Rugby League World Cup
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Rugby League World Cup
Rugby League World Cup
Current season or competition:
2021 Rugby League World Cup
RLWC trophy.jpg
SportRugby league
Number of teams16 (from 2021)
Holders Australia
Most titles Australia
Related competitionWomen's World Cup
World Cup 9s

The Rugby League World Cup is an international rugby league tournament, contested by national teams of the Rugby League International Federation, which was first held in France in 1954, the first World Cup in either rugby code.[1] The idea of a rugby league World Cup tournament was first mooted in the 1930s with the French proposal to hold a tournament in 1931, and again in 1951.[2] The fifteen tournaments held to date have been at intervals ranging from two to eight years, and have featured a number of formats.[3] So far three nations have won the competition (Australia eleven times, Great Britain three times and New Zealand once). Australia, France and New Zealand are the only teams to have played in all tournaments (Great Britain has been split into England, Wales, Scotland and Ireland since 1995, while England and Wales had previously competed as separate teams in the 1975 World Cup). Since 2000, the RLIF has also organised World Cups for women, students and other categories. The 2017 Rugby League World Cup was held in Australia, New Zealand and Papua New Guinea which was won by Australia.[4]


1935-1954: Establishment

New Zealand, France, Great Britain, and Australia were the four nations to compete in the inaugural competition.

The Rugby League World Cup was an initiative of the French who had been campaigning for a competition since 1935. The idea was raised in 1951 by Paul Barrière, the President of the French Rugby League. In 1952, Rugby Football League secretary Bill Fallowfield persuaded the Rugby League Council to support the concept.[5] At a meeting in Blackpool, England in 1953, the International Board accepted Paul Barrière's proposal that France should be the nation to host[5] the first tournament to be officially known as the "Rugby World Cup".[6] In addition to the hosts, the tournament featured teams from Britain, Australia and New Zealand.[7] The 1954 Rugby League World Cup was won by Great Britain who defeated France in Paris on 13 November to claim the title.

1955-1974: Sporadic competitions

The World Cup was initially contested by the four Test nations: Australia, Great Britain, France and New Zealand. The teams played each other in a league format. A final match was played between the top two teams in 1954. It was then decided that the team that finished first in the league would be declared the winner at the second World Cup in 1957, when Australia proved victorious on their home ground.

After the successful 1960 competition, in which Great Britain won the title for the second time, there would be no further World Cup for eight years. The competition had been scheduled to be held in France in 1965, this time with the inclusion of the South African team.[8] However, after an unsuccessful tour of Australia, the French withdrew. The tournament was next held in 1968, and followed a two-year cycle until the mid-1970s.

The 1972 World Cup final between Great Britain and Australia ended 10-all, and the title was awarded to Great Britain by virtue of their superior record in the qualifiers. Great Britain were captained by Welshman Clive Sullivan who was the first black player to captain any British national sports team. The final had just 4,231 fans at the Stade de Gerland in Lyon to witness what is (as of 2020) the last British team to win the Rugby League World Cup.[9]

1975-1990s: No host nations

In 1975, the competition underwent a radical overhaul. It was decided to play matches on a home and away basis around the world instead of one host nation and the Great Britain team was split into England and Wales meaning that the tournament would be increased from the 4 teams of previous tournaments to 5, this number also taking part in the two future internationally held tournaments. There was not a final held to decide the champions of the 1975 tournament and so Australia won by virtue of topping the group standings. As Australia had not beaten England in that tournament a 'final challenge match' was hastily arranged which Australia would win 25-0.

In 1977 it was decided that Great Britain should once more compete as a single entity. Although the final between Australia and Great Britain was a closely fought affair, public interest in the tournament waned due to the continuing tinkering with the format and it was not held again until the mid-1980s.

