Rugby Football League

Last updated

Rugby Football League
New RFL logo.png
Founded29 August 1895
Formerly namedNorthern Rugby Football Union (1895–1922)
IRL affiliation1948
ERL affiliation2003 [1]
Headquarters Etihad Campus, Manchester
Key people The Princess of Wales [2] (Patron)
Clare Balding (President)
Ralph Rimmer (Chief Executive)
Competitions Super League
League 1
Rugby League Conference
Challenge Cup
1895 Cup
World Club Challenge
Flag of England.svg
As of 30 June 2009

The Rugby Football League is the governing body for professional rugby league in England. [3] The name Rugby Football League previously also referred to the main league competition run by the organisation. This has since been supplanted by Super League, the Championship and League 1.


Based at Red Hall in Leeds, it administers the England national rugby league team, the Challenge Cup, Super League and the Rugby League Championships. The social and junior game is administered in association with the British Amateur Rugby League Association (BARLA). The Rugby Football League is a member of the Rugby League European Federation and as a senior Full Member has a combined veto power over the Council with France. The RFL is part of the Community Board, which also has representatives from BARLA, Combined Services, English Schools Rugby League and Student Rugby League. Clare Balding took over as the president in July 2020, taking over from Tony Adams.

Established as the Northern Rugby Football Union (often shortened to Northern Union) in August 1895 by representatives of twenty-one Rugby Football Union clubs at a meeting at the George Hotel, Huddersfield, it changed its name in 1922 to the Rugby Football League, [4] mirroring its sister organisations overseas, the Australian Rugby Football League and New Zealand Rugby Football League.

The turnover of the RFL was reported as £27 million in 2011. [5] [6]


On Tuesday 27 August 1895, as a result of an emergency meeting in Manchester, prominent Lancashire rugby clubs Broughton Rangers, Leigh, Oldham, Rochdale Hornets, St Helens, Tyldesley, Warrington, Widnes and Wigan declared that they would support their Yorkshire colleagues in their proposal to form a Northern Union.

Two days later, on Thursday 29 August 1895, representatives of 21 clubs met in the George Hotel, Huddersfield to form the "Northern Rugby Football Union" (usually termed Northern Union or NU). Twenty clubs agreed to resign from the Rugby Football Union, but Dewsbury felt unable to comply with the decision. The Cheshire club, Stockport, had telegraphed the meeting requesting admission to the new organisation and was duly accepted with a second Cheshire club, Runcorn, admitted at the next meeting.

The 21 clubs were:

  1. Batley,
  2. Bradford FC (switched to association football in 1907 and became Bradford Park Avenue)
  3. Brighouse Rangers (Folded in 1906, now survives as an amateur club)
  4. Broughton Rangers (Folded in 1955)
  5. Halifax
  6. Huddersfield
  7. Hull FC
  8. Hunslet FC (Folded in 1973 but were resurrected as a Phoenix club)
  9. Leeds
  10. Leigh
  11. Liversedge (Folded in 1902, survive as an amateur club)
  12. Manningham (Switched to association football in 1903 and became Bradford City)
  13. Oldham
  14. Rochdale Hornets
  15. Runcorn (Folded in 1918)
  16. St Helens
  17. Stockport (Folded in 1902)
  18. Tyldesley (Disbanded in 1902)
  19. Wakefield Trinity
  20. Warrington
  21. Widnes
  22. Wigan
The Northern Rugby Football Union Challenge Cup 1896 NRFU Challenge Cup.jpg
The Northern Rugby Football Union Challenge Cup 1896

In 1908 the Northern Union's brand of rugby was taken up in Australia and New Zealand. The Union hosted touring sides from both countries before assembling a Great Britain representative team for a 1910 tour of Australia and New Zealand. These nations, particularly Australia, would go on to excel in the sport and gain significant influence over it over the following century.

The British Amateur Rugby League Association (BARLA) was created in 1973 in Huddersfield by a group of enthusiasts concerned about the dramatic disappearance of many amateur leagues and clubs. Fewer than 150 amateur teams remained with a mere 30 youth rugby league teams. The 'breakaway' from the RFL was acrimonious and was strongly contested, with a vote 29–1 against recognising BARLA. Thanks to Tom Mitchell, this changed to a unanimous vote of approval for BARLA within 12 months.

