Rugby Football League
Rugby Football League logo
Founded29 August 1895
Formerly namedNorthern Rugby Football Union (1895–1922)
IRL affiliation1948
RLEF affiliation2003[1]
HeadquartersLeeds, United Kingdom
Key peopleClare Balding (President)
Ralph Rimmer (Chief Executive)
CompetitionsSuper League
League 1
Rugby League Conference
Challenge Cup
1895 Cup
World Club Challenge
As of 30 June 2009

The Rugby Football League is the governing body for professional rugby league in England.[2] The name Rugby Football League previously also referred to the main league competition run by the organisation. This has since been supplanted by Super League, the Championship and League 1.

Based at Red Hall in Leeds, it administers the England national rugby league team, the Challenge Cup, Super League and the Rugby League Championships. The social and junior game is administered in association with the British Amateur Rugby League Association (BARLA). The Rugby Football League is a member of the Rugby League European Federation and as a senior Full Member has a combined veto power over the Council with France. The RFL is part of the Community Board, which also has representatives from BARLA, Combined Services, English Schools Rugby League and Student Rugby League. Clare Balding took over as the president in July 2020, taking over from Tony Adams.

Established as the Northern Rugby Football Union (often shortened to Northern Union) in August 1895 by representatives of twenty-one Rugby Football Union clubs at a meeting at the George Hotel, Huddersfield, it changed its name in 1922 to the Rugby Football League,[3] mirroring its sister organisations overseas, the Australian Rugby Football League and New Zealand Rugby Football League.

The turnover of the RFL was reported as £27 million in 2011.[4][5]


See also: History of rugby league

On Tuesday 27 August 1895, as a result of an emergency meeting in Manchester, prominent Lancashire rugby clubs Broughton Rangers, Leigh, Oldham, Rochdale Hornets, St Helens, Tyldesley, Warrington, Widnes and Wigan declared that they would support their Yorkshire colleagues in their proposal to form a Northern Union.

Two days later, on Thursday 29 August 1895, representatives of 21 clubs met in the George Hotel, Huddersfield to form the "Northern Rugby Football Union" (usually termed Northern Union or NU). Twenty clubs agreed to resign from the Rugby Football Union, but Dewsbury felt unable to comply with the decision. The Cheshire club, Stockport, had telegraphed the meeting requesting admission to the new organisation and was duly accepted with a second Cheshire club, Runcorn, admitted at the next meeting.

The 22 clubs and their years of foundation were:

See also: List of rugby league clubs in Britain

RFL Founding Clubs
Colors Club Established City/Town
Batley colours.svg
Batley 1880 Batley, West Yorkshire
Bradford F.C. 1863 Bradford, West Yorkshire
Brighouse Rangers 1873 Brighouse, West Yorkshire
Cronulla colours.svg
Broughton Rangers 1877 Broughton, Lancashire
Halifax 1873 Halifax, West Yorkshire
Huddersfield 1864 Huddersfield, West Yorkshire
Hull F.C. 1865 Hull, East Riding of Yorkshire
Hunslet 1883 Leeds, West Yorkshire
Leeds 1870 Leeds, West Yorkshire
Leigh colours.svg
Leigh 1878 Leigh, Lancashire
Liversedge RFC 1877 Liversedge, West Yorkshire
Brisbane colours.svg
Manningham 1876 Bradford, West Yorkshire
Oldham 1876 Oldham, Lancashire
Rochdale colours.svg
Rochdale Hornets 1871 Rochdale, Lancashire
Runcorn RFC 1895 Runcorn, Cheshire
St Helens 1873 St. Helens, Lancashire
Stockport RFC 1884 Stockport, Cheshire
Tyldesley FC 1879 Tyldesley, Lancashire
Wakefield Trinity 1873 Wakefield, West Yorkshire
Warrington 1876 Warrington, Cheshire
Widnes colours.svg
Widnes 1875 Widnes, Lancashire
Wigan 1872 Wigan, Lancashire
The Northern Rugby Football Union Challenge Cup 1896
The Northern Rugby Football Union Challenge Cup 1896

In 1908 the Northern Union's brand of rugby was taken up in Australia and New Zealand. The Union hosted touring sides from both countries before assembling a Great Britain representative team for a 1910 tour of Australia and New Zealand. These nations, particularly Australia, would go on to excel in the sport and gain significant influence over it over the following century.

The British Amateur Rugby League Association (BARLA) was created in 1973 in Huddersfield by a group of enthusiasts concerned about the dramatic disappearance of many amateur leagues and clubs. Fewer than 150 amateur teams remained with a mere 30 youth rugby league teams. The 'breakaway' from the RFL was acrimonious and was strongly contested, with a vote 29–1 against recognising BARLA. Thanks to Tom Mitchell, this changed to a unanimous vote of approval for BARLA within 12 months.

