History of the Rugby League World Cup

Last Updated: 16/10/13 8:27am

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New Zealand are the reigning holders of the World Cup after upsetting Australia in the 2008 final

New Zealand are the reigning holders of the World Cup after upsetting Australia in the 2008 final

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We look back from at the history of the Rugby League World Cup. Australia are the dominant nation, winning nine of the 13 tournaments.

There have been 14 Rugby League World Cups since the inaugural tournament in 1954. The competition was an initiative of the French, who had been campaigning for the competition since 1935. Australia have been the most successful team in the tournament's history with nine triumphs, while Great Britain have won three and New Zealand one (the most recent in 2008).

Great Britain in action against France in the Rugby League World Cup in Sydney back in 1957

Early years

Great Britain won the first-ever tournament in 1954 and also had further success down the road (1960 and 1972). Australia, however, won three of the first five (1957, 1968 and 1970). Britain's triumph in 1972 was their last in the competition. Australia won the next six over a period of 25 years until New Zealand ended their dominance in 2008. In 1985 the format of the competition changed with the games being stretched over a three-year period (1985-88). Australia toppled rivals New Zealand 25-12 in the final in October 1988.

Steve Renouf scored the only try of the game as Australia beat Great Britain at Wembley in 1992


The 1989-1992 Rugby League World Cup was the tenth staging of the tournament, and continued to use the three-year format. Once again teams played each other home and away. These matches were fitted into the normal international programme of three-match Test series between the nations, with a pre-designated match from each series counting as the World Cup fixture. Australia's unbeaten start meant they qualified for the final in 1991 leaving a straight fight between New Zealand and Great Britain for the right to face the Kangaroos. In the end Britain edged out the Kiwis on points difference to ensure a Wembley appearance. The final was a surprisingly close affair, Great Britain leading with only 12 minutes to go. The game's only try was then scored by Steve Renouf meaning success for Australia in front of a World Cup record crowd of 73,631.

A familiar story for Australia as they better England in the 1995 final, securing a 16-8 win at Wembley


It was the first time since the 1975 World Series Great Britain team was split into England and Wales. Fiji, South Africa, Tonga and Western Samoa all made their World Cup debuts. England reached their second World Cup final, but sadly for Phil Larder's men it ended with the same result - defeat to Australia. The hosts were given a real fright by Wales at Old Trafford in the semi-finals before eventually booking their place at Wembley courtesy of a 25-10 success.

Australia did not even pick their strongest squad for the tournament after Super League-aligned players were snubbed due to the ARL's selection policy. That meant that the likes of Laurie Daley, Allan Langer, Andrew Ettingshausen, Steve Renouf, Steve Walters and Glenn Lazarus all missed out.

Kangaroos coach Bob Fulton named young Newcastle half-back Andrew Johns as the team hooker, and indeed he packed into the scrums. Like in the semi against NZ, Johns played at half-back in general play with Geoff Toovey having the dummy-half duties. The ploy worked with Johns named man-of-the-match in the final, as well as kicking four goals. Paul Newlove scored England's only try.

Wendell Sailor stole the headlines with two great tries in Australia's 2000 World Cup final success over the Kiwis


Australia were crowned world champions for a sixth successive time after overcoming the brave challenge of New Zealand in Manchester. In an epic final at Old Trafford, the Kangaroos showed true class in seeing off their fierce rivals, who had been tipped to cause an upset. Winger Wendell Sailor stole the headlines with two great tries, but Mat Rogers had an almost faultless afternoon with the boot as Chris Anderson's side ran out 40-12 winners.

England were beaten by Australia in the Group Stage, they toppled Ireland in the quarter-finals before suffering an embarrassing 49-6 loss to New Zealand in the semis at Bolton's Reebok Stadium. It was England's biggest defeat in the team's history.

Australia left dejected following their surprise defeat to the Kiwis at Suncorp Stadium in Brisbane


Australia entered the 2008 World Cup on the back of six straight successes and were the clear favourites to win even more silverware on home soil. The hosts coasted through the Group Stages conceding just 16 points from their three matches, including a 30-6 triumph over New Zealand. England stuttered through Group A before being eliminated by the Kiwis, who upset the odds and stunned Australia in the final at Lang Park. Tries from legend Darren Lockyer and David Williams put Australia in control at 10-0 up. Scores from Jeremy Smith and Jerome Ropati put New Zealand in front, but Lockyer's second of the game restored parity.

Lance Hohaia's close-range effort put the visitors back in front before the unthinkable happened in the 60th minute. Full-back Billy Slater was going into touch and inexplicably tossed the ball behind him in an attempt to retain possession, but it only served to allow Benji Marshall the chance to collect the loose ball and touch down. Greg Inglis reduced the arrears from Lockyer's long pass, but the Kiwis finished in the ascendancy. Nathan Fien's grubber kick bounced awkwardly for Joel Monaghan who tackled Lance Hohaia without the ball over the try line giving New Zealand a penalty try. The Kiwis added the icing on the cake with five minutes left when Adam Blair touched down following a scrappy period of play.

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