The Rugby League World Cup is Rugby League’s premier international competition and is one of the longest running World Cup tournaments in world sport. The Rugby League World Cup was first raised by the Fédération Française de Rugby à XIII (FFRXIII) in the 1930’s, however it took until 1953 till the rest of the then International Rugby League Board (IRLB) to accept the proposal.
Tournament hosts, the FFRXIII donated the World Cup trophy (which is still used today), with the silverware worth eight million francs. Captains for the historic inaugural World Cup included Rugby League royalty in the shape of Puig Aubert (France), Cyril Eastlake (New Zealand), Clive Churchill (Australia) and Dave Valentine (Britain).
France and Great Britain qualified for the tournament final after both going through the group stages undefeated, with the Dave Valentine (Scotland) lead British Lions emerging 16 – 12 victors in front of over 30,000 fans at Parc des Princes in Paris.
The Australian Kangaroos were awarded the 1957 World Cup after going through the tournament undefeated.
The third World Cup saw the event return to the Northern Hemisphere with England hosting their first ever tournament in 1960. Boyed by a passionate home crowd, Great Britain went through the tournament undefeated, to claim their second World Cup trophy.
The tournament represented the first time New Zealand had hosted a World Cup match, however despite the home ground advantage the Kiwis’ finished last in the tournament.
France qualified for the tournament final after pulling off a surprise 7 -2 victory over Great Britain in wet conditions at Carlaw Park in Auckland, however were unable to compete with Australia in the final, going down 20 – 2.
Following the 1968 tournament, the tournament was held every 2 years for the next two cycles, with England hosting 1970 and France hosting 1972.
With the Lions defeating Australia in the Group stages and finishing in a higher position on the tournament ladder.
Arguably the split ended up costing either British side the trophy, with Wales defeating England 12 – 7 in the famous ‘Battle of Brisbane’ game, which saw the England side finish the tournament second to Australia. This was despite the fact England did not lose to Australia in the tournament (1x Draw, 1x Win).
By the 1977 World Championship, England and Wales had become Great Britain again, and the tournament was hosted in just Australia and New Zealand over two months. Australia won their 5th World Cup at home, defeating the Lions 13 – 12 in the final at the SCG.
The next two World Cups underwent more changes. Firstly the tournaments were stretched out over a three-year window, with each team playing each other home and away. Secondly, Papua New Guinea was added to the tournament, seeing the event again grow to five teams.
The 1985-1988 World Cup tournament saw the Kiwis qualify for their first ever World Cup Final, with the New Zealander’s drawing Australia at Eden Park. Despite the home ground advantage, the Kiwis went down 25 – 12 in front of over 47,000 at the venue.
The 1989 – 1992 World Cup tournament final saw Great Britain go down 10 – 6 in front of over 73,000 fans at London’s Wembley Stadium against the Australians as the Kangaroos recorded their seventh tournament victory.
Following the 1989 – 1992 tournament, the RLIF agreed to go back to single year tournaments, with the next World Cup held in England & Wales in 1995. The tournament celebrated 100 years of Rugby League in the two countries and saw 10 nations take part in the celebration.
The 1995 tournament saw the likes of Fiji, South Africa, Tonga and Samoa take part in their first ever World Cup, with again Great Britain split into England and Wales.
The highly successful tournament again finished at Wembley, with again Australia being too good for the English, running out 16 – 8 victors.
With the Super League War taking place, the next World Cup was not held until 2000 in what was one of the most ambitious tournaments to date. With games held in England, Wales, Scotland, Ireland and France, plus sixteen nations taking place, the event saw even more nations make their World Cup debuts.
The Cook Islands, Ireland, Russia and Scotland, joined World Cup qualifier, Lebanon in the expanded tournament in making their debuts.
Australia, the dominant force in international Rugby League at the time had no trouble running through the tournament undefeated, running out 40 – 12 victors over New Zealand in the final at Old Trafford.
Whilst the 2000 tournament helped kick start a significant growth phase for international Rugby League, the event was deemed too ambitious for the code based upon the competitiveness of many of the nations. So by the next World Cup, the number of participants was reduced back down to 10.
The 10 team tournament was held in Australia in 2008, celebrating 100 years of Rugby League in that country. The tournament, much like the World Cup before it, saw Australia and New Zealand meet in the final, however unlike 2000, this time the Kiwis were victorious, claiming their first ever World Cup trophy in front of over 50,000 fans in Brisbane’s Lang Park.
The World Cup returned to the Northern Hemisphere for the first time in 13 years in 2013, when the fourteenth World Cup was hosted by England and Wales.
The 14th iteration of the tournament, saw the event again grow to fourteen teams, with this time Italy and the United States making their World Cup debuts, and showcasing the growing appeal of international Rugby League.
The tournament was again won by Australia, with the Kangaroos defeating the Kiwis 34 – 2 in front of 74,000 fans at Old Trafford. The crowd set a new international Rugby League attendance record, beating the previous record set in the 1992 World Cup Final.