From 1985 to 1988, each nation played each other a number of times on a home and away basis with a number of these games also being considered part of various international tours that took place during the years in which these world cups were being played. At the end of that period, Australia met New Zealand at Eden Park. The match was a physical encounter, and Australian captain Wally Lewis played part of the match with a broken arm. The Kangaroos won the competition 25-12 in front of a capacity crowd of nearly 48,000 spectators.

This format was repeated from 1989-1992 (with games once again also being part of tours) and Australia won again, defeating Great Britain 10-6 at Wembley Stadium in front of 73,361 people. This crowd remained a Rugby League World Cup record (and a record for any rugby league international match) until beaten by the 74,468 crowd which attended the 2013 World Cup Final at Old Trafford.[10] The fifth nation to compete in these two tournaments was Papua New Guinea, where rugby league is the national, and most popular, sport.

1995-2008: Knockout tournament and expansion

New Zealand lifting the Paul Barrière Trophy after winning the 2008 tournament

In 1995, the competition was once again restructured, returning to the traditional 'host' format with ten teams entering. Unlike previous tournaments where the top two teams in the table playing in the final, a knockout stage was added with a quarter and semi final. New teams competing included Fiji, Tonga, Samoa and South Africa. Due to the Super League war, players aligned with the rebel competition were not selected by the ARL to represent the Kangaroos. This meant the absence of many star players from the Australian team's line-up. The tournament, which was also held to celebrate the centenary of the sport in England, was highly successful with over 250,000 people attending the group stages and over 66,000 people attending the final to see Australia defeat England 16-8.

Following the Super League war, the subsequent re-structuring of rugby league's international governing bodies meant that the proposed 1998 World Cup was postponed.[11]

The 2000 World Cup expanded the field further, with sixteen teams entering. This tournament included a New Zealand Maori representative team, the only time this team has taken part. However numerous issues including poor organization and blown-out scorelines meant that this tournament was seen as highly unsuccessful with an average attendance just half that of the previous tournament. Due to these problems the competition was put on indefinite hiatus. Australia won the tournament by beating New Zealand 40-12 in the final at Old Trafford, Manchester. In the same year, the first Women's Rugby League World Cup was held with New Zealand defeating Great Britain.

The World Cup returned in 2008 with a 10-team format. Australia hosted the tournament and New Zealand were crowned champions for the first time by beating the host nation at Lang Park, Brisbane. The world cup was once again seen as a success with a 91% average attendance increase on the previous competition. New Zealand became only the third team to win the world cup and the first other than Australia since 1972.

2009-present: Regular competition

The 2013 tournament, hosted by England and Wales, expanded to 14 teams and was considered the most successful competition to date in terms of attendances, exposure and financial output. Australia took the title again after defeating New Zealand in the final by a score of 34-2. The final attendance became the record international rugby league attendance at 74,468.

Following the 2013 tournament, it was decided that the world cup would be scheduled to take place every four years, 2017 Rugby League World Cup taking place in Australia, New Zealand and for the first time in Papua New Guinea. While Australia would claim the title once again and for an eleventh time, the tournament was considered highly successful in terms of competitiveness. The tournament would see Tonga beat New Zealand in the group stages with a score of 28-22 to top the group, the first time a team from outside the top 3 had beaten a top 3 nation in over two decades. New Zealand went on to play Fiji in the quarter-finals and lost once again with a score of just 4-2, knocking New Zealand out in the quarter-finals, the first time a tier 1 nation had exited the tournament at this early stage. Tonga played England in the semi-finals and while conceding 20 unanswered points, they would score 3 tries in just the last seven minutes to pull the score back to 20-18, eventually losing by this close margin. The final was contested between Australia and England at Lang Park, Brisbane and Australia won by just 6-0, the lowest score in world cup final history.[12]

The 2021 tournament will be held in England with organisers expressing a desire to see a total of one million fans attend games. This tournament will see the number of teams increased to 16 once again. A proposal was put forward in 2016 to hold the 2025 Rugby League World Cup in the United States and Canada,[13] but in December 2018 plans for the tournament to be held in North America were scrapped due to financial concerns so the location of the 2025 Rugby League World Cup will be determined by a new bidding process.[14]


The Paul Barrière Trophy first awarded in the 1954 inaugural contest.

