History of the NSWRL


NSW Rugby League
NSW Rugby League

The New South Wales Rugby League (NSWRL) is the governing body of rugby league in the state of New South Wales Australia. A member of the Australian Rugby League, they were formed in Sydney on 8 August 1907, and known as the New South Wales Rugby Football League (NSWRFL) until 1984. From 1908 to 1994, the NSWRL presided over Australia’s highest level of rugby league from their headquarters on Phillip Street, Sydney.

The introduction of rugby league into Australian culture began in 1907, and was made possible by the New South Wales Rugby Football League. Since then, a proud tradition has blossomed, with many great names and memorable occasions highlighting the growth of the organisation since those early days.

Originally formed as a result of player discontent with existing Rugby Union administration in New South Wales (specifically over the rejection of compensation payments for injuries and lost wages), resulted in the split. The new faction was championed by James Joseph Giltinan, well known cricketer Victor Trumper, Alex Burdon, Peter Moir, politician Henry Hoyle, George Brackenregg and Jack Fenely.

The first rugby league game played in New South Wales occurred on 17 August 1907. On this particular occasion, New Zealand defeated the New South Wales Rugby League team 12-8, and it wasn’t long after this that the Sydney premiership was started. 20 April 1908 saw the birth of the competition, and consisted of 9 teams in it’s inaugural season (listed below):

  • Balmain
  • Cumberland
  • Eastern Suburbs
  • Glebe
  • Newcastle
  • Newtown
  • North Sydney
  • Western Suburbs
  • South Sydney


It was decided that the success of the first season, meant the NSWRFL premiership should continue. 1929 saw Jersey Flegg appointed as president of the NSWRFL, and he eventually became the chairman of the Australian Rugby League Board of Control in 1941. He died aged 82 in 1960, and at this time was still serving in these roles.

He was replaced by Bill Buckley who also then became head of the Australian Rugby League, where he remained from 1960 until his death in 1973. At this time Kevin Humphreys was appointed President of New South Wales Rugby League (NSWRL), and he too became Chairman of Australian Rugby League (ARL). It was during Kevin Humphries tenure that State of Origin was introduced.

In 1983, Humphreys role was taken by Ken Arthurson. This was also the launchpad for NSWRL clubs to venture outside the borders of the state of NSW, and eventually the country. Finally, in 1994, after 87 consecutive premiership seasons, the NSWRL was replaced by the Australian Rugby League as club football’s governing body, however the NSWRL retains the administrative power over the New South Wales rugby league team.

The 1913 Eastern Suburbs Premiership Team
The 1913 Eastern Suburbs Premiership Team

The Prize

The New South Wales Rugby League (NSWRL)’s first premiership trophy was the Royal Agricultural Society Shield, or RAS Shield, was a hand crafted in silver & oak, and originally donated by the Royal Agricultural Society of New South Wales in the first year of competition. It was presented to the winning rugby league team each year, however it came with a special clause dictating that the first team to win 3 successive titles would have permanent ownership of the shield.

The J.J. Giltinan Shield
The J.J. Giltinan Shield

Eastern Suburbs eventually achieved this by winning premierships in 1911, 1912 and 1913. The team included some of the all-time rugby league greats, including Harry “Jersey” Flegg, Dally Messenger, and Sandy Pearce, however this feat would result in a rapid decline for the club and they would fail to win a premiership for another 9 seasons.

In 1951, the RAS Shield was replaced with a trophy that survives today as the honour awarded to both the minor premiers and the grand final winners of the National Rugby League competition. The J.J. Giltinan Shield was named after one of the original founders of the sport in Australia, and the first ever Kangaroo captain, James J Giltinan as a tribute to one of it’s greats who had died the previous year in 1950.

The Winfield Cup trophy will always hold a special place in the hearts of many fans, and remains a symbol of one of the game’s most successful eras.

The Winfield Cup
The Winfield Cup

Cast in bronze by Alan Ingham, it was introduced as part of the Winfield sponsorship in 1982. Based on John O’Gready’s famous photograph of Norm Provan and Arthur Summons after the 1963 Grand Final, the trophy represented the pinnacle of success for players in that Era. Many feel that this trophy, an important part of the games heritage, encompassed the finer things about Rugby League, particularly the enduring image of two gladiators showing the mateship that is instilled in Australian culture, even after battle.

State of Origin

In 1980, NSWRFL President Kevin Humphries, helped establish the very first State of Origin series between teams representing the NSWRFL and Queensland Rugby League (QRL). The series enjoyed immediate success, and remains the highest form of representative competition in Australia.

For more on this unforgettable, 3 game series held every year between the two fiercest of rivals, check out our overview of State of Origin right here.