Maurice Lindsay became the Chief Executive of the RFL in 1992, proposing the Super League, which replaced Championship as the sport's premier league competition from 1996 onwards. Lindsay returned to Wigan in 1999 for his second stint at the club after Sir Rodney Walker, then chairman of the RFL, sacked him from the RFL after a campaign to unseat him failed. [7]

The RFL accumulated losses of £1.9 million at the end of 2001, shortly before a major restructuring of the governing body and the appointment of Richard Lewis as executive chairman in May 2002. [8] Within a year of joining the RFL, he oversaw reunification with BARLA after nearly 30 years of division. [9] Lewis left in 2012 to become Chief Executive of the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club. [10] The RFL net value has been positive every year since 2004, being £1.7 million in 2011. [5]

In 2011 a major change to the game was agreed, changing from a winter to a summer game, starting in 2012 with a playing season from March to November, aligning with the Super League, which has played this way since 1996. The regional leagues may include winter competitions in addition. [5]

In 2012, the Rugby Football League were awarded the Stonewall Sport Award in recognition of their work in embracing inclusivity and tackling homophobia. [11] They also became the first UK sporting organisation to make the top 100 employers in the Stonewall Index that measures attitudes towards lesbian, gay and bisexual staff. [12]

Prince Harry, Duke of Sussex served as patron until February 2021. [13]


The RFL operates a five-tier system and is responsible for running the top three professional divisions as well as the National Conference League and various regional leagues below that. The RFL also runs two cup competitions for professional clubs and is involved with the organization of the World Club Challenge and World Club Series.

RFL Leagues
NameTierEstablishedLatest Winners
Super League Grand Final 11996
League Leaders
Championship 22003
League 1 32003
RFL Domestic Cups
NameEstablishedLatest Winners
Challenge Cup 1896
1895 Cup 2015
RFL International Cup
NameEstablishedLatest Winners
World Club Challenge 1976
Eastern Suburbs colours.svg Sydney Roosters
Flag of Australia (converted).svg


English national team

The England national rugby league team represent England in international rugby league football tournaments. The team has now seen a revival, having largely formed from the Great Britain team, who also represented Wales, Scotland and Ireland. The team is run under the auspices of the Rugby Football League. As of 2008, the team now participates in all World Cups, Four Nations, and Test matches. [14]

The team dates back to 1904 when they played against a mixture of Welsh and Scottish players in Wigan. [15] Since then, and right up until the 1950s, they regularly toured Australia and New Zealand and played both home and away matches against neighbours Wales and France. But when it was decided that Great Britain would tour the Southern Hemisphere instead of England, France and Wales became the only regular opponents. Even then though, there are some long periods where England barely played any matches. Their first appearance in the Rugby League World Cup was in 1975, and since then they have become runners-up in 1975 and 1995, the latter tournament being held in England. In 2008 they competed in the 2008 World Cup in Australia. For many years England also competed in the European Nations Cup and in 2006, an England 'A' team, competed for the Federation Shield. In the past England's main rivals have been Wales and France, with the rivalry stretching back to 1908 and 1934 respectively. However, England's main rivals would now be Australia, New Zealand and, to a lesser extent, France.

Traditionally a predominantly white kit is worn including white shorts and socks. However the shirt usually features some form of red, like red stripes, crosses or chevrons. These colours are similar to other English sporting teams and are the colours used on the national flag. In 2008 a new kit was introduced featuring a red cross on the front and red strips down the sides of the shirt, shorts and socks were white too with red strips. [16] Also in 2008 the Rugby Football League chose to abandon the traditional English lion on the badge in favour of a much simpler shield and cross design, [17] nevertheless the team will still be known as "The Lions".

Currently the team is ranked third in the world, behind Australia and New Zealand. Steve McNamara became head coach leaving Bradford to take the national job and Sean O'Loughlin is the current captain.

Great Britain national team

The Great Britain national rugby league team represents Great Britain in rugby league football. Administered by the Rugby Football League (RFL), the team is nicknamed the "Great Britain Lions", or simply "The Lions".

For most of the 20th century the Great Britain team was assembled to go on tours overseas, and to play against foreign touring teams, as well as competing in Rugby League World Cup tournaments. They were one of the strongest teams in rugby league, though usually playing second fiddle to Australia. They won the Rugby League World Cup on three occasions: 1954, 1960 and 1972.