The World Cup trophy was commissioned by French Fédération Française de Rugby à XIII president Paul Barrière at a cost of eight million francs, and then donated to the International Rugby League Board to be used for the inaugural competition in 1954.[15] This trophy was used and presented to the winning nation for the first four tournaments, before being stolen in 1970. After its recovery, the trophy was reinstated for the 2000 tournament.



Australia, France and New Zealand are the only nations who have appeared at every Rugby League World Cup from 1954 to 2017. England has also been at all, but participated under the banner of Great Britain in the majority of the earlier tournaments. Wales, including as Great Britain, has competed in all but the 2008 tournament.

In total, 19 teams have taken part in the World Cup. While 18 of these represented nations, 1 did not; in 2000, the Aotearoa M?ori team was granted entry to the competition. This team is made up of New Zealand M?ori players and was knocked out of the world cup in the pool stage. Only one other team has taken part in just a single world cup; Russia. In total 29 teams have/will taken part in qualifying rounds while 5 other teams have always been granted automatic qualification, meaning 34 teams have taken part in some stage of the world cup.

Qualifying rounds were first introduced for the 2000 World Cup. Rounds take the form of groups of teams from specific continents/regions; Europe, Africa/middle-east, Asia/pacific and the Americas. Teams that automatically qualify are the quarter-finalists from the previous world cup.

Qualifying for the 2021 World Cup featured 20 teams, the most to date with 8 teams having automatically qualified. 13 of these teams had never qualified for the World Cup before. 14 teams took part in the European stage of the qualifying with 4 teams in the Americas group and 3 in the world play-offs where the runner-up of the Americas group met the highest ranked teams from Asia/Pacific and Africa/Middle-East.


The Rugby League World Cup has followed a varied range of formats throughout its history as the number of teams participating has increased.

The current format has been in use since 2013 featuring 14 teams split into two groups of four and two groups of three. Three teams from the groups of four qualify for the knockout stage and one team from the groups of three qualify. Each team is awarded two points for a win and one point for a draw.

The eight teams in the quarter finals play each other with the four winners progressing to the semi finals before the World Cup Final. If the teams are level after 80 minutes extra time will be played and if the two teams are still level after extra time, a golden point will be played.

In 2017 the final tournament followed the same format as that of 2013 but this will change for 2021 when the number of teams taking part is increased to 16.

Year Teams Format
Round Robin era
1954 4
  • Round Robin
  • Top two teams play in final
  • Round Robin
  • No final
  • Round Robin
  • Top two teams play in final
1975 5
1977 4
1985-1988 5
Groups and Knockout era
1995 10
  • Group Stages
    • Three groups
    • Top two advance from Group A, Group leader advances from Group B and C
  • Knockout stages
    • Semi Finals
    • Final
2000 16
  • Group Stages
    • Four groups
    • Top two from each advance
  • Knockout stages
    • Quarter Finals
    • Semi Finals
    • Final
2008 10
  • Group Stages
    • Three groups
    • Top three advance from Group A, Group leader advances from Group B and C
  • Knockout stages
    • Semi Final Play-off
    • Semi Finals
    • Final
2013 14
  • Group Stages
    • Four groups
    • Top three advance from Group A and B, Group leader advance from Group C and D
  • Knockout stages
    • Quarter Finals
    • Semi Finals
    • Final
2021 16
  • Group Stages
    • Four groups
    • Top two from each advance
  • Knockout stages
    • Quarter Finals
    • Semi Finals
    • Final


Eight teams have officially hosted and co-hosted the World Cup.[] Only 1975, 1985-88 and 1989-92 were held internationally and not in a specific country. Scotland hosted games in the 2000 world cup but these games were considered to have been hosted by Great Britain rather than the specific home nations. Although games were played in Papua New Guinea during the 1985-88 and 1989-92 World Cups, they officially became the eighth nation to host the tournament in 2017.[]

