The Ashes (rugby league)

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The Ashes
Sport Rugby league
Inaugural season 1908–09
Number of teams3
CountriesFlag of Australia (converted).svg  Australia
Flag of the United Kingdom.svg Great Britain (1908–2003)
Flag of England.svg  England (2020–present)
HoldersFlag of Australia (converted).svg  Australia (2003)
Most titlesFlag of Australia (converted).svg  Australia (20 titles)

The Ashes series, similar to the cricket series of the same name, is a best-of-three series of test matches between the English (previously British) and Australian national rugby league football teams. [1] [2] It has been contested 39 times from 1908 until 2003 largely with hosting rights alternating between the two countries. From 1973 Australia won thirteen consecutive Ashes series. [3] The series was set to be revived in 2020, but was cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.



Several sports and events adopted cricket's Ashes "concept" and by the beginning of the 20th century it was an "accepted principle" that a series had to have at least three matches to be a true test of which side was the best. [2]

On 27 September 1908, the first touring Australian rugby league side arrived in England, and played their first ever Test against the England side in December in London. Two further Tests were played. The Australians suggested that the series should be called "The Ashes" and the name stuck.

The format used is that three matches are played, with the winning team being decided on the basis of most matches won. If one team has already won two matches the series is already won, however the final game is usually still played. In the 1929–30 Ashes series both the teams won one game and one game was drawn; it was therefore decided to hold a further match to determine the outcome.

The British side has not always been termed Great Britain; in the past the titles "Northern Union XIII", "England" and "The Lions" have also been used. Similarly, from the 1911–12 Kangaroo tour until the 1929–30 tour, Australian touring sides had included New Zealand players so were styled "Australasia", though when playing at home they always played as Australia.

Since 1964 the Harry Sunderland Medal is awarded to the best Australian player in a home Ashes series. Since Great Britain's win in Australia in 1970, the series has been very one sided with Australia having won 13 consecutive ashes, 5 of those (1979, 1982, 1984, 1986 and 2003) being 3–0 series whitewashes while the 1988 series had already been won by Australia in the first two tests before the Lions won a famous third test in Sydney 26–12 for their first test win over Australia since the second test of the 1978 Kangaroo tour, a streak of 15 wins for the Kangaroos.

The performance gap between the two teams became wider during the mid-late 1970s and Great Britain struggled to compete with Australia. The 1982 Kangaroos became the first side to go through a tour of Great Britain and France undefeated (something never achieved on a Lions tour, though they came close in 1954 losing just 2 games). This earned the team the nickname "The Invincibles". The 1986 Kangaroos repeated this feat and would be known as "The Unbeatables".

The Ashes had not been contested since 2003 when, in 2009 with the prospect of not contesting them until after the 2013 World Cup, Britain's Rugby Football League (RFL) challenged the Australian Rugby League (ARL) to play the round-robin stage match of the Four Nations tournament with the Ashes at stake. The one-off game would be a departure from the usual three-match series, additionally the contest would be between England, rather than Great Britain, and Australia. [4] The ARL initially agreed to the proposal but later, facing hostility from former Ashes players and fans who thought the proposals devalued the Ashes, the two governing bodies decided not to proceed. [5] [6] [7]

In 2016, newly appointed Australian team coach Mal Meninga, who as a player was selected to a record 4 Kangaroo Tours (the last two as captain) and played in a record 6 Ashes series (1982, 1984, 1986, 1990, 1992 and 1994 - playing a record 17 Ashes tests, only missing 1988 through injury), publicly advocated for a return of the Kangaroo Tours which would see The Ashes revived in 2020. [8] The proposed 2020 series was cancelled in June 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. It was suggested that the series may be played in 2022 instead. [9]


In 1928, the City Tattersalls Club in Sydney, Australia donated a trophy to be the prize, the "Ashes Cup". [2] The Cup's inscription reads: [2]

Australia v England
Presented by

The Cup was first presented in 1928 to The Lions, after they defeated Australia 2–1 in the series. [2] Following the 1933–34 series, in which England retained the Cup for the third time since first being presented with it, the Cup disappeared in the United Kingdom and was not found until October 1945. [10] The trophy had been on display at a function in Ilkley, Yorkshire and afterwards was returned to the manager of the Griffin Hotel, Leeds - where the English Rugby League management met - but this was not made clear to the English authorities and instead in laid overlooked in a box for 12 years. [10] During the period it was missing, Great Britain had won each series and the Cup's disappearance was not widely known. [2] The Australian team first won the Cup in 1950. [2]

