Rugby league in Victoria

Rugby league football has been played and watched by people in the Australian state of Victoria since the early 20th century. While for most of its history there the game's popularity has been marginal due to Australian rules football's dominance in the southern state, rugby league's popularity has increased in recent years,[1] due mainly to the introduction of a professional Melbourne-based team in the national competition.[2]

Rugby league in Victoria
Melbourne tram in 2009 featuring Melbourne Storm advertising livery
Governing bodyVictorian Rugby League
Representative teamVictoria
First played1914, Melbourne
Registered players700 (total)
500 (adult), 200 (junior)
Club competitions
Audience records
Single match91,513 (2015). State of Origin - Queensland v New South Wales (MCG, Melbourne)

Professional clubs visited Victoria from New South Wales, but it was not until 1998 that the first professional club formed in Victoria, the Melbourne Storm, an expansion club to join the National Rugby League premiership.[3]

The Australian Rugby League reports that over $23 million has been invested by the Melbourne Storm and its partners in promoting and developing rugby league in Victoria since 2005 and the club has visited more than 550 schools across the state. Participation has grown significantly since 2006, with 13 amateur clubs now playing in the state, according to the Victorian Rugby League[4] and more expected for the 2009 competition.[5]


The modern code of rugby leagueEdit

In 1895, rugby football underwent a schism in England over the issues of expenses and payment to injured players. This led it to split into rugby union and rugby league. Luring professional sportsmen, the new code of rugby league arrived in Australia in 1907 and came to dominate the sporting scene in Queensland and New South Wales. However, it was not immediately introduced into Victoria, where Australian rules football's VFL, which paid players, was already increasingly popular. Rugby union, however, continued to be played in Victoria by a small number of amateurs.

The 1914 Great Britain Lions tour of Australia and New Zealand included a match in Melbourne, the first rugby league game to be played in the state. The match between England and New South Wales drew 13,000 spectators.[6]

The Victorian Rugby League was running a rugby league premiership by the 1920s, and also selected a representative Victorian XIII to tour domestically.[7]

The occasional New South Wales Rugby League Premiership match was taken to Melbourne over the following decades - the most notorious being in 1978 when Manly and Western Suburbs initiated their 'Fibros v Silvertails' battles.[8]

The NSWRL had let Melbourne host a number of premiership games during the early 1990s. In 1991 the St Kilda Football Club unsuccessfully sought to have NSWRL games played at Moorabbin Oval,[9]. In 1993 a Western Suburbs Magpies home game was played at Olympic Park Stadium (Melbourne)|Olympic Park]] against the St. George Dragons. In 1994, the Sydney Tigers played two home games at Princes Park.

But attendances for State of Origin games in the 1990s had been strong.[9] The 1990 State of Origin played at Olympic Park, attracted a capacity crowd of 25,800, and three more were held in 1994, 1995 and 1997 at the Melbourne Cricket Ground. Over those 3 years, 160,000 people attended; including a then Australian rugby league record crowd of 87,161 in 1994.[8]

In 1991 the first match of the Test series between New Zealand and Australia was played in Melbourne, the first time a rugby league test match played in Australia was held outside of New South Wales and Queensland.[10]

The first professional team emergesEdit

In August 1991 the NSWRL began to express interest for its 1993 competition,[9] and made a request to the Victorian Rugby League to put forward a proposal. The local league showed significant hesitation, indicating that the game had little support to build upon.[8]

However, during 1993 ARL Chairman Ken Arthurson made it clear that he remained positive about Melbourne and thought it had much to offer. Former Melbourne CEO Chris Johns said; "John and I had been with the Broncos from day one and we had learnt first-hand how the club had progressed in 10 years to become a 'super club'. Melbourne had three times the population of Brisbane and the people down there just love their sport".[11]

Plans to enter Melbourne gained momentum in November 1994 when both the ARL and the organisers of the (then called) News Limited rebel competition both began initiatives to fast track their own teams in the Victorian capital.[11] In 1996, the Australian Rugby League (ARL) decided to establish a Melbourne-based team due to the high attendances at recent State of Origin matches. But in May 1997, Super League boss John Ribot pushed for a Melbourne-based club in the Super League competition, which was the rival against the ARL competition. Former Brisbane Broncos centre Chris Johns became the CEO of the club and Ribot stepped down from head of the Super League to set up the club. The club would be fully owned by News Limited who had a position of influence through their ownership in the Herald Sun, with part of its strategy to use Melbourne's most popular newspaper to provide contra media exposure for the new club. In September 1997, Melbourne announced that Chris Anderson would be their foundation coach, and then the Super League announced that their new team would be named the Melbourne Storm and it would be based at Olympic Park Stadium.[8]