Host Count Years
 England 6 1969, 1970, 1995, 2000, 2013, 2021
 Australia 5 1957, 1968, 1977, 2008, 2017
 France 4 1954, 1972, 2000, 2013
 New Zealand 3 1968, 1977, 2017
Ireland Ireland 2 2000, 2013
 Wales 2 2000, 2013
 Scotland 1 2000
 Papua New Guinea 1 2017
  • Italics: co-hosted tournaments


In total, 81 stadiums have hosted world cup games over the 14 tournaments. Headingley Stadium in Leeds has hosted the tournament the most times, having had games in 7 world cups with Central Park, Wigan and Lang Park, Brisbane having hosted 6 tournaments. 52 stadiums have hosted matches in just 1 tournament. The most stadiums used in a tournament was in 2000 when 26 stadiums were used; the stadium capacity was the highest ever at 704,400. However, the occupancy was also the lowest ever at just 37.46%.

The largest stadium in terms of capacity ever used was Wembley Stadium, London with a seating capacity of 90,000; the stadium was used in the 2013 tournament as the venue for the semi-final double-header. The smallest stadium ever used was also in 2013 when The Gnoll, Neath, with a capacity of 5,000 hosted a game between Wales and Cook Islands. Despite this, it was not the lowest attended game; this was in the 2000 world cup when just 1,497 attended the game between Wales and Lebanon at Stradey Park, Llanelli.

The city with the most stadiums used is Sydney with 4. Hull and Auckland are the cities with the next highest number with 3 each.

Rank Country Stadiums
1  England 33
2  Australia 21
3  France 13
4  Wales 7
5  New Zealand 6
6 Ireland Ireland 3
7  Papua New Guinea 2
 Scotland 2


Results by year

* Highest ranked team during Round Robin round won World Cup
× 'Final' Challenge Match played, as Australia won the 1975 World Cup (decided by ranking in Round Robin round) without having beaten England.

Results by team

Up to and including the 2017 tournament, only Australia, New Zealand and Great Britain had been crowned World Champions. Australia has been by far the most successful, finishing in the top three in all 15 tournaments and winning 11. Great Britain have won three times, and New Zealand once. New Zealand have also finished runners-up in three World Cups, while France have been runners-up twice, including the inaugural cup where they were captained by Puig Aubert. England have also finished runners-up three times, while the Great Britain team were runners-up four times. Fiji have reached the semi-finals three times, while Wales also made the semi-final in 1995 and 2000. Ireland and Samoa have twice made it past the qualifying pool stages. Other nations to have proceeded to the knock-out stages are Papua New Guinea, Scotland, the United States, and Lebanon.

Team Champions Runners-up Semi-finals Quarter-finals
 Australia 11 (List) 3 (1960, 1972, 2008) - -
 Great Britain1 3 (1954, 1960, 1972) 4 (1957, 1970, 1977, 1989-92) - -
 New Zealand 1 (2008) 3 (1985-88, 2000, 2013) 1 (1995) 1 (2017)
 England - 3 (1975, 1995, 2017) 3 (2000, 2008, 2013) -
 France - 2 (1954, 1968) - 2 (2000, 2013)
 Fiji - - 3 (2008, 2013, 2017) -
 Wales - - 2 (1995, 2000) -
 Tonga - - 1 (2017) -
 Samoa - - - 3 (2000, 2013, 2017)
 Ireland - - - 2 (2000, 2008)
 Papua New Guinea - - - 2 (2000, 2017)
 Scotland - - - 1 (2013)
 United States - - - 1 (2013)
 Lebanon - - - 1 (2017)
  • Tournaments between 1954-1992 did not feature semi-final and quarter-final rounds.