Maurice Lindsay became the Chief Executive of the RFL in 1992, proposing the Super League, which replaced Championship as the sport's premier league competition from 1996 onwards. Lindsay returned to Wigan in 1999 for his second stint at the club after Sir Rodney Walker, then chairman of the RFL, sacked him after a campaign to unseat him failed.[6]

The RFL accumulated losses of £1.9 million at the end of 2001, shortly before a major restructuring of the governing body and the appointment of Richard Lewis as executive chairman in May 2002.[7] Within a year of joining the RFL, he oversaw reunification with BARLA after nearly 30 years of division.[8] Lewis left in 2012 to become Chief Executive of the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club.[9] The RFL net value has been positive every year since 2004, being £1.7 million in 2011.[4]

In 2011 a major change to the game was agreed, changing from a winter to a summer game, starting in 2012 with a playing season from March to November, aligning with the Super League, which has played this way since 1996. The regional leagues may include winter competitions in addition.[4]

In 2012, the Rugby Football League were awarded the Stonewall Sport Award in recognition of their work in embracing inclusivity and tackling homophobia.[10] They also became the first UK sporting organisation to make the top 100 employers in the Stonewall Index that measures attitudes towards lesbian, gay and bisexual staff.[11]

Prince Harry, Duke of Sussex served as patron until February 2021.[12]


Main article: British rugby league system

The RFL operates a five-tier system and is responsible for running the top three professional divisions as well as the National Conference League and various regional leagues below that. The RFL also runs two cup competitions for professional clubs and is involved with the organization of the World Club Challenge and World Club Series.

RFL Leagues
Name Tier Established Latest Winners
Super League 1 1996
St Helens
Championship 2 2003
New Zealand Kiwis colours.svg
Toronto Wolfpack
League 1 3 2003
Haven colours.svg
RFL Domestic Cups
Name Established Winners
Challenge Cup 1896
Leeds Rhinos
League 1 Cup 2015
Barrow Raiders
RFL International Cup
Name Established Winners
World Club Challenge 1976
Eastern Suburbs colours.svg
Sydney Roosters


English national team

Main article: England national rugby league team

The England national rugby league team represent England in international rugby league football tournaments. The team has now seen a revival, having largely formed from the Great Britain team, who also represented Wales, Scotland and Ireland. The team is run under the auspices of the Rugby Football League. As of 2008, the team now participates in all World Cups, Four Nations, and Test matches.[13]

The team dates back to 1904 when they played against a mixture of Welsh and Scottish players in Wigan.[14] Since then, and right up until the 1950s, they regularly toured Australia and New Zealand and played both home and away matches against neighbours Wales and France. But when it was decided that Great Britain would tour the Southern Hemisphere instead of England, France and Wales became the only regular opponents. Even then though, there are some long periods where England barely played any matches. Their first appearance in the Rugby League World Cup was in 1975, and since then they have become runners-up in 1975 and 1995, the latter tournament being held in England. In 2008 they competed in the 2008 World Cup in Australia. For many years England also competed in the European Nations Cup and in 2006, an England 'A' team, competed for the Federation Shield. In the past England's main rivals have been Wales and France, with the rivalry stretching back to 1908 and 1934 respectively. However, England's main rivals would now be Australia, New Zealand and, to a lesser extent, France.

Traditionally a predominantly white kit is worn including white shorts and socks. However the shirt usually features some form of red, like red stripes, crosses or chevrons. These colours are similar to other English sporting teams and are the colours used on the national flag. In 2008 a new kit was introduced featuring a red cross on the front and red strips down the sides of the shirt, shorts and socks were white too with red strips.[15] Also in 2008 the Rugby Football League chose to abandon the traditional English lion on the badge in favour of a much simpler shield and cross design,[16] nevertheless the team will still be known as "The Lions".

Currently the team is ranked third in the world, behind Australia and New Zealand. Steve McNamara became head coach leaving Bradford to take the national job and Sean O'Loughlin is the current captain.

Great Britain national team

Main article: Great Britain national rugby league team

The Great Britain national rugby league team represents Great Britain in rugby league football. Administered by the Rugby Football League (RFL), the team is nicknamed the "Great Britain Lions", or simply "The Lions".

For most of the 20th century the Great Britain team was assembled to go on tours overseas, and to play against foreign touring teams, as well as competing in Rugby League World Cup tournaments. They were one of the strongest teams in rugby league, though usually playing second fiddle to Australia. They won the Rugby League World Cup on three occasions: 1954, 1960 and 1972.

Since 1995 the RFL have pretended to send the home nations as separate teams for World Cup purposes. Great Britain continued to compete as a test playing nation both home and away. They competed against Australia for the Ashes, and New Zealand for the Baskerville Shield, as well the Tri-Nations series with both Australia and New Zealand. Great Britain also played in series and tours against other nations such as France, Papua New Guinea and Fiji.

In 2006, the RFL announced that after the 2007 All Golds Tour[17] the Great Britain team would no longer compete on a regular basis, and that players would be able to represent England, Wales and Scotland at Test level. It is planned that the Great Britain team will come together in future only for occasional tours, similar to the British and Irish Lions in rugby union.

Board of directors

The RFL board consists of the following:

Member Position Notes
Brian Barwick Chairman Former chief executive of the FA.[18]
Ralph Rimming Chief Executive Officer Former CEO of the Huddersfield Giants
Maurice Watkins, CBE Senior Non-Executive Director Sports lawyer from Brabner Chaffe Street in Manchester and a former director of Manchester United.
Clare Foster Non-Executive Director Current Chair of Welcome to Yorkshire.

