Centenary of Rugby League

Rugby league, which turned 100 years old in 1995, had its origin in the industrial north of England however it has made most progress in its two Southern Hemisphere strongholds, New Zealand and Australia, where the competition attracts huge crowds and television audiences creating a frenzied atmosphere.

Issue information

Rugby league had its beginnings in Huddersfield on 29 August 1895 when 22 rebellious Yorkshire and Lancashire rugby union clubs in England's industrial north held a meeting in Huddersfield and voted to quit the English Rugby Football Union (RFU) and form their own organisation (the Northern Union). Their dissatisfaction stemmed from the RFU's refusal to allow players to be compensated financially for taking time off work to play rugby. It was not long before a new brand of rugby developed. League was on its way. New rules emerged, speeding up the game and making it more open. Out went lineouts, play-the-ball restarts were introduced and, in 1906, teams were reduced from 15 to 13 players. League also became professional.

The 'All Golds'

Rugby league in New Zealand grew out of the original rugby union All Blacks tour of Britain in 1905-6. Some of the touring New Zealanders watched the league, were impressed with the new game became converts.

One of these All Blacks, a fleet-footed winger named George Smith, returned home and quickly teamed up with keen young sportsman and budding entrepreneur Albert Baskerville, to form New Zealand's first rugby league side. Including many former All Blacks and dubbed the 'All Golds' because of its semi-professionalism, the team embarked on a tour of Britain in 1907-8 without having played a single game in New Zealand.

The tour was a success. The All Golds won 19 of  their 35 games including the test series against Great Britain which was won 2 - 1. On the way home the All Golds also captured two of three tests against Australia. On their return, the All Golds made up most of the two teams that squared off in what was the first league match ever held in this country. It took place in Wellington on 13 June 1908 before a crowd of around 7,000. The name All Golds has long been consigned to history but today's 'Kiwis' continue the tradition begun in the early 1900's.

Rugby League Explosion

Rugby league's development was gradual in New Zealand over the first half of the twentieth century. Since the 1960's however, it has made undoubted inroads into rugby union's dominance. Television helped generate interest inthe fast-paced, bruising game. Test matches involving the national Kiwis team started to draw large audiences in living rooms all over the country.

The popularity wave gathered force in the late 1980's when Australia's tough Winfield Cup competition and State of Origin series became regular television fare in this country. Then, in this centenary year, a New Zealand team, the Auckland Warriors, joined the expanded Australian competition, immediately lifting league in New Zealand to a higher plateau. A sellout crowd of 30,000 watched the Warriors' explosive debut match against the Brisbane Broncos at the Ericsson Stadium and it seemed the entire country saw the encounter on television. Although they are based in Auckaland, the Warriors do attract national attention.

All the hype and excitement at the high performance end of the sport is supported by a solid foundation. A domestic national club competition was launched in 1994, and growth at junior levels is constant.

The celebrations the marked rugby league's centenary climaxed in October 1995 with a 10 nation World Cup tournament in England and Wales.

New Zealand Post said 'Happy Hundreth' to the sport with this special issue of rugby league stamps. This set reflected the history, dynamism and widespread popularity of the sport that was created around the mines and mills of north England 100 years ago.

Trans-Tasman Booklet Stamp

This booklet was only produced in a single hangsell format. Strips of five standard booklets were not available. The booklet was guillotined top and bottom rather than perforated, due to the booklet production process.

Miniature Sheet 

The miniature sheet, incorporating the $1.80 stamp, saluted rugby league's centenery with a fascinating montage of the sport's memorabilia. The stamp was surrounded by memorabilia of the game - jerseys, an old tasselled cap, photographs, old newspaper reports and programmes were all featured in this 'museum piece'. Also featured prominently was a view of Carlaw Park, in Auckland, historically and affectionatly regarded as the home of rugby league in New Zealand.

Limited Edition

A special imperforate miniature sheet was produced for inclusion in a limited edition collectors pack. This sheet had the same design as the standard $1.80 miniature sheet.

Product Listing for Centenary of Rugby League

Click on image to enlarge.

Image Title Description Price
Single Stamp

Single 45c 'Club Rugby League' gummed stamp.

Over the years, the New Zealand Rugby League tried various formats for its domestic competition, but none achieved lasting success. That all changed in 1994 with the arrival of the Lion Red Cup National Club competition. This 12-team competition gave New Zealand a rugby league showcase that compared with Australia's Winfield Cup and Britain's First Division Championship. Inaugural teams were Auckland, Bay of Plenty, Canterbury, Christchurch, Counties-Manukau, Hawke's Bay, Hutt Valley, North Harbour, Taranaki, Waikato, Waitakere and Wellington. At the conclusion of that first season, the championship honours went to North Harbour who won the first grand final at Carlaw Park, Auckland on 25 September 1994.