Since 1995 the RFL have sent the home nations as separate teams for World Cup purposes. Great Britain continued to compete as a test playing nation both home and away. They competed against Australia for the Ashes, and New Zealand for the Baskerville Shield, as well the Tri-Nations series with both Australia and New Zealand. Great Britain also played in series and tours against other nations such as France, Papua New Guinea and Fiji.

In 2006, the RFL announced that after the 2007 All Golds Tour [18] the Great Britain team would no longer compete on a regular basis, and that players would be able to represent England, Wales and Scotland at Test level. It is planned that the Great Britain team will come together in future only for occasional tours, similar to the British and Irish Lions in rugby union.

Board of directors

The RFL board consists of the following:

Brian BarwickChairmanFormer chief executive of the FA. [19]
Ralph RimmerChief Executive OfficerFormer CEO of the Huddersfield Giants
Maurice Watkins, CBESenior Non-Executive DirectorSports lawyer from Brabner Chaffe Street in Manchester and a former director of Manchester United.
Clare FosterNon-Executive DirectorCurrent Chair of Welcome to Yorkshire.

Young People's Advisory Panel

The RFL launched the Young People's Advisory Panel in 2010, a group consisting of young people aged 16–25 from across England. The national panel meet at least three times a year at the RFL's Red Hall headquarters to discuss and debate the following:

Two nominated members will also sit on the youth & junior forum, a key device used to advance youth rugby league. [20] [21]


1988–1989 Les Bettinson Salford
1989–1990S. Ackroyd Halifax
1990–1991 Harry Jepson OBE Leeds
1991–1992 Maurice Lindsay Wigan
1992–1993 Colin Hutton Hull Kingston Rovers
1993–1994R. Waudby Hull F.C.
1994–1995R. Teeman Bramley
1995–1996Kath Hetherington Sheffield Eagles
1997W.J. Mason Hunslet
1998–1999T. Smith Widnes
1999–2000W. Garrett Warrington
2000–2001Ralph Calvin Whitehaven [22]
2001–2002M. White Swinton
2002–2003R. Taylor Rochdale Hornets
2003–2004T. Fleet Widnes
2004–2005 Gary Hetherington Leeds
2005–2006P. Hindle Castleford
2006–2007S. Wagner Featherstone Rovers
2007–2008G. Liles Hunslet
2008–2009K. Nicholas Batley
2009–2010Chris Hamilton Oldham
2010–2011 Bev Risman OBE
2011–2012J. Whaling
2012–2013J. Hartley
2013–2014David Oxley CBE
2015–2016Andrew Farrow
2016–2018Air Commodore Dean Andrew OBEUnited Kingdom Armed Forces
2018–2019 Andy Burnham Mayor of Greater Manchester
2019–2020 Tony Adams Sporting Chance Clinic
2020- Clare Balding

The first logo used by the RFL was an oval shape, representing the ball with XIII and 13 over it and The Rugby Football League around it. The logo was also seen on the sleeve of teams shirts.

RFL logo used until 2017 rebrand Rugby Football League 2005 logo.svg
RFL logo used until 2017 rebrand

In the late 1990s the logo was changed to a more simplistic design to the old one. It had a rugby ball shape with three small lines, representing 13 players, and two long lines, representing goalposts, arranged on a rugby ball so as to suggest a hand carrying or passing it. The Rugby Football League was abbreviated to RFL.

In 2017 the RFL had its most radical rebrand since the formation of Super League. The new logo was a rectangular background meant to represent The George Hotel in Huddersfield, where rugby league was founded and 1895 the year it was founded. Thirteen stripes inside it represent thirteen players. The oval on top represents the ball and the appreciation RFL has been replaced with Rugby Football League.


