RUGBY LEAGUE FOOTBALL
Strange though it may seem, a touring rugby league team left New Zealand almost a year before the game was played in this country. It was this overseas tour which led to the establishment of the code in New Zealand. This was due mainly to the efforts of A. H. Baskerville who, in 1907, organised a team for a tour of England after he had circularised English north union clubs about prospects. Known as the famous “All Gold” team, it contained a number of the 1905 All Blacks. It played 35 matches in England, winning 19 and drawing two. Considering English league had been established for more than 12 years, the New Zealanders did very well, especially as they did not even know the rules of the game when they set out on the tour. On its way home the team played 13 matches in Australia, winning nine and drawing one. 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.
This tour and match established the game and by 1910 it was being played in Auckland, Taranaki, Rotorua, Nelson, Southland, Wanganui, Marlborough, Invercargill, Hawke's Bay, and South Auckland. Other Provinces joined the New Zealand League, which was formed in 1910. In that same year Auckland Rugby League was probably the first to start a regular competition. The Auckland League had a full season in 1912, with its headquarters at Eden Park. Today there are 10 affiliated leagues – Auckland, Canterbury, West Coast, Wellington, Otago, Bay of Plenty, Northland, Manawatu, Waikato, and Taranaki. Each league caters for schoolboys, junior, and senior sides. Manawatu, Northland, Otago, and Bay of Plenty are minor leagues.
New Zealand reached the ultimate in rugby league during the 1961–63 era when in 10 test matches it won seven, including a 2–0 series win over Great Britain, regarded as being the top league nation in the world. Not since the period from 1948 to 1951, when this country was unbeaten in any test series, has New Zealand league ridden so high. During the latter period New Zealand teams won six of their nine tests. The most outstanding performance by the New Zealanders was their record-breaking 19–0 win over Britain in 1962. It was only the second time a British team failed to score points, the other occasion being a 0–0 draw with Australia in 1930.
Leading players in the code include Desmond White, who played at fullback for New Zealand from 1950 till 1956. He holds the world record for the most goals in a test – 11 in the second test against Australia in 1952, which New Zealand won 49–25; and Tom Hadfield, winger, the most prolific try scorer New Zealand league has produced. He played in 17 tests from 1956 to 1961 and during that time scored 15 tries, five more than any other player in New Zealand test league history.
Rugby league has made great advances since the last 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. Strong provinces before the war, they are only now making good progress. The innovation of a £1,000 national club tournament – a gesture by a tobacco company – has again stimulated interest. The Northern Union Cup, symbol of provincial supremacy, came back into prominence in 1962, when Canterbury beat Auckland after the latter had had a monopoly of the cup for several seasons.
Record of cup play since 1957:
|1957||Auckland beat Canterbury, 20–8|
|1958||Auckland beat West Coast, 16–12|
|Auckland beat Canterbury, 36–15|
|Auckland beat West Coast, 31–8|
|Auckland beat Wellington, 60–10|
|1959||Auckland beat Canterbury, 48–5|
|1960||West Coast beat Auckland, 22–18|
|Auckland beat West Coast, 8–2|
|Auckland beat Canterbury, 19–4|
|1961||Auckland beat Canterbury, 38–4|
|Auckland beat West Coast, 16–7|
|1962||Canterbury beat Auckland, 16–13|
|West Coast beat Canterbury, 6–4|
|1963||Canterbury beat West Coast, 38–9|
|Canterbury drew with Auckland, 10–10|
|Canterbury beat Waikato, 15–0|
|Canterbury beat Otago, 53–0|
|Canterbury beat West Coast, 7–5|
|1964||Auckland beat Canterbury, 13–7|
|1965||Auckland beat Canterbury, 23–0|
|Auckland beat Wellington, 19–2|
|Auckland beat Canterbury, 8–6|
|Auckland beat Waikato, 44–2|