Japan national rugby league team

Last updated

Japan national rugby league logo.png
Team information
Nickname Samurais
Governing body Japanese Rugby League Association
Region Asia-Pacific
Head coach Willie Lux
CaptainKai Mountney
RLIF ranking 41st
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First colours
Team results
First international
Flag of Lebanon.svg  Lebanon 52–28 Japan  Flag of Japan.svg
(Tokyo, Japan; 1998)
Biggest win
Japan 52-16 Thailand
(29 April 2015)
Biggest defeat
Flag of Malta.svg  Malta 82–0 Japan  Flag of Japan.svg
(Coffs Harbour, Australia; 25 January 2007)

The Japan national rugby league team, nicknamed the Samurais, represents Japan in rugby league football. Japan have played some international competition since 1994. [1] A regular domestic amateur competition has not been held in Japan for several years (the first domestic competition kicked off in 1998). [2]



The Japanese national rugby league team after a match Cabramatta Leagues Club, International 9s.jpg
The Japanese national rugby league team after a match

Rugby league was founded in Japan in 1993 by former Australian first grade player, Max Mannix, who had played for the Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs and the Illawarra Steelers in Australia. While living in Japan, Mannix contacted the Australian Rugby League and requested entry into the 1994 Rugby League World Sevens, which was then played in Sydney as a precursor to the Australian professional rugby league competition, then known as the Winfield Cup. Mannix was given an interim period to prove that a competitive Japanese team could be formed, and over a period of 5 months, he made direct contact with rugby union players and invited them to play rugby league. With the support of his brother, Greg, and Masayuki Watabe, player numbers slowly climbed and regular weekly training sessions took place on the banks of the Tama River, located on the outskirts of Tokyo. In September 1993, Japan received an official invitation to participate in the 1994 World Sevens, an event that would provide the country with its first taste of rugby league competition; made up entirely of Japanese nationals derived from the Japanese rugby union teams, the Japan Rugby Football Union threatened the players with bans, but despite the threats, a Japanese team participated in the 1994 Rugby League World Sevens, playing games against Tonga, Great Britain, and Russia. Although the Japanese lost all 3 games, they proved to be a crowd favorite, and were invited to return to the event in 1995. The first 13-a-side rugby league team to represent Japan was the national university team that took part in the 1996 University World Cup. The team was coached by Max Mannix with former Canterbury Bulldogs and Halifax player, Ken Isaacs, overseeing team management. Staged in Warrington, England, the event saw Japan compete against national university teams from Scotland, England, France, and the United States.

The following year, 1997, saw Japan compete in the University World Cup in France, with Ken Isaacs coaching the team, and Shoji Watanabe overseeing team management. The first Japanese player to be contracted to a professional rugby league club was Kenji Imanaga. Imanaga was given a scholarship by the Canterbury Bankstown Bulldogs, and was joined soon after by Ryoichi Ojima, a talented fleet-footed centre. With the support of (then) club supremo, Peter Bullfrog Moore, Imanaga and Ojima played regular games for Moorebank, Canterbury's feeder club, then coached by Kevin Moore.

The first international game that Japan won was at the 1995 Rugby League World Sevens in Brisbane, when they defeated Canada, but Japan was disqualified for fielding what was deemed to be an unregistered player, a claim that was contested by the Japanese officials who offered proof that their application to register the player was declined solely on the grounds of race. The protest was declined and the disqualification held. The first international 13-a-side rugby league test match won by Japan was in 1999 at the 2000 World Cup qualifying tournament which was held at Disney's Wide World of Sports Complex in Florida, USA, where Japan defeated Canada 14–0. Despite the victory, Japan failed to qualify for the World Cup, having been previously defeated by the United States.

In 2000, Japan went on to play in the Emerging Nations tournament, an event designed to provide emerging nations with evenly matched competition, the tournament ran in parallel with the Rugby League World Cup. The Japanese team at the Emerging Nations World Cup was coached by Tony Smith, who went on to become a successful coach in England, culminating with his appointment to coach the English national team in 2008 through 2009. The first rugby league team to visit, and play, against Japan, was a New South Wales Group 20 representative team in 1997, followed by the Lebanese national rugby league team in 1998.

Distance from any other rugby league competitions, and problems with player availability due to short Japanese holidays, have made regular competition for the Samurais difficult. However, Japan is currently in discussion with the newly formed Thailand and Philippines Rugby Leagues to enter the Asian Cup for 2014, after having to pull out in 2013.


Kit left arm.svg
Kit body Vonwhite.png
Kit body.svg
Kit right arm.svg
Kit shorts.svg
Kit socks long.svg
Kit left arm.svg
Kit body.svg
Kit right arm.svg
Kit shorts.svg
Kit socks long.svg

Current squad

Squad selected for the 2018 Emerging Nations World Championship. [3]



There has been some controversy over Japan's ranking. Not being full members of the RLIF, and having difficulty in finding regular international competitions, they have been unranked since November 2012. Japan's Highest rank was achieved in 2009 when the RLIF ranked them 17th in the world [4] before later falling to 28th and then being listed with the unranked nations.