Red Hall, RFL HQ Red Hall Leeds Sep 2012.jpg
Red Hall, RFL HQ

The RFL moved into permanent headquarters in 1922 at 180 Chapeltown Road, Leeds, where it stayed for 73 years before leaving in 1995 to its current HQ at Red Hall in Leeds, a Grade II listed brick building dating from 1642. [23] [24]

In 2015, some departments including Super League, moved to offices at Quay West in Trafford Wharf, Greater Manchester. [25]

See also

Related Research Articles

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Jason Robinson (rugby)</span> GB & England dual-code international rugby footballer

Jason Thorpe Robinson OBE is an English former dual-code international rugby league and rugby union footballer who played in the 1990s and 2000s. Playing as a wing or fullback, he won 51 rugby union international caps for England and is the first black man to captain the England team.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">History of rugby league</span> Aspect of history

The history of rugby league as a separate form of rugby football goes back to 1895 in Huddersfield, West Riding of Yorkshire when the Northern Rugby Football Union broke away from England's established Rugby Football Union to administer its own separate competition. Similar schisms occurred later in Australia and New Zealand in 1907. Gradually the rugby played in these breakaway competitions evolved into a distinctly separate sport that took its name from the professional leagues that administered it. Rugby league in England went on to set attendance and player payment records and rugby league in Australia became the most watched sport on television. The game also developed a significant place in the culture of France, New Zealand and several other Pacific Island nations, such as Papua New Guinea, where it has become the national sport.

British Amateur Rugby League Association

The British Amateur Rugby League Association (BARLA) is an association for social and recreational rugby league. It works jointly with the Rugby Football League through the RFL Community Board.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">England national rugby league team</span> Team representing England in international rugby league

The England national rugby league team represents England in international rugby league.

The York Wasps was an English professional rugby league club based in York. At the start of the 2002 season, the club was dissolved. A new club, York City Knights was established to take the Wasps' place for the 2003 season.

Kristian John Radlinski MBE is an English former professional rugby league footballer who played mainly as a fullback. He played his entire professional career for his hometown club, Wigan Warriors, making over 300 appearances between 1993 and 2006, and also represented England and Great Britain at international level.

Rugby league in England Competitive rugby union play in England

Rugby league is played across England but is most popular in Northern England, especially Yorkshire and Lancashire where the game originated. These areas are the heartland of rugby league. The sport is also popular in Cumbria where the amateur game is particularly powerful.

Paul Deacon Professional RU coach and former GB & England international rugby league footballer

Paul Deacon is an English rugby union coach who is the head coach of the Sale Sharks in Premiership Rugby, and former a professional rugby league footballer and coach.

Gary John Connolly is a former professional rugby league footballer who played in the 1980s, 1990s and 2000s as a fullback and centre for St Helens, Canterbury Bulldogs, Wigan Warriors, Leeds Rhinos and for the Great Britain national side. In the twilight of his career, he played rugby union for Irish side Munster.

Garry Edward Schofield OBE is an English former professional rugby league footballer who played in the 1980s and 1990s, and is a member of the British Rugby League Hall of Fame.

Lee Gilmour GB & Scotland international rugby league footballer

Lee Andrew Gilmour is an English assistant coach at Wakefield Trinity in the Super League and a former professional rugby league footballer. He played in the Super League for the Wigan Warriors, the Bradford Bulls, St Helens, the Huddersfield Giants, Wakefield Trinity Wildcats and the Castleford Tigers. Gilmour represented Great Britain and Scotland at international level.

Terry OConnor (rugby league) Sports broadcaster and former GB & Ireland rugby league footballer

Terence "Tez" Dennis Jason O'Connor is a former professional rugby league footballer and commentator for Sky Sports. A Great Britain, England, Ireland international and Lancashire representative prop or second-row, he played his club rugby for English clubs Salford, Wigan and Widnes.

Kelvin Skerrett is an English former professional rugby league footballer who played in the 1980s and 1990s, and coached in the 2000s. He played at representative level for Great Britain and Wales, and at club level for Hunslet, Bradford Northern, Western Suburbs Magpies, Wigan and the Halifax Blue Sox, as prop or second-row, and coached at club level for Oulton Raiders ARLFC, and Methley Royals ARLFC.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Challenge Cup</span> Rugby league knockout cup competition organised by the Rugby Football League

The Challenge Cup is a knockout rugby league cup competition organised by the Rugby Football League, held annually since 1896, with the exception of 1915–1919 and 1939–1940, due to World War I and World War II respectively. It involves amateur, semi-professional and professional clubs.

