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100 years of rugby league: From the great divide to the Super era


29 August 1895: The George Hotel, Huddersfield: the Northern Rugby Union is founded, and rugby league is born.

29 April 1896: Manningham win the first League championship.

24 April 1897: first Challenge Cup final: Batley beat St Helens 10-3 at Headingley.

1901: James Lomas becomes first pounds 100 transfer, from Bramley to Salford.

8 August 1907: The New South Wales Rugby League is founded at Bateman's Hotel in George St, Sydney - the birth of the game in Australia

November 1921: First pounds 1,000 transfer fee takes winger Harold Buck from Hunslet to Leeds

Summer 1922: The name "Northern Union" is dropped. First annual conference of the Rugby Football League held at Keswick.

1929: First Wembley Challenge Cup Final: 41,600 fans sang "Abide With Me" before watching Wigan beat Dewsbury 13-2.

5 May 1954: A crowd of 120,000 watched the Challenge Cup Final replay at Odsal Stadium, Bradford - by far the biggest attendance at any rugby match of either code anywhere in the world.

17 December 1967: First professional Sunday matches.

1971-72: First sponsors enter the game - brewers Joshua Tetley and cigarette brand John Player.

1972-73: Six-tackle rule introduced; timekeeper's hooter first heard.

8 April 1995: Super League proposals accepted by club chairmen. Confusion ensues.

18 August 1995: Last traditional winter season begins - with a Wigan win, as usual.

Great teams

Hunslet 1907-08: clean sweep of all four trophies - Challenge Cup, Championship, County championship, County Challenge Cup.

Huddersfield 1909-15: "The team of all the Talents", winners of two Challenge Cups, three Championships, four Yorkshire Cups and four Yorkshire League titles. In 1915, 1,269 points for, 286 points against.

Swinton 1927-28: the last team to win "All Four Cups". In fact, they won five, acquiring the Salford Royal Hospital Cup, a pre-season charity trophy.

St George, probably the finest of all Australian club sides: 11 consecutive titles between 1955 and 1966.

The Fifteenth Kangaroos, Australia's unbeaten touring side of 1982, led by the manly Manly hooker, Max Krilich.

Wigan 1983-95: 37 trophies in 12 years, and absolute dominance of the domestic game.

Legendary players

Albert 'Rozzy" Rosenfeld (right), of Huddersfield and Australia: diminutive winger who toured England with the first Kangaroos in 1908, met a Huddersfield girl and stayed. Holder of the all-time single-season try-scoring record: 80 in 1913-14.

Jim Sullivan of Wigan, Wales and GB: an extraordinarily effective goal-kicker: 2,867 between 1921 and 1946, including 22 in one match for Wigan against Flimby & Fothergill. Also a Welsh baseball international.

Gus Risman of Salford, Workington, Batley, Wales and England: a master tactician who played 873 matches in a 25-year career. Captain of the 1946 "Indomitable" tourists in Australia, and later the father of a dynasty of rugby league players.

Brian Bevan of Warrington: a phenomenal, if unlikely, athlete, and a prodigious try-scorer, perhaps the deadliest winger in history. Scored at least a hat-trick of tries in a match 100 times, and was difficult to miss: bald head, bandaged knees, lurching gait, false teeth removed before play.

Billy Boston of Wigan, Wales and GB: picked for the 1954 Lions' tour to Australia at the age of 19 after only six rugby league matches. Scored his first 100 tries in only 68 matches, a record.

Wally Lewis of Fortitude Valley, Brisbane, Wakefield Trinity and Australia. Brilliant stand-off and typically anti-Pom Australian captain, inspirational leader of the unbeaten sixteenth Kangaroos.

Ellery Hanley of Bradford Northern, Wigan, Leeds and Great Britain. A magnificent athlete and both captain and coach for his country.

Memorable matches

The Rorke's Drift Test, 4 July 1914 at the SCG: Northern Union, reduced to nine fit players by injuries, still defeated Australia 14-6.

The "Battle of Brisbane", the first Test, 18 June 1932: Australia beat GB 13-6 in "the fiercest test match of all time".

France v Australia, first Test, 1951. France, having been written off and told to go home after their preliminary matches, beat Australia 26- 15 and went on to win the series 21-1.

"Prescott's Epic": the second Test between Australia and Great Britain, Brisbane Exhibition Ground 1958. Great Britain win 25-18 with a catalogue of injuries. The captain, Alan Prescott of St Helens, played all but the first three minutes of the game with a broken arm.

1985 Wigan-Hull Cup final: The most marvellous cup final in living memory. Hull fought back from having been 22-8 down just after half-time, but Wigan won 28-24 and have never looked back.

The third Test between Great Britain and Australia, 9 July 1988: Great Britain's first Test victory in Australia for 14 years, and the end of a 15-match winning run for the Australians.

Black moments

1888: Swinton's Bob Seddon, captain of the touring side, dies in a drowning accident in Australia.

1903: Manningham, the game's first champions, convert to soccer as Bradford City FC.

1909: The live marsupial mascot from which all subsequent Australian touring sides would derive their nickname passes away before the end of the first tour.

1927: New Zealand undertake the most diastrous tour in history, a chaotic circuit of England and Wales punctuated with rows, fights and rebellions and registering a hefty deficit for the New Zealand League.

1933-37: London Highfield, Acton & Willesden and Streatham & Mitcham, optimistic attempts to interest the London public in rugby league, fail to survive infancy.

1947: Wakefield centre Frank Townsend fatally injured in a match at Featherstone; Halifax's Hudson Irving dies from a heart attack while playing at Dewsbury.

1949: Halifax's David Craven dies after breaking his neck playing against Workington Town.

1954: The Lions match against New South Wales is abandoned after 56 minutes when the referee leaves the field in disgust at the players' persistent fighting.

1994: Bonnie Tyler (left) leads the community singing at the Challenge Cup Final.

Quote unquote

"Regrets are now in vain in dealing with the football split." Yorkshire Post, 9 September 1895.

"The fact is that football clubs now equal such a large expenditure that substantial 'gates' are a necessity if a club is to pay its way." Lancaster Guardian, 17 April 1897.

"We are having nothing but rain, snow, sleet and cold... why, you cannot feel your hands and feet and the referees are cruel, don't give us anything at all." James Giltinan, tour manager of the first Kangaroos, writes home in 1908.

"Of course, we shall hear that summer is the cricket season, but by what divine right was it allocated to cricketers?" Lance Todd, the Salford manager, advocating summer rugby - in July 1931.

"The Rugby League is only an infant, but it wants strangling." Judge W. Rowe Harding addresses the Welsh Rugby Union in 1950.

"In a very real sense it is now or never for Rugby League in the USA." David Oxley, Secretary of the RFL, October 1979.

"Londoners don't give a toss for the sport. We see rugby league as a game for ape-like creatures watched by gloomy men in cloth caps. And we always will." Michael Herd in the London Evening Standard, 5 August 1993.

"Supporters will see a better game in better surroundings, and the deal will see their sport receive a greater profile nationally and internationally." Rodney Walker, RL chairman, welcomes the Super League, 5 April 1995.