$0.45
Single Stamp

Single 45c 'Trans-Tasman Booklet Stamp' gummed stamp.

The rugby league matches that arouse the most interest and passion in New Zealand are without a doubt the Tests played against Australia. The Trans-Tasman league rivalry between the Kiwis and the Kangaroos, as the Australian side is called, goes back to 1908 when the All Golds, on their way home from Britain, triumphed in a three-test series against a fledgling Australian side. Since then countless games have been played against the Kangaroos. The Australians, current World Cup holders in 1995, had by far the best record in these encounters. But there have been enough upset victories by inspired Kiwi teams over the years to make every one of those games an eagerly anticipated event.

$0.45
Single Stamp

Single $1.00 'Mini League' gummed stamp.

Mini League was created in response to the quickly growing popularity of league among primary school children - just one result of the game's enhanced television exposure. This version of the game is modified and enables seven to nine year olds to develop at their own pace. Mini League is also part of the Hillary Commission's KiwiSport programme which aims at attracting greater numbers to sport by heavily emphasising the 'fun' aspect. Mod League, a step up from Mini League, is designed for 10-12 year olds.

$1.00
Single Stamp

Single $1.50 'Early Rugby League' gummed stamp.

Rugby league's earliest pioneers, George Smith (pictured on the left) and Albert Baskerville, were honoured on this stamp. Together, the pair were instumental in organising New Zealand's first league team, the All Golds, for the ground-breaking tour of Britain and Australia in 1907-8. Their involvement is also a story of sacrifice. Smith, a young entrepreneur, was a 1905 All Black before he turned to league, closely followed English league developments. He recieved a lifetime ban from rugby union for changing codes. Baskerville was an administrator and part time player. He tragically died of pneumonia in Australia on the homeward leg of the tour. The first league game in New Zealand was played as a benefit for Baskerville's widowed mother.

$1.50
Single Stamp

Single $1.80 'International Rugby League' gummed stamp.

This stamp depicted New Zealand's national league squad, the Kiwis, in action against Great Britain in a World Cup game. Also featured was the symbol of international league supremacy, the Courtney Goodwill Trophy. This impressive award was presented to the sport in 1936 by keen Christchurch supporter Roy Courtney. His aim was for league to have its own World Cup and for goodwill to be fostered among the test-playing nations. The Cup, in New Zealand hands between 1960 and 1965, is now on permanent display in Sydney, Australia.

$1.80
Miniature Sheet Mint, used or cancelled miniature sheet. $1.80
First Day Cover First day cover with stamps affixed. Cancelled on the first day of issue. $5.45
Miniature Sheet First Day Cover First day cover with miniature sheet affixed. Cancelled on the first day of issue. $2.05
Booklet Booklet containing 10 x 45c gummed stamps. $4.50
Presentation Pack Presentation pack containing a selection of stamp products from the issue and further information on the theme of the stamps. $8.50
Limited Edition Limited edition collectable containing exclusive stamp products not available anywhere else. $135.00

Technical information

Date of issue:  26 July 1995
Stamps, first day cover and miniature sheet designed by: Heather Arnold, Auckland, New Zealand
Number of stamps: Five (including booklet)
Denominations and designs: 45c Club Rugby League, $1.00 Mini League, $1.50 Early Rugby League, $1.80 International Rugby League, 45c Trans-Tasman Booklet Stamp; Miniature sheet incorporates $1.80 International Rugby League stamp
Printer and process: Stamps and miniature sheet: Joh Enschedé, Netherlands by lithography; Booklet stamps: Southern Colour Print, Dunedin, New Zealand by lithography
Stamp size and format: Stamps: 39.15mm x 28mm (horizontal); Booklet stamps: 30mm x 25mm (horizontal)
Miniature sheet size and format: 24mm x 99mm (horizontal)
Number of stamps per sheet: Stamps: 100; Booklet: 10
Perforation gauge: Stamps: 14.25 x 13.75; Booklet stamps: 12 x 12
Paper type: Stamps: unwatermarked phosphorus coated paper; Booklet stamps: Harrison phosphor coated paper
Cost of unaddressed first day cover with stamps: $5.45
Cost of unaddressed first day cover with miniature sheet: $2.05
Special blocks: Stamps: Plate/imprint, positional or value blocks could be obtained by purchasing at least six stamps. Booklet stamps: The stamps were not available in sheet form, therefore no plate/imprint, positional, value or barcode blocks were available for this booklet.
Period of sale: These stamps remained on sale until 25 July 1996.