Young People's Advisory Panel

The RFL launched the Young People's Advisory Panel in 2010, a group consisting of young people aged 16–25 from across England. The national panel meet at least three times a year at the RFL's Red Hall headquarters to discuss and debate the following:

Two nominated members will also sit on the youth & junior forum, a key device used to advance youth rugby league.[19][20]


Tenure Name Club
1988–1989 Les Bettinson Salford
1989–1990 S. Ackroyd Halifax
1990–1991 Harry Jepson OBE Leeds
1991–1992 Maurice Lindsay Wigan
1992–1993 Colin Hutton Hull Kingston Rovers
1993–1994 R. Waudby Hull F.C.
1994–1995 R. Teeman Bramley
1995–1996 Kath Hetherington Sheffield Eagles
1997 W.J. Mason Hunslet
1998–1999 T. Smith Widnes
1999–2000 W. Garrett Warrington
2000–2001 Ralph Calvin Whitehaven[21]
2001–2002 M. White Swinton
2002–2003 R. Taylor Rochdale Hornets
2003–2004 T. Fleet Widnes
2004–2005 Gary Hetherington Leeds
2005–2006 P. Hindle Castleford
2006–2007 S. Wagner Featherstone Rovers
2007–2008 G. Liles Hunslet
2008–2009 K. Nicholas Batley
2009–2010 Chris Hamilton Oldham
2010–2011 Bev Risman OBE
2011–2012 J. Whaling
2012–2013 J. Hartley
2013–2014 David Oxley CBE
2015–2016 Andrew Farrow
2016–2018 Air Commodore Dean Andrew OBE United Kingdom Armed Forces
2018–2019 Andy Burnham Mayor of Greater Manchester
2019–2020 Tony Adams Sporting Chance Clinic
2020- Clare Balding


Red Hall, RFL HQ
Red Hall, RFL HQ

The RFL moved into permanent headquarters in 1922 at 180 Chapeltown Road, Leeds, where it stayed for 73 years before leaving in 1995 to its current HQ at Red Hall in Leeds, a Grade II listed brick building dating from 1642.[22][23]

In 2015, some departments including Super League, moved to offices at Quay West in Trafford Wharf, Greater Manchester.[24]

See also


  1. ^ RLEF. "Overview". RLEF. Archived from the original on 6 August 2010. Retrieved 2009-06-30.
  2. ^ "RLIF Confederations". Archived from the original on 13 January 2012. Retrieved 27 August 2011.
  3. ^ "The History Of Rugby League". Rugby League Information. Retrieved 2 January 2014.
  4. ^ a b c 2011 RFL Annual Report
  5. ^ BBC Sport – Rugby Football League announces record turnover of £29m. (2012-07-18). Retrieved on 2013-08-20.
  6. ^ "League's cease-fire is over as superpowers prepare for War". Dave Hadfield, The Independent. 29 January 1998. Retrieved 30 August 2007.[dead link]
  7. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 5 June 2011. Retrieved 2008-07-04.((cite web)): CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  8. ^ "Multi-tasking Lewis a southerner happy to work at northern union". The Guardian. 1 June 2007.
  9. ^ The board of directors (retrieved 23 Dec 2012)
  10. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 26 January 2013. Retrieved 18 September 2015.((cite web)): CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  11. ^ Wilson, Andy (12 January 2011). "RFL is named among top 100 employers in Stonewall Index". The Guardian.
  12. ^ "Harry and Meghan not returning as working members of Royal Family". BBC. 19 February 2021. Retrieved 19 February 2021.
  13. ^ The Rugby Football League – Brand England Launched Archived 27 August 2009 at the Wayback Machine Retrieved on 24 May 2008.
  14. ^ RL1895 – The First International Archived 4 February 2012 at Retrieved on 6 June 2008.
  15. ^ England Official Website – New Shirt Launched Archived 11 February 2012 at the Wayback Machine Retrieved on 18 June 2008.
  16. ^ England Official Website – New Logo Archived 11 February 2012 at the Wayback Machine Retrieved on 18 June 2008.
  17. ^ Sporting Life Archived 10 February 2012 at the Wayback Machine
  18. ^ "RFL appoints ex-FA boss Brian Barwick as chairman". BBC Sport. 30 January 2013. Retrieved 30 January 2013.
  19. ^ "Midlands Rugby League". Midlands Rugby League. 12 July 2010. Retrieved 15 November 2011.[dead link]
  20. ^ "London Broncos Rugby League". 20 October 2011. Retrieved 15 November 2011.[dead link]
  21. ^ Irving, A (1 March 2007). "Ralph handles league's hot seats". News & Star. Archived from the original on 4 October 2012. Retrieved 7 September 2011.
  22. ^ British Listed Buildings
  23. ^ RFL: The History of Red Hall (Sep 2012)
  24. ^ "Place North West | RFL relocates from Leeds". Place North West. 10 February 2015. Retrieved 22 January 2018.