History of the Rugby League World Cup

Rugby League is growing as a global sport and with the World Cup taking place in England, there is plenty of interest in not just the modern game but also its origins.

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While the footballing world prepares for the 2022 World Cup in Qatar, rugby league fans are enjoying a blockbuster end to the 2022 campaign as England hosts the Rugby League World Cup.

This year’s event is the 16th edition of the tournament, while it is also the biggest ever competition, with 16 teams competing for a chance to win the trophy.

With so much at stake and officials trying to grow the 13-man code worldwide, we look at how the tournament started.

Origins of the Rugby League World Cup

The idea of an international rugby league competition was not suggested until 1951. President of the French Rugby League, Paul Barriere, floated the idea, and within three years, the first tournament was held.

Only four teams contested the 1954 Rugby League World Cup, with Great Britain coming out on top in France.

Australia and New Zealand made the trip across Europe to compete, but the hosts lost in the final.

The following two editions then took place every three years before an eight-year gap until 1968.

Between 1975 and 1990, it was decided that there would be no host nation, with teams travelling the world for home and away matches.

In 1995, organisers then restructured the tournament and returned to using one host, and that format has continued to be a success.

In 2013, 14 teams competed in the event in England and Wales, and it was then decided that the event should take place every four years.

Sadly due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the 2021 edition was postponed, but hosts England are now hoping to win the trophy 12 months later than planned.


Only three teams – Australia, France and New Zealand have appeared at every World Cup from 1954 to 2017.

England have also played in every tournament, but they participated under the banner of Great Britain in the majority of the early events.

In total, 19 teams have played at a World Cup, with qualifying for the event not introduced until 2000.

Teams that automatically qualify are the quarter-finalists from the previous World Cup, while in 2022, both Greece and Jamaica will feature for the first time.

Previous winners

Australia have dominated the Rugby League World Cup, winning 11 titles in total.

In 2022, they will defend their crown after a successful tournament on home soil in 2017, but they will be up against it, with the likes of New Zealand, Tonga, England and Samoa all confident they can go all the way.

The Kiwis are searching for their second title, while England have never won the tournament.

Australia’s dominance comes as no surprise considering the popularity of the NRL, but for the game to grow, it would be good to see a new name on the trophy this winter.

Tom is a fantasy football fanatic who brings years of experience to bear when it comes to picking the best FPL players every week. Back in the real world of sports, Tom offers a strong insight into football and rugby league, whilst also having a good knowledge of several other sports including boxing, horse racing and American Football.
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