In preparation for the Legends of League exhibition at the National Museum of Australia in 2008, marking a Centenary of Rugby League in Australia, the Ashes Cup underwent preservation work. [11]


YearHome TeamResultAway Team
1908–09 Northern Union (GB)2–0Australia
1910 Australia0–2Northern Union (GB)
1911 Great Britain0–2Australasia
1914 Australia1–2Northern Union (GB)
1920 Australia2–1Northern Union (GB)
1921–22 Great Britain3–1Australasia
1924Australia1–2The Lions
1928Australia1–2The Lions
1929–30 The Lions (GB)2–1 (1 tied)Australia
1932 Australia1–2 [12] The Lions (GB)
1933–34 The Lions (GB)3–0Australia
1936 Australia1–2The Lions (GB)
1937The Lions (GB)2–1Australia
1946 Australia0–2 (1 tied)The Lions (GB)
1948Great Britain3–0Australia
1950Australia2–1Great Britain
1952Great Britain2–1Australia
1954Australia2–1Great Britain
1956Great Britain2–1Australia
1958Australia1–2Great Britain
1959–60 Great Britain2–1Australia
1962Australia1–2Great Britain
1963–64 Great Britain1–2Australia
1966Australia2–1Great Britain
1967–68 Great Britain1–2Australia
1970Australia1–2Great Britain
1973 Great Britain1–2Australia
1974Australia2–1Great Britain
1978 Great Britain1–2Australia
1979Australia3–0Great Britain
1982 Great Britain0–3Australia
1984Australia3–0Great Britain
1986 Great Britain0–3Australia
1988 Australia2–1Great Britain
1990 Great Britain1–2Australia
1992 Australia2–1Great Britain
1994 Great Britain1–2Australia
2001 Great Britain1–2Australia
2003 Great Britain0–3Australia
2020 EnglandCancelledAustralia

Summary of Ashes series

PlayedWon by
Won by
Great Britain
All series3920 (51.3%)19 (48.7%)0 (0.0%)
Series in Australia199 (47.4%)10 (52.6%)0 (0.0%)
Series in Great Britain2011 (55.0%)9 (45.0%)0 (0.0%)
All Tests11959 (49.6%)55 (46.2%)5 (4.2%)
Tests in Australia5728 (49.1%)27 (47.4%)2 (3.5%)
Tests in Great Britain6231 (50%)28 (45.2%)3 (4.8%)
Figures up to and including the 3rd Test of the 2003 series

Records and statistics

Highest attendance

Lowest attendance

Highest attended Ashes series

Lowest attended Ashes series

Highest score

Biggest win

Most tries in an Ashes test

Most goals in an Ashes test

Most points in an Ashes test

Most points in an Ashes series

Most points in all Ashes tests

Tries in each test of an Ashes series

Most games as captain

Most games as coach

See also

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  1. Hickey, Julia (2006). Understanding Rugby League. UK: Coachwise. p. 13. ISBN   978-1-905540-10-5 . Retrieved 20 February 2011.
  2. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 Sean Fagan (15 September 2009). "Rugby league's fight for The Ashes". Archived from the original on 23 September 2009. Retrieved 23 September 2009.
  3. McCann, Liam (2006). Rugby: Facts, Figures and Fun. UK: AAPPL Artists' and Photographers' Press. p. 80. ISBN   9781904332541.
  4. "English chief calls for return of league Ashes". Australian Broadcasting Corporation. 3 September 2009. Retrieved 9 April 2018.
  5. "Ashes brought back to life" (4 September 2009)
  6. Steve Mascord (16 September 2009). "Ashes set for 2010?". Retrieved 23 September 2009.
  7. "RFL scrap Ashes plan". 15 September 2009. Retrieved 23 September 2009.
  8. Mascord, Steve (20 November 2016). "Four Nations final 2016: Kangaroo Tours are back after success in England". The Sydney Morning Herald. Retrieved 9 April 2018.
  9. "Revived Ashes series in England cancelled 'with great reluctance'". The Guardian . 1 June 2020. Retrieved 1 June 2020.
  10. 1 2 "RL "Ashes" Cup". The Telegraph . 26 October 1945. p. 8 (CITY FINAL) via National Library of Australia.
  11. NMA (22 February 2008). "League of Legends: 100 years of Rugby League in Australia: Conservation slideshow". National Museum of Australia. Retrieved 23 September 2009.
  12. "League "Ashes." England's triumph". The Sydney Morning Herald (29,496). 18 July 1932. p. 6.

Further reading