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Rugby League World Cup History - A guide to the history of the Rugby League World Cup

Andrew Hendrie 5 May 2017
  • Rugby League World Cup history!
  • A complete guide to the history of the world's biggest international rugby league competition
History of the Rugby League World Cup

The Rugby League World Cup has transformed from humble beginnings into an expanded global spectacle over the last 60 years - read on below for a complete history of the biggest international rugby league competition!

Perhaps surprisingly, the Rugby League World Cup was the brainchild of the French Rugby League Federation, who first began campaigning for the competition as far back as 1935. The idea was officially pitched in 1951 by Paul Barriere, the President of the French Rugby League, and in 1953 the International Board of Rugby League accepted his proposal, allowing France to host the first ever Rugby League World Cup in 1954.

The tournament was known as the ‘Rugby World Cup’ - the first World Cup in either of the rugby codes - with France, Great Britain, Australia and New Zealand the only teams competing. Great Britain would beat France in Paris to claim the first ever Rugby League World Cup title.

The Rugby League World Cup would go on to experience multiple changes through the years, including the amount of years between each tournament and the fashion in which teams would win. Between 1955 and 1974 many experiments followed, with the second World Cup in 1957 being decided by the winner of the league standings, rather than a grand final. Australia would ultimately emerge triumphant on their home soil to claim their first Rugby League World Cup.

Great Britain would win their second World Cup after also winning on home soil in 1960, however there would be an absence of eight years before the next World Cup after the French pulled out of a proposed 1965 competition due to their previous ill-fated tour of Australia.

More radical changes were introduced during the 1970s, with matches being played on a home and away basis around the world instead of in one host nation, while Great Britain was split into England and Wales. For the most part, public interest waned due to these alterations, but the 1989-92 World Cup final between Australia and Great Britain (Kangaroos won 10-6) actually held the record for the biggest Rugby League World Cup crowd with 73,361 people attending at the iconic Wembley Stadium (the record was eventually surpassed by the 74,468 people who turned up to the 2013 World Cup final at Old Trafford).

From 1995, the Rugby League World Cup was significantly restructured due to the emergence of more rugby league playing nations, including Fiji, Tonga, Samoa, South Africa, Lebanon, Russia, Italy, Papua New Guinea and more.

Sixteen teams would ultimately enter the 2000 Rugby League World Cup, but due to numerous blow-out scorelines from traditional powerhouses onto minnow nations, the tournament was largely viewed as a failure. The World Cup wasn’t held for another eight years, with Australia playing host to the competition in 2008 and New Zealand winning their first ever World Cup title in incredible scenes.

England and Wales would go on to stage the 2013 Rugby League World Cup. Fourteen teams took part, with the competition considered the most successful World Cup to date due to attendance figures, exposure and financial gain. Australia would avenge their 2008 loss to New Zealand by beating the Kiwis in the final by an emphatic 34-2 scoreline.

Fourteen nations will again compete in the upcoming 2017 Rugby League World Cup, with three nations to host the competition for the first time - Australia, New Zealand and Papua New Guinea. The Rugby League World Cup is now scheduled for every four years, with the 2021 tournament to be held in England and the 2025 event in the United States and Canada, continuing the global expansion of the tournament.


Rugby League World Cup Winners


RLWC Champions

YearWinnerRunner-Up
1954Great BritainFrance
1957AustraliaGreat Britain
1960Great BritainAustralia
1968AustraliaFrance
1970AustraliaGreat Britain
1972Great BritainAustralia
1975AustraliaEngland
1977AustraliaGreat Britain
1985-88AustraliaNew Zealand
1989-92AustraliaGreat Britain
1995AustraliaEngland
2000AustraliaNew Zealand
2008New ZealandAustralia
2013AustraliaNew Zealand




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Rugby League World Cup History - A guide to the history of the Rugby League World Cup

The Rugby League World Cup has transformed from humble beginnings into an expanded global spectacle over the last 60 years - read on below for a complete history of the biggest international rugby league competition!

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