Tournament attendance

Year Matches Avg
% change in average attendance Stadium
capacity (%)
1954 7 19,761 138,329 N/A 285,100 (48.51%) France
1957 6 35,820 214,918 Increase 81.26% 370,000 (58.08%) Australia
1960 6 18,376 110,200 Decrease 48.72% 217,000 (50.78%) England
1968 7 31,562 220,683 Increase 71.84% 350,000 (63.05%) Australia New Zealand
1970 7 9,816 68,710 Decrease 68.69% 181,200 (37.91%) England
1972 7 8,922 62,456 Decrease 9.10% 222,700 (28.04%) France
1975 21 9,737 204,476 Increase 9.13% 294,500 (69.43%) England Wales
France Australia New Zealand
1977 7 15,670 109,688 Increase 60.93% 274,000 (40.03%) Australia New Zealand
1985-88 18 12,125 218,246 Decrease 22.62% 456,000 (47.86%) England France
Australia New Zealand Papua New Guinea
1989-92 21 14,289 300,059 Increase 17.84% 521,500 (57.57%)
1995 15 17,707 265,609 Increase 23.92% 413,300 (64.26%) England
2000 31 8,514 263,921 Decrease 51.91% 704,400 (37.46%) United Kingdom Republic of Ireland France
2008 18 16,302 293,442 Increase 91.47% 533,800 (54.97%) Australia
2013 28 16,374 458,483 Increase 0.44% 573,200 (79.98%) England Wales Republic of Ireland France
2017 28 13,338 373,461 Decrease 18.54% 750,700 (49.75%) Australia New Zealand Papua New Guinea
2021 31 England

Match attendance

Top 10 match attendances.

See also



  1. ^ Folkard, 2003: 337
  2. ^ Richard William Cox; Wray Vamplew; Grant Jarvie (2000). Encyclopedia of British Sport. UK: ABC-CLIO. p. 426. ISBN 9781851093441.
  3. ^ McCann, Liam (2006). Rugby: Facts, Figures and Fun. UK: AAPPL Artists' and Photographers' Press. p. 80. ISBN 9781904332541.
  4. ^ Fletcher, Paul. "Rugby League World Cup 2013: New Zealand 2-34 Australia". BBC Sport. Retrieved 2013.
  5. ^ a b Waddingham, Steve (2008-06-14). "Why this trophy for winning the rugby league World Cup?". The Courier-Mail. Brisbane. Archived from the original on 2010-01-10. Retrieved 2010.
  6. ^ SPARC, 2009: 28
  7. ^ AAP (1953-01-19). "World Cup Suggestion". The Sydney Morning Herald. Australia. p. 7. Retrieved .
  8. ^ AAP; Reuter (1962-08-15). "League Cup Year Fixed". The Sydney Morning Herald. Auckland. p. 18. Archived from the original on 2013-01-03. Retrieved .
  9. ^ "When Great Britain won the World Cup". BBC. Retrieved 2020.
  10. ^ AAP (1 December 2013). "Record rugby league crowd for World Cup final". Retrieved 2013.
  11. ^ John Coffey; Bernie Wood (2008). 100 years: M?ori rugby league, 1908-2008. Huia Publishers. p. 302. ISBN 9781869693312.
  12. ^ "Australia 6 England 0". BBC Sport. 2 December 2017. Retrieved 2017.
  13. ^ Fletcher, Paul. "Rugby League World Cup: North America set to host 2025 tournament". BBC Sport. Retrieved 2016.
  14. ^ Adrian Proszenko (2018-12-04). "US World Cup hosting plans torpedoed by money trouble". Sydney Morning Herald. Retrieved .
  15. ^ RLIF. "Past Winners: 1954". Rugby League International Federation. Archived from the original on 2008-10-12. Retrieved .
  16. ^ "Papua New Guinea to co-host Rugby League World Cup in 2017". Australian Broadcasting Corporation. Australian Associated Press. 8 October 2015. Retrieved 2015.


External links

Further reading

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