The new millenniumEdit

The 2003 NRL grand final attracted a bigger audience in Melbourne than the 2003 AFL Grand Final did in Sydney.[12] In 2006 the deciding game of the State of Origin drew 54,833 spectators at Telstra Dome.[13] Also that season, Melbourne's television audience for the Storm's NRL grand final appearance was higher than Sydney's was for the Swans' second successive AFL grand final appearance.[14]

Storm players after the 2007 Grand Final.

The 2007 preliminary final between Parramatta and Melbourne Storm saw the largest ever crowd drawn by the Storm in Melbourne, 33,472.[15] It was a larger than Manly's preliminary final crowd of 32,611.[16]

In 2007 the Victorian Government confirmed that it would be building a new 31,500 rectangular stadium at Olympic Park, for rugby league, union and soccer.[17]

The opening round of the 2008 season saw 20,084 spectators[18] watch the Storm defeat New Zealand Warriors in their first game at Telstra Dome. Melbourne finished the 2008 season with a home average attendance of 12,474,[19] considerably larger than their 2007 average of 11,711.[19][20] They recorded their largest crowd average ever in the 2010 season at 14,670. For the 2008 Rugby League World Cup, the only game in Melbourne against England drew a crowd of 36,297 at the Telstra Dome.[21] This was the second highest attended game in the competition, surpassed only by the final, played in Brisbane that drew 50,559.[22]

2015 saw new records set for rugby league in Victoria with 91,513 spectators attending the second Origin match at the MCG, won by NSW.


Players such as Jeremy Smith, born in New Zealand, and Gareth Widdop, born in England,[23] have come through the junior ranks in Melbourne.

In round 23 2012, Mahe Fonua became the first Victorian-born and bred player to play in the NRL when he made his debut for Melbourne Storm. He played his junior career for South East Titans (formerly Berwick Bulldogs) in the Victorian Rugby League.[24][25]

Although born in Samoa, Young Tonumaipea and Richard Kennar both emigrated to Melbourne at young ages and played their junior football with local side Northern Thunder before making their senior NRL debuts for Melbourne Storm.

The junior team (which is largely made up of Victorian locals)[26] were runners up to the Bulldogs in the S. G. Ball Cup in 2009.[27]

Victorian Rugby LeagueEdit

The Victorian Rugby League governs rugby league in Victoria.[28] Victoria is an Affiliated State of the overall Australian governing body the Australian Rugby League.

Victorian Rugby League competitionsEdit

The three main competitions are the Melbourne Rugby League, the Central Highlands Rugby League and the Goulburn Murray Rugby League.[4] Prior to 2008 and the introduction of the National Youth Competition, Melbourne Rugby League games were played as curtain raisers to senior Melbourne Storm games at Olympic Park.

Representative TeamEdit

The Victoria team play in the Affiliated States Championship along with the other three affiliated states (South Australia, Northern Territory and Western Australia) plus the Australian Police and Australian Defence Force. In 2007 Victoria came fourth in the ARL Affiliated States Championships in Perth.[29]

They won their first championship in 2009 [30]

National Rugby League TeamsEdit

The National Rugby League (NRL) is Australia's top level competition for the sport of rugby league.[31] The Melbourne Storm are Victoria's only side in the League, having been initially created on the initiative of Super League for inclusion in their competition in 1997,[9] however they did not start playing until the NRL's commencement in 1998. The club won the premiership in just its second season, 1999,[32] and has been a powerful club for much of its existence. As of 2021, the club has won four premierships, in 1999, 2012,[33] 2017, and 2020. It has also won the World Club Challenge in 2000, 2013, and 2018.

The club had also won three consecutive minor premierships in 2006, 2007 and 2008[34] and premierships in 2007[35] and 2009,[36] but those titles were stripped, along with the 2010 World Club Challenge title, after the club was found guilty of breaching the salary cap.