David "Dai" Jenkins initially played Rugby Union. He changed codes when he was 21 and played Rugby League between 1935-1957, mainly for Leeds Rugby League Club as a scrum-half, i.e. number 7.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Rugby league in the British Isles</span> Professional sports club

Rugby league is played across England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales, but its heartland in the North of England is where the sport is most popular, and is where the majority of professional clubs are based. The sport was first established in the George Hotel, Huddersfield, where 22 clubs split from the Rugby Football Union to form the Northern Rugby Football Union.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Chris Hill (rugby league)</span> GB & England international rugby league footballer

Christopher Andrew Hill is an English professional rugby league footballer who plays as a prop for the Huddersfield Giants in the Super League, and England and Great Britain at international level.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">International Origin</span>

International Origin was an annual series of rugby league football matches between England RL and the Exiles. The International Origin was created by the Rugby Football League (RFL) to ensure that the English national side had a good strong mid-season international very much like Australia has with their State of Origin series. The RFL intended this to be an annual one-off game and it was in 2011, however this progressed to a two-game series in 2012. Plans were in the works to make this into a three-game series for the future, however it was scaled back to a standalone fixture in 2013 due to a lack of interest from both players and spectators.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Alex Walmsley</span> GB & England international rugby league footballer

Alex Walmsley is an English professional rugby league footballer who plays as a prop for St Helens in the Betfred Super League, and England and Great Britain at international level.

Rugby League in Yorkshire refers to the sport of rugby league in relation to its participation and history within Yorkshire, England. The traditional county is the largest in the United Kingdom and as thus has many rugby clubs, professional and amateur.


  1. RLEF. "Overview". RLEF. Archived from the original on 24 March 2009. Retrieved 2009-06-30.
  2. "The Duchess of Cambridge becomes Patron of the Rugby Football League".
  3. "RLIF Confederations". Archived from the original on 13 January 2012. Retrieved 27 August 2011.
  4. "The History Of Rugby League". Rugby League Information. Retrieved 2 January 2014.
  5. 1 2 3 2011 RFL Annual Report
  6. BBC Sport – Rugby Football League announces record turnover of £29m. (2012-07-18). Retrieved on 2013-08-20.
  7. Hadfield, Dave (29 January 1998). "Rugby League: League's cease-fire is over as superpowers prepare for". The Independent. Retrieved 30 August 2022.
  8. "RFL POST HEALTHY PROFITS | Sporting Life - Rugby League News | Super League, Ian Millward tips". Archived from the original on 5 June 2011. Retrieved 2008-07-04.
  9. "Multi-tasking Lewis a southerner happy to work at northern union". The Guardian. 1 June 2007.
  10. The board of directors (retrieved 23 Dec 2012)
  11. "RFL win Stonewall Sports Award of the Year". Archived from the original on 26 January 2013. Retrieved 18 September 2015.
  12. Wilson, Andy (12 January 2011). "RFL is named among top 100 employers in Stonewall Index". The Guardian.
  13. "Harry and Meghan not returning as working members of Royal Family". BBC. 19 February 2021. Retrieved 19 February 2021.
  14. The Rugby Football League – Brand England Launched Archived 27 August 2009 at the Wayback Machine Retrieved on 24 May 2008.
  15. RL1895 – The First International Archived 4 February 2012 at Retrieved on 6 June 2008.
  16. England Official Website – New Shirt Launched Archived 11 February 2012 at the Wayback Machine Retrieved on 18 June 2008.
  17. England Official Website – New Logo Archived 11 February 2012 at the Wayback Machine Retrieved on 18 June 2008.
  18. Sporting Life Archived 10 February 2012 at the Wayback Machine
  19. "RFL appoints ex-FA boss Brian Barwick as chairman". BBC Sport. 30 January 2013. Retrieved 30 January 2013.
  20. "Midlands Rugby League". Midlands Rugby League. 12 July 2010. Retrieved 15 November 2011.[ dead link ]
  21. "London Broncos Rugby League". 20 October 2011. Retrieved 15 November 2011.[ dead link ]
  22. Irving, A (1 March 2007). "Ralph handles league's hot seats". News & Star. Archived from the original on 4 October 2012. Retrieved 7 September 2011.
  23. British Listed Buildings
  24. RFL: The History of Red Hall (Sep 2012)
  25. "Place North West | RFL relocates from Leeds". Place North West. 10 February 2015. Retrieved 22 January 2018.