Rugby league in New Zealand

Rugby league in New Zealand

Sport overview
country = New Zealand
sport = rugby league

imagesize = 260px
caption =
union = New Zealand Rugby League
nickname =
first = 13 June, 1908, Wellington
registered = 22,000 (total)
3,550 (adult)
clubs = 142
match = 47,363 - 1988 Kiwis vs Australia. Eden Park, Auckland
league =
national1 =
club1 = Bartercard Cup
club2 = Auckland Rugby League
club3 = Northland Rugby League
club4 = Waikato Rugby League
club5 =
club6 =
club7 =
club8 =
club9 =
club10 =

Rugby league in New Zealand is a team sport played in New Zealand. Participation and interest are considered to be concentrated in the Auckland region.Fact|date=April 2008 There are around 22,000 registered rugby league players in New Zealand. [cite web|url=|title=Rugby League World Cup 2008 teams|publisher=Rugby League World Cup 2008 Official Site|accessdate=2008-04-24]


A professional New Zealand team was touring England and Australia before it was even considered that there should be a professional league in New Zealand.

The first makings of a New Zealand rugby football schism, such as seen in other countries was the creation of Albert Henry Baskerville who set out to sign a group of professional rugby players to tour England. Baskerville's team of professional "All Golds", on their way to England, made a stop over in Australia, playing a 3 game series against a professional New South Wales rugby team. From there, they went on to England and for the first time, played by the Northern Union's rules. On their return home, they stopped over in Australia to play another 10 games against clubs from the newly formed New South Wales Rugby League.

During the All Gold's tour, their founder, Baskerville fell ill and later died of pneumonia. June 13, 1908 saw the first game of rugby league played by the Northern Union's new rules on New Zealand soil; as a benefit match for Baskerville's widowed mother. The first match in New Zealand was played at Wellington on 13 June 1908 before a crowd of nearly 7,000, which saw an exhibition between two teams drawn from the touring side.

Rugby league had now its sights firmly set on New Zealand, however, the New Zealand Rugby Union's infiltration into every aspect of New Zealand society, government and business would prove a lot tougher than the unions of Australia or England. The NZRU took it upon themselves to pressure potential converts, officials, sponsors and ground owners into not giving the rugby league upstarts any room to move. This did not stop the establishment of the game and by 1910 it was being played in Auckland, Taranaki, Rotorua, Nelson, Southland, Wanganui, Marlborough, Invercargill, Hawke's Bay, and South Auckland. The New Zealand Rugby League was formed in 1909 and other provinces joined the league.

In the year after that, Auckland Rugby League became the first to start a regular competition. The Auckland League had a full season in 1912, with its headquarters at Eden Park. That same year saw the formation of Wellington's local rugby league competition.

Rugby league made great advances since the Second World War. It was well established between 1918 and 1939, but many strong leagues went into recess between 1939 and 1945, never to revive, or to suffer severely from the loss of players. Rotorua, Otago, and Northland were examples. Those areas, strong provinces before the war, are only starting to make good progress.

Ironically, New Zealand founded the fully international rugby league, was responsible for strengthening English professional rugby and gave the rugby rebels of Australia a "leg up", which resulted in the formation of the New South Wales Rugby League. However, they weren't able to replicate their over seas success to the same levels on home soil.

A New Zealand club team, the Auckland Warriors, was added to the top-level Australian Rugby League competition in 1995. Soon after when the Australian Super League war shook the game to its very foundations in that country, the New Zealand Rugby League, along with the governing body in Britain, aligned itself with Super League. The Warriors continued to participate in the National Rugby League competition after many expansion teams were cut and foundation teams merged. In 2001 the club's name was changed to New Zealand Warriors.

In 2005, the New Zealand national side won the tri-nations final, beating Australia 24-0. This was the first series defeat of Australia in 25 years.

Governing body and competitions

The New Zealand Rugby League is responsible for governing of rugby league in New Zealand. The Auckland Rugby League is a partner of the NZRL and is responsible for the governing the sport in the Auckland Region.

The premier competition organised by the governing body of rugby league in New Zealand is the National Provincial Competition, formed in 2008. Significant former competitions included the Lion Red Cup, run from 1994-96, and the Bartercard Cup, run from 2000-07.

On a regional level, the sport is administered by fifteen districts, [ [ NZRL - Districts ] ] six of which field representative teams in the National Provincial Competition:
* Auckland Rugby League
* Bay of Plenty Rugby League
* Canterbury Rugby League
* Taranaki Rugby League
* Waikato Rugby League
* Wellington Rugby League

The nine who do not compete in the NPC are:
* Coastline Rugby League
* Gisborne Tairawhiti Rugby League
* Rugby League Hawke's Bay
* Manawatu Rugby League
* Northland Rugby League
* Otago Rugby League
* Southland Rugby League
* Tasman Rugby League
* West Coast Rugby League


There is a very strong sporting tradition in New Zealand but rugby league struggles to gain acceptance by the majority of the public; however it is not without its strengths.


