-pocket expenses. Thirteen of the players immediately joined rugby league teams. By the northern winter of —09, an Australian touring party was heading for Great Britain, and the test series was dubbed " The Ashes " by the press, in imitation of The Ashes cricket matches, contested by Australia and England.
Later in , when New Zealand toured Australia, the home team's jersey featured a kangaroo for the first time, giving them the enduring nickname of "The Kangaroos". The early years of the 20th century also saw attempts to establish the game in Wales , with several teams being formed in the principality.
None of these ventures lasted long, however Wales remained a source of playing talent for rugby league. Over the years many hundreds of Welsh rugby union players "moved north" to the major English clubs, attracted by the opportunity to earn money playing rugby. It was not until rugby union officially allowed professionalism, in the late 20th century that this supply of talent ceased.
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The Great Britain Lions tour of Australia and New Zealand , the first ever, took place after the —10 Northern Rugby Football Union season and featured a number of Welsh former rugby union internationals. Several Wallabies players changed codes to play against this touring team, which was anticipated to be one of the best sides ever to visit Australasia.
In Australasia, the game centred around local, regional or statewide leagues, and there were no national competitions in either country until late in the 20th century. In both Australia and New Zealand, club championships were based on one set of home and away matches leading to a play-off, rather than the multiplicity of trophies available to British clubs. Rugby league quickly took over from rugby union as the most popular form of football in New South Wales and Queensland.
The rest of the country was already dominated by Australian rules football. The amateur code still held sway in New Zealand, although the emergence of rugby league meant that it was no longer unrivalled in popularity. Sport in general suffered as a result of the First World War , and rugby league was no exception. In Britain, the government discouraged all professional sports, and the major competitions were abandoned. In Australia, the situation was slightly less serious, and rugby league continued.
The rugby union authorities opted to suspend play throughout the war, and this decision is often cited as one of the prime reasons for the traditional dominance of rugby league over rugby union in Australia. Although the clubs continued to play, many of them were short of players due to the fighting.
In , Australia's first rugby league club, the Glebe "Dirty Reds" founded on 9 January , unleashed controversy when it fielded a player named Dan "Laddo" Davies. Local rivals Annandale protested that Davies lived within their designated recruiting area. Glebe were deducted two competition points and Davies received a lifetime ban. Many Glebe players already believed the NSWRL was biased against them and they went on strike; the league responded by suspending the first grade team until the following April.
Davies returned to his native Newcastle , where his previous club, Western Suburbs—not to be confused with the Sydney club of the same name—sought to use him in the local league. Disgruntled Novocastrians formed a breakaway competition, which lasted until The fortunes of Glebe, both on the field and financially, did not improve greatly after the Davies affair, and it was expelled from the main NSWRL competition in Internationally, the game had settled into a steady pattern of alternating tours, with either Australia or New Zealand visiting Britain once every two years, and Britain reciprocating in the southern hemisphere.
The war had intervened, but the schedule was picked up again after hostilities ceased. An increasing number of Australian and New Zealand players headed for the bigger pay packets on offer in England, many of them destined never to be seen again on the playing fields of their home countries.
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In a proposed hybrid sport of rugby league and Australian rules football was trialled only once. For many years, the rugby union authorities had suspected that the French rugby union was abusing the idea of amateurism, and in the early s the French Rugby Union was suspended from playing against the other nations. In the first rugby league match under floodlights is played between Leeds and Wigan at White City in London. The French Rugby League was formed on 6 April Looking round for an alternative, many French players turned to rugby league, which soon became the dominant game in France, particularly in the south west of the country.
The arrival of a French team on the international scene allowed more variety in the touring pattern, and also for the introduction of a European Championship. During the Second World War , the British government took a more benign view of professional sports, viewing them as a vital aid to public morale. Although normal leagues were suspended, a War Emergency League was established, with clubs playing separate Yorkshire and Lancashire sections to reduce the need for travel.
This period also saw a temporary relaxation of the regulations prohibiting rugby union players from contact with rugby league. In an extraordinary development a team representing rugby league met a rugby union equivalent in two matches, held to raise money for the Red Cross. Both games were held under rugby union rules; both were won by the rugby league side.
In Australia, the war years produced large crowds, and financially at least, the sport did not suffer the hardships endured during the First World War.
Nonetheless, the loss of many young men in fighting undoubtedly weakened the talent pool available. The defeat of France had serious implications for rugby league in France. The Vichy regime banned rugby league and forced players, clubs and officials to switch codes to union. Assets of the rugby league and its clubs were handed over to union.
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The rules of the sport had continued to evolve, and until the s there was no world governing body to oversee this and ensure consistency. Negotiations between the respective governing bodies were required to fix rules to be used for tours, though generally the other nations took their lead from the British authorities. For example, the field goal was banned by the New South Wales Rugby League in however this method of scoring was not officially recognised as being removed from the game until when the British authorities banned it.
The total crowds for the British season hit a record in —50 , when over The officially recorded attendance was at , a record for a single match of rugby league that stood until , watched Melbourne Storm defeat St George Illawarra Dragons at Stadium Australia in It is estimated that a further 20, spectators were present, as many got in free after a section of fencing collapsed. Warrington beat Halifax 8—4. This period also saw growth in crowds in Australia, New Zealand and France.
This was a golden age for the French, who led by the incomparable Puig Aubert , travelled to Australia and defeated their host in a three test series in On their return to France the victorious team were greeted by an estimated , fans in Marseille. They repeated the feat in France —53 and again in Australia in The French were the driving force behind the staging of the first Rugby League World Cup also the first tournament to be officially known as the "Rugby World Cup" in This competition has been held intermittently since then, in a variety of formats.
Unlike many other sports the World Cup has never really been the pinnacle of the international game, that honour falling to international test series such as the Ashes. In , the state government of New South Wales legalised the playing of poker machines "pokies" in profit clubs, and this rapidly became the major source of income for NSW " leagues clubs ", some of which became palatial "homes away from home" for their supporters. The pokie windfall stemmed the steady trickle of Australian players to the better-financed clubs in England, and led to increased recruiting of rugby union and league players from Queensland and overseas by New South Welsh clubs.
Within the space of several years, the Sydney-based league had come to dominate the code within Australia. The large profits accrued from gambling have always been controversial; many questioned the morality of such an income stream and felt that it would inevitably lead to financial turmoil and scandal. Although it was widely seen as a gimmick , it proved a success, and rugby league has featured on television ever since, to the point where like most sports income from selling broadcasting rights is the single greatest source of revenue for the game. This period also saw further alterations to the rules of the sport.
In substitutes were allowed for the first time, but only for players injured before half-time. In limited tackles were introduced. In professional matches were first allowed on Sundays.
Also this year the number of times a team could retain possession after a play-the-ball was limited to four tackles.