Rugby League World Cup

The Rugby League World Cup was first held in France in 1954 and has been held fourteen times at inconsistent intervals since then. Only three nations have won the Rugby League World Cup throughout its history; Australia (ten times), Great Britain (three times) and News Zealand (once). Since 1995, Great Britain has been split into England, Wales, Scotland and Ireland.

The last Rugby League World Cup was hosted by England, France, Ireland and Wales in 2013 and saw Australia as the eventual victor. The next Rugby League World Cup will take place in 2017, with Australia and New Zealand as co-hosts.

Besides the central Men’s Rugby League World Cup, there are five others; Students, Police, Women, Armed Forces and Wheelchair. In 2013, Australia won all but the wheelchair competition, which was won by France, beating England 42-40.

Rugby League World Cup Trophy

The Rugby League World Cup Trophy. Source: International Rugby League.

The Rugby League World Cup trophy was commissioned by the French Rugby League Federation at a cost of eight million francs and donated to the International Rugby League Board for the inaugural World Cup tournament in 1954. For the next four tournaments, this trophy was presented to the winning team. Then, in 1970, defending champions Australia placed the trophy on display at the Midland Hotel in Bradford. It was stolen six days before the tournament final, and was not seen again for another two decades.

In 1990, a local rediscovered the trophy amongst trash discarded in a ditch near the Bradford and Bingley Rugby Club. Although the man did not recognise the trophy initially, he made numerous attempts to track down the owners. He contacted police, television programs and finally the Telegraph & Argus newspaper, where it was identified by Rugby League historian Trevor Delaney.

On the first of June, 1990, the trophy was reunited with Rugby League when it was presented to Roger Millward of the Rugby Football League. The man who found the trophy was offered a great reward, but asked only for tickets to rugby league matches. The trophy has once again resumed its position as the competition cup, after being replaced by sponsored awards in the years of its disappearance and for some time after.

Rugby League World Cup History

The French are credited with the initial proposal to organise an international Rugby League tournament. There had been calls for a competition since 1935, and in 1951 the president of the French Rugby League put forward an official proposal, and it was accepted by the International Rugby League Board. France was to be the first host, and the official name of the tournament was to be the “Rugby World Cup”. Great Britain won the inaugural 1954 Rugby League World Cup in Paris on November 13.

There were only four teams in the initial World Cup; Australia, England, France and New Zealand. Following the Final format of the 1954 Cup, it was determined that the the 1957 winner would be determined based on their standing after all teams had played each other, rather than employing a final. Host Australia won the second World Cup in 1957.

The next Rugby League World Cup was held in 1960 in Great Britain and was won by the hosts. France was to hold the 1965 Cup, but surrendered following an unsuccessful Australian tour. As such, there was no tournament until 1968, when the World Cup began a biennial cycle until the mid-’70s.

In 1975, the tournament was considerably revamped. Great Britain was split into England and Wales and there was no host nation. Rather, home and away matches were to be played around the world. Australia won that year, and again in 1977 when it was hosted by New Zealand (4 matches) and Australia (2 matches).

The next Rugby League World Cup was held in 1985, and then again in 1988, with both tournaments held on a home and away match basis. In the 1992 final Australia defeated Great Britain 10-6 at Wembley in front of a crowd 73,361 strong, a record not broken until the 2013 World Cup Final at Old Trafford.

In 1995, the competition received yet more restructuring and welcomed some new teams, including Fiji, Tonga, Samoa and South Africa, bringing the total to ten. Although Australia fielded a weakened side due to the ARL’s exclusion of Super League players, they won the final against England 16-8.

The proposed 1998 World Cup was postponed due to the Super League War in Australia and the resulting restructuring of international rugby league. The 2000 World Cup saw sixteen competing teams. In 2008, Australia was again the host, but New Zealand claimed the trophy, becoming the third team to win a Rugby League World Cup.

Rugby League World Cup Qualification

The qualification process has changed regularly over the years. Since 1995, most teams are required to qualify for the World Cup, rather than receiving automatic inclusion. The world is divided into three qualifying groups; European, Oceania and Pacific Islands, and Atlantic. Teams play in their respective groups in an attempt to qualify. The teams who fail to qualify can still have a chance (depending on the tournament structure – it varies) to enter the world cup via the repechage rounds, which are played between the next highest teams.

Once at the World Cup, the teams play off in four Groups. The highest placed teams in those groups then progress to the quarter finals, then semi-finals, then the final.

Rugby League World Cup Results

Total Number of Championships

Nation Championships
Australia 10
Great Britain 3
New Zealand 1

Competing Nations’ Statistics

Nation Appearances Inaugural Match Last Appearance Consecutive Appearances Highest Result
Australia 14 1954 2013 14 Champion (1957, 1968, 1970, 1975, 1977, 1988, 1992, 1995, 2000, 2013)
Great Britain 9 1954 1992 6 Champion (1954, 1960, 1972)
New Zealand 14 1954 2013 14 Champion (2008)
France 14 1954 2013 14 Runner-up (1954, 1968)
England 5 1975 2013 4 Runner-up (1975, 1995)
Wales 4 1975 2013 3 Semi-Finalist (1995, 2000)
Fiji 4 1995 2013 4 Semi-Finalist (2008, 2013)
Ireland 3 2000 2013 3 Quarter-Finalist (2000, 2008)
Samoa 4 1995 2013 4 Quarter-Finalist (2000, 2013)
Papua New Guinea 5 1988 2013 5 Quarter-Finalist (2000)
Scotland 3 2000 2013 3 Quarter-Finalist (2013)
USA 1 2013 2013 1 Quarter-Finalist (2013)
Tonga 4 1995 2013 4 2 Wins (2008, 2013)
Italy 1 2013 2013 1 1 Win, 1 Draw (2013)
Aotearoa Maori 1 2000 2000 1 1 Win (2000)
Cook Islands 2 2000 2013 2 1 Win (2013)
South Africa 2 1995 2000 2 No Games Won
Lebanon 1 2000 2000 1 No Games Won
Russia 1 2000 2000 1 No Games Won