Rugby league is the 7th most popular sport amongst Māori which equates to 10% of Māori having played the sport over a 12 month period. In comparison, 7% of 'other ethnicities' play the sport, placing rugby league as the 11th most played sport among people of other ethnicities.

The National Rugby League, in recent years has become a hotbed of talent for up and coming New Zealand players. Most of these players are of Māori or other Pacific Islander origin. Great Britain also has a number of Māori playing in the Super League.

There may be many reasons why rugby league is more popular among those of Pacific Islander origin. Size is an important aspect in rugby league which emphasizes heavy body contact and Pacific Islanders are on average significantly larger than caucasian New Zealanders, asian New Zealanders and Maori New Zealanders.

Another theory is that Auckland has more Māori and Pacific Islanders than other parts of New Zealand and Auckland is the centre of rugby league in New Zealand.

By geographical area

Young people

The young of Auckland, Manukau, Greater Auckland, North Harbour and Waitakere participate in rugby league more so then any other area of New Zealand. This is not surprising, as Auckland is New Zealand rugby league's founding city. In any 2 week period, 3% of young people in Auckland will play rugby league; 50% greater than the next largest participants of rugby league, Waikato and the Bay of Plenty, not too far from Auckland.

Heading further south, the likelihood of finding those who participate in rugby league decrease the further south one goes. The next largest regions to play rugby league are those of the southern and western areas of the northern island; Northland, Taranaki, Wanganui and Manawatu, Wellington and the central east and western parts of the south island: Canterbury and Westland. These areas share a decrease in participation by 50% in comparison to Waikato and the Bay of Plenty or by 66% in comparison to Auckland.

Perhaps the most interesting thing to have come from these statistics is that rugby league appears to be less popular in the Hawke's Bay & Eastland regions of the northern island then some areas of the southern island. This goes against the general perception that rugby league is a strong sport in this region of New Zealand. The Hawke's Bay region has a participation rate of: nil, less than 1% or just not worth recording; much like the areas of the New Zealand, not yet mentioned: Otago, Southland, Tasman and Northland; Northland also being on the North Island.


Participation among adults is more spread out, although methods for gathering adult participation and youth participation vary widely. One should realise this when drawing conclusions from what follows.

Nearly every region in New Zealand participates in rugby league to some extent; again the general perception of the north being the strongest regions for rugby league are echoed in adult participation figures. The Hawks Bay and Eastland region represents an area where massive differences are seen in terms of rugby league participation. Going by participation rates alone for juniors, this region could be perceived as a rugby league waste land; for adults, the picture couldn't be much different; in any 4 weeks, 3% of its adults population will participate in rugby league; equal to the participation rate of Auckland.

Another interesting difference between adults and youth participation is the proximity between rugby league and rugby union participation. In each case, rugby union is the more popular code, but rugby league in many cases throughout the Auckland region is almost on par with rugby union . This is out of line with the junior and youth participation, where rugby union far outnumbers league.

Taking New Zealand as a whole, rugby league does not rate among the top 15 sports in New Zealand among male adults. In comparison, rugby union is the 5th most popular sport in New Zealand for men, behind other team sports such as touch rugby and cricket. However, the 18-24 year age bracket suggests rugby league is the 13th most played sport by adults (male and female); the same segregation rates rugby union as 7th most popular sport.

So whilst rugby league is not the most popular sport in New Zealand, there are regions and people that share significant interest in it. One should also note, that this section talks only about participation. Various sports may suffer from participation for various reasons, such as, issues specific to demographics discussed or risk of injury. Risk of injury is a major topic when looking at participation for rugby league. For more information on the impact of risk of injury in rugby league, refer to the "age" section of Rugby league in Australia article.

The national team

The New Zealand national rugby league side represent New Zealand at rugby league, and are commonly known as the Kiwis, after the native bird of that name. They are administered by the New Zealand Rugby League.

ee also

* List of New Zealand rugby league clubs


* [ History of rugby league in New Zealand] From the 1966 An Encyclopaedia of New Zealand,
* [ New Zealand rugby league from rlwc2000]
* [ Sports profiles NZ]
* [ Stastical facts NZ, 97/01]
* [ Participation in Sport]
* [ Newspaper extracts from a thesis on conflict between Union and League in New Zealand]

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