Make your own free website on

 Home About Links Results Players Historical Articles Bibliography

Origins of Rugby League in Australia

If you travelled in a tram down George Street Sydney in 1932 you would have passed a site as sacred to Australian Rugby League followers as the George Hotel in Huddersfield is to the English fans. A pub then called Bateman's Hotel, and more recently known as the Tatler, is where Rugby League in Australia was founded on 8 August 1907.

Rugby Union had been played in Sydney since the 1860's and both soccer and Australian Rules Football since 1880. But by the early 1900s Rugby Union was by far the most popular football code in New South Wales.

However Rugby Union remained strictly amateur and, as in the North of England ten years earlier, there was much discontent among working class Rugby players over the issue of compensation. None of the proceeds from large gate takings went to the players - not even to cover the medical costs related to serious injuries caused in the game.

This issue came to a head in the 1907 season - Rugby's "Winter of Discontent". Interest had arisen in both Australia and New Zealand in the "Northern Union" breakaway game in the North of England. In New Zealand Albert Baskerville began signing up Rugby Union players for a planned professional Rugby trip to Europe. That tour was later changed to a tour to Sydney in August after the formation of the NSW Rugby League. Because the players were paid they were disparagingly referred to as the "All Gplds" rather than All Blacks.

Meanwhile the drive for a breakaway code with player payments was growing in Sydney led by Jim J Giltinan, Henry Hoyle, Victor Trumper, Peter Moir, Alex Burdon, Jack Feneley and Jim Moir. By July 1907 ".. the murmurs of discontent in rugby circles was becoming a roar. Players muttered about having to pay for outfits, boots and travelling expenses, and sometimes even having to pay the trainer for each rubdown while large crowds poured thousands of pounds into the maw of the Rugby Union. ... and if injured and forced to miss working days there was no compensation. This was a particular and deeply held grievance, and eventually the one that motivated the breakaway movement." [Heads 1992, page 22.]

Finally, at a highly secretive meeting at Bateman's Hotel on 8 August 1907 the NSW Rugby League was founded with Hoyle voted in as President, Giltinan as Secretary and Trumper as Treasurer. The Founding Fathers denied the breakaway league was "professional" but stated that the aim was to merely fairly compensate players for out of pocket expenses and time lost from work.

The first club formed was Glebe on 9 January 1908, followed soon after by Newtown, South Sydney, Balmain, Eastern Suburbs, Western Suburbs and North Sydney. The other two foundation clubs were the short lived clubs Cumberland and Newcastle. The first matches were played as double headers at two venues on Monday 20 April 1908. Easts v Newtown and Glebe v Newcastle at Wentworth Park, and Souths v Norths and Balmain v Wests at Birchgrove Oval.

Rugby League in Australia was off and running and as early as September 1908 there were rumours that a Manly side would be entering the 1909 competition. But it would be another 39 years before Manly would actually gain district status and join the big league.

Source: Heads 1992

English Beginnings
Origins of Rugby League at Manly

Trams and buggies trundle down George Street Sydney 1907.
Source: Heads 1992, page 8.

Dally Messenger passes the ball out to Dan Frawley
Source: Heads 1992, page 8.

Source: Heads 1992, page 60.