Club Location Home Ground(s) First season
  Melbourne Storm Melbourne [37] AAMI Park (12 games) (30,050)[38] 1998[9]

Notable playersEdit

Among the Victorian-born players to play in the NRL have included:

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ "World class stadium for Storm a reality". SportsAustralia. 2007-03-05. Retrieved 2009-12-04.
  2. ^ Heming, Wayne (2009-10-30). "Brisbane Broncos voted Australia's most popular football team". AAP. Retrieved 2009-10-31.
  3. ^ "More Clubs added to the Victoria Rugby League Comp in 2009 - The Front Row Forum :: Rugby League". Retrieved 2013-08-21.
  4. ^ a b "Latest News - Victorian Rugby League". SportingPulse. Retrieved 2013-08-21.
  5. ^ "More Clubs added to the Victoria Rugby League Comp in 2009 - Page 4 - The Front Row Forum :: Rugby League". Retrieved 2013-08-21.
  6. ^ Sydney Morning Herald, 17 August 1914
  7. ^ "Football: Rugby League Final". The Argus. Australia. 1923-09-07. p. 4. Retrieved 2009-12-04.
  8. ^ a b c d "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2008-07-14. Retrieved 2008-07-18.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  9. ^ a b c d e
  10. ^ Deane, Steve (2009-10-23). "Top 10 moments in Kiwi league". New Zealand: APN Holdings NZ Limited. Retrieved 2010-02-05.
  11. ^ a b Collis, Ian & Whitaker, Alan (2004). The History of Rugby League Clubs. Sydney: New Holland Publishers (Australia) Pty Ltd. p. 344. ISBN 1741100755.
  12. ^ Evans, Chris (7 October 2003). "Rugby League rates in AFL state". The Age. The Age Company. Retrieved 21 August 2014.
  13. ^ "Etihad Stadium Crowds (Docklands Stadium)". Austadiums. Retrieved 2013-08-21.
  14. ^ Stevenson, Andrew (2006-10-03). "Rugby league - the game they play in Melbourne". The Sydney Morning Herald. Fairfax Digital. Retrieved 2009-12-16.
  15. ^ "Melbourne Storm to face Manly in NRL Grand Final". Herald Sun. 2007-09-23.
  16. ^ "Rugby League Tables / Attendances 2007". Retrieved 2013-08-21.
  17. ^ "Major Projects - Melbourne Rectangular Stadium". Archived from the original on 2007-10-11. Retrieved 2007-08-13.
  18. ^ "Grandstand Forums". Archived from the original on 2008-03-06. Retrieved 2013-08-21.
  19. ^ a b "Rugby League Tables / Attendances /Melbourne". 2013-06-09. Archived from the original on 2013-08-01. Retrieved 2013-08-21.
  20. ^
  21. ^ Read, Brent (2008-11-02). "Livewire Billy Slater kills off rugby league World Cup". The Australian.
  22. ^ "Kiwis re-write rugby league history". NZPA. 22 November 2008. Retrieved 6 November 2011.
  23. ^ Local talent is Storm's aim
  24. ^ "Rd 23 Late Mail & Live Chat". Melbourne Storm. 2012-08-10. Archived from the original on 2013-12-03. Retrieved 2013-08-21.
  25. ^ "Mahe our first, but certainly not the last, home-bred Victorian NRL player". The Australian. 2012-08-11.
  26. ^ "News - Official Site of Melbourne Storm | News, video, fixture, tickets, membership". 2012-01-07. Retrieved 2013-08-21.
  27. ^
  28. ^ NRL. "NRL - The official site of the National Rugby League -". Archived from the original on 2004-06-04. Retrieved 2013-08-21.
  29. ^ Messina, Joe (2007). "Australian Rugby Football League Annual Report 2007" (PDF). Australian Rugby League Limited. p. 13. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2009-09-13. Retrieved 2009-07-15.
  30. ^ Archived from the original on January 5, 2010. Retrieved February 27, 2010. Missing or empty |title= (help)
  31. ^ Archived from the original on October 19, 2007. Retrieved October 12, 2008. Missing or empty |title= (help)
  32. ^
  33. ^
  34. ^ "Grandstand Forums". Retrieved 2013-08-21.
  35. ^
  36. ^
  37. ^ "Melbourne Storm Rugby League Club - About - Google". Google Maps. Retrieved 2013-08-21.
  38. ^ "AAMI Park (Melbourne Rectangular Stadium)". Austadiums. 2010-05-07. Retrieved 2013-08-21.
  39. ^
  40. ^ "Jake Webster - Career Stats & Summary". Rugby League Project. Retrieved 2013-08-21.
  41. ^ [1]
  42. ^ "Profile from Timana Tahu". Retrieved 2013-08-21.
  43. ^ "Craig Polla-Mounter". Retrieved 2013-08-21.

External linksEdit