Japan has participated in a number of competitions:

In 2002 and 2003, Japan contested the East-West Challenge in the United States of America. In 2003, a North Pacific Club Challenge was held between the Champion Clubs of each country, with the Kagoshima Broncos defeating the New York Knights. [1] Both competitions have since been disbanded.

All-time Results Record

TeamFirst PlayedPlayedWinDrawLossPoints ForPoints AgainstLast Meeting
Flag of Canada (Pantone).svg  Canada 1999210126282000
Flag of Greece.svg  Greece 201610010722016
Flag of Hong Kong.svg  Hong Kong 2017320176842018
Flag of Lebanon.svg  Lebanon 1998100128521998
Flag of Morocco.svg  Morocco 200010018122000
Flag of Malta.svg  Malta 200710010822007
Flag of the Philippines.svg  Philippines 201911007442019
Flag of Poland.svg  Poland 201810016582018
Flag of Portugal.svg  Portugal 2013100120262013
Flag of the Solomon Islands.svg  Solomon Islands 2018100122442018
Flag of Thailand.svg  Thailand 2014310268922015
Flag of Turkey.svg  Turkey 201810010602018
Flag of the United States.svg  United States 19995005462562006

*Updated as of 14/11/2019



  • Japan def. Philippines 74–4 (9 November 2019) [5]
  • Japan def. Hong Kong 32–30 (11 October 2018) [6]
  • Solomon Islands def. Japan 44–22 (9 October 2018) [7]
  • Poland def. Japan 58–6 (7 October 2018) [8]
  • Turkey def. Japan 60–0 (4 October 2018) [9]
  • Hong Kong def. Japan 32–20 (16 June 2018) [10]
  • Japan def. Hong Kong 24–22 (4 November 2017) [11]
  • Greece def. Japan 72–0 (8 October 2016) [12]
  • Thailand def. Japan 30–6 (15 October 2015) [13]
  • Japan def. Thailand 52–16 (29 April 2015)
  • Thailand def. Japan 46–10 (30 January 2014)
  • Portugal def. Japan 26–20 (31 January 2013) [4]
  • Portugal RL def. Japan 28–16 (6 February 2008) as 10s match
  • Malta def. Japan 82–0 (25 January 2007) [4]
  • USA def. Japan 58–18 (28 October 2006)
  • USA def. Japan 40–10 (26 January 2006)
  • USA def. Japan 78–6 (27 June 2003)
  • USA def. Japan 26–12 (1 June 2002)
  • Canada def. Japan 28–12 (20 November 2000)
  • Morocco def. Japan 12–8 (15 November 2000)
  • BARLA (Great Britain Amateurs) 54 Japan 0 (2000)
  • USA def. Japan 54–0 (1999)
  • Japan def. Canada 14–0 (1999)
  • Lebanon def. Japan 52–28 (1998)

World Sevens results

  • NASCA Aboriginals def. Japan 36–0 (24 January 2003)
  • USA Tomahawks def. Japan 28–4 (24 January 2003)
  • USA Tomahawks def. Japan 20–8 (1996)

International Nines results

  • 2008 Bowl Finalists Newtown 36 def. Japan 4

Semi-final, Japan 22 Def. Portugal 6

Student results

  • USA def. Japan 54–10 (1996)

See also

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  1. 1 2 Freeman, Rich. "Samurais are in a league of their own". The Japan Times . Retrieved 21 July 2016.
  2. "Google Translate". Translate.google.com. Retrieved 21 July 2016.
  3. "Japan name changes to Emerging Nations squad". Asia Pacific Rugby League Confederation. 3 September 2018.
  4. 1 2 3 "Rugby League Planet - Japan snapshot and rugby league results". Rugbyleagueplanet.com. Retrieved 21 July 2016.
  5. "Philippines vs. Japan - Rugby League Project". www.rugbyleagueproject.org. Retrieved 17 September 2020.
  6. "Hong Kong vs. Japan - Rugby League Project". www.rugbyleagueproject.org. Retrieved 23 August 2019.
  7. "Solomon Islands vs. Japan - Rugby League Project". www.rugbyleagueproject.org. Retrieved 23 August 2019.
  8. "Japan vs. Poland - Rugby League Project". www.rugbyleagueproject.org. Retrieved 23 August 2019.
  9. "Japan vs. Turkey - Rugby League Project". www.rugbyleagueproject.org. Retrieved 23 August 2019.
  10. "Japan vs. Hong Kong - Rugby League Project". www.rugbyleagueproject.org. Retrieved 23 August 2019.
  11. "East Asia Cup 2017 - Round 1 - Rugby League Project". www.rugbyleagueproject.org. Retrieved 23 August 2019.
  12. "Japan vs. Greece - Rugby League Project". www.rugbyleagueproject.org. Retrieved 23 August 2019.
  13. "Thailand Stars wins return leg against Japan". Asia Pacific Rugby League Confederation. 29 October 2015. Retrieved 23 August 2019.