A history of Australia's national Rugby League
The National Rugby League of Australia is acknowledged as one of the toughest and highest quality leagues in world sport, never mind being the toughest competition in rugby league. Formed from the ashes of the so-called 'Super League wars' of the mid-1990s, which saw rugby league shaken to its core in Europe as well as Australia.
The league succeeded to the state rugby league competitions which have run in various forms in Australia since 1908, when the Sydney competition began. The NRL itself was established in 1997, building on the expansion of the New South Wales competition into a truly nationwide league, the Australian Rugby League (ARL) in the late 1980s.
The introduction of pay television to Australia had made the prospect of such a league even more attractive to certain broadcasters. Rupert Murdoch's News Limited poached some of the ARL's clubs and formed a Super League of their own, which ran alongside the ARL for a year in 1996. The variable quality of the games on offer to the public and the subsequent reduction in sponsorship revenues led to a resolution in 1997.
The dispute, which had essentially begun as a dispute over broadcasting rights, ended with the establishment of a new 20-team league.
There were victims though, with several clubs ceasing to exist. The Perth Reds were bankrupt, while the South Queensland Crushers, Adelaide Rams and Gold Coast Chargers were also closed. This would prefigure some the club mergers which were to follow a couple of years later.
The league became a 14-team competition in 2000, and many clubs released new logos and changed their names. Other teams, such as Balmain and Western Suburbs, merged. This rationalisation process alienated some fans and there were protests at the exclusion of South Sydney from the competition. They were re-admitted in 2002.
The NRL continued to enjoy expanding crowds well into the first decade of the new century, and crowd attendance records were broken for three years running, in 2003, 2004 and 2005. By 2007, the league had expanded again, to 16 teams, with an expansion franchise returning to the Gold Coast in the shape of the Titans.
With talk of further expansion on the table, both elsewhere in Australia and from other countries in the Pacific, with Fiji and Papua New Guinea as well as the city of Wellington in New Zealand being considered as potential host cities, the NRL looks set to continue its rise in the years to come.