Rugby League Cup
The oldest and most prized trophy is the Rugby League Cup, known as the Northern Union Cup until 1969. It was presented to the New Zealand Rugby League (NZRL) by the managers of the first British touring team in 1910, to be contested on a challenge basis. The cup was originally awarded to Auckland, which held it until 1922.
Interest has periodically waned, especially after provincial football was superseded by national franchise competitions. During the period of the Bartercard Cup (2000–7) the Rugby League Cup was in turn held by minor leagues Coastline, Tasman, Otago, Gisborne and Hawke’s Bay.
The game’s foundation in New Zealand has firmly been at amateur club level within the district leagues. Some took decades to establish themselves. In the mid-1970s, for example, the Canterbury rugby league helped set up clubs in Marlborough, Southland rugby league was re-established and new clubs were set up in Otago.
Various national inter-club and inter-provincial competitions appeared and disappeared. Teams representing the North Island and South Island met for the first time at Auckland’s Carlaw Park in 1925, when North won 27–5. South first won in 1929 but conceded home-ground advantage to Auckland-dominant North, with Carlaw Park hosting the first 23 matches through to 1954. In all, 33 games were played, with North winning 24, South eight and the sole draw occurring in 1930. The series was discontinued after 1965.
The two most ambitious attempts to set up national semi-professional competitions were the Lion Red Cup from 1994 to 1996 and the Bartercard Cup from 2000 to 2007. But there has never been a permanent solution to the imbalance between all-powerful Auckland and the smaller leagues, although West Coast (just after the Second World War), Canterbury (in the early 1990s) and Central Districts (during the inter-districts era of the early 1980s) have enjoyed periodic superiority over big brother.
Kiwis in Oz
The larger, richer Australian competition draws New Zealand players across the Tasman. There are so many Kiwis playing that Australian competition is seen sometimes as an extension of the local game, at other times as an international off-shoot that sucks life out of it.
Local league in the 2000s
In 2010 the restructured NZRL introduced seven zones – Northern, Auckland, Counties–Manukau, Waicoa Bay (Waikato, Coastline and Bay of Plenty), Central, Wellington and South Island. They competed for the Albert Baskerville Trophy (premier teams, made up of elite players from the club competition), Mark Graham Cup (16- and 17-year-olds) and Nathan Cayless Cup (players aged 15 and under). Each competition consisted of a six-match round-robin leading up to a final. Both Graham (during the 1980s) and Cayless (who hoisted the World Cup in 2008) were distinguished Kiwis captains.