Beginnings of Rugby League
The modern football codes of soccer, gridiron, rugby and rugby league all evolved from the ball games being played in England's top private schools in the early nineteenth century.
As imagined by Adrian McGregor:
Legend has it that in 1823, at Rugby School, one William Webb Ellis, "with a fine disregard for the rules", picked up the ball and ran with it. The controversy wasn't in picking up the ball, but that he ran with it rather than stopping and kicking it. This eventuated in there being two different school games by the mid nineteenth century - Rugby's running game and the "dribbling" game of Eton. There was controversy in the Universities when students originating from Rugby School would continually handle the ball. This led to the "Cambridge Rules" in 1846 which banned handling the ball. These were the rules adopted by the Football Association in 1863, the original rules of soccer.
In 1871 clubs that had adopted Rugby School's handling game formed the English Rugby Union and established their own set of rules which included the original concept of the "try".
In 1875 teams were reduced to 15 a side, in 1880 passing the ball was legalised and in 1882 an offside rule was introduced.
Rugby was originally for the well to do but this began to change with the growth of Northern English clubs in the 1870s.
In the North the strict amateurism of the game came under pressure with a call from players for payments to compensate for lost wages or 'broken time'. The Rugby officialdom in the South were completely inflexible on this issue and the Northern clubs in the end had little choice but to form their own break away 'Northern Union'. The Northern Rugby Football Union was founded at a meeting in the George Hotel in Huddersfield on 29 August 1895.
The George Hotel, Huddersfield
The Northern Union established the principle of payments for broken time only, and the clubs involved resigned from Rugby Football Union. The Northern Union later became known as 'rugby league'.There were significant rule changes introduced by the Northern Union between 1895 and 1907 including banning the 'knock on', abolishing the lineout, reducing the number of players to 13 and introducing the 'play-the-ball'.
Early Northern Union match
Thus, the game recognisable as Rugby League was already in existence in Northern England when the time was ripe for the formation of the New South Wales Rugby League in August 1907.