The New Zealand national rugby league team has represented New Zealand in rugby league football since intercontinental competition began for the sport in 1907. Administered by the New Zealand Rugby League, they are commonly known as the Kiwis, after the native bird of that name. The team’s colours are black with white and the players perform a haka before every match they play as a challenge to their opponents.
The New Zealand Kiwis won the Four Nations competition in 2010, making them the second strongest international rugby league team behind arch rivals and current Four Nations winners Australia. Since the 1990s players for the team have been largely sourced from clubs in Australasia’s National Rugby League with the occasional player from Europe’s Super League. Before that players were sourced mostly from clubs in domestic New Zealand leagues. The team first played in a 1907 professional rugby tour which pre-dated the birth of rugby league football in the Southern Hemisphere, making it the second oldest national side after England. Since then the Kiwis have regularly competed in international competition, touring Europe and Australia throughout the 20th century. New Zealand have competed in every Rugby League World Cup since the first in 1954, reaching the final of the past three tournaments. In 2008 New Zealand made history by winning the World Cup for the first time. They also contest the Baskerville Shield against Great Britain, and play an annual ANZAC Test against Australia.
Rugby football was introduced into New Zealand by Charles John Monro, son of the then speaker of the New Zealand House of Representatives, Sir David Monro. He had been sent to Christ’s College, East Finchley in north London, where he became an enthusiastic convert to the new code. He brought the game back to his native Nelson, and arranged the first rugby match between Nelson College and Nelson Football Club, played on 14 May 1870. When New Zealand’s national rugby team (the All Blacks) toured Britain in 1905 they witnessed the growing popularity of the breakaway non-amateur Northern Union’s games. On his return in 1906, All Black George William Smith met the Australian entrepreneur J J Giltinan to discuss the potential of professional rugby in Australasia. The first New Zealand team to play professional rugby was known as the All Blacks. To avoid confusion, the terms professional All Blacks or All Golds are used.
The professional All Blacks
In the meantime, a lesser known New Zealand rugby player, Albert Henry Baskerville (or Baskiville) was ready to recruit a group of players for a Great Britain pro tour. It is believed that Baskerville became aware of the profits to be made from such a venture while he was working at the Wellington Post Office in 1906. A colleague had a coughing fit and dropped a British newspaper. Baskerville picked it up and noticed a report about a Northern Union (NU) match that over 40,000 people had attended. Baskerville wrote to the NRFU asking if they would host a New Zealand touring party. The 1905 All Blacks tour was still fresh in English minds, thus the NU saw the upcoming competitive New Zealand tour as exceptional opportunity to raise the profile and finances of the NU game. The NU agreed to the tour provided that some of those original All Blacks were included in the New Zealand team. George Smith arrived back in New Zealand and after learning of Baskerville’s plans, the two teamed up and began signing players. The New Zealand Rugby Union became aware of the tour and promptly applied pressure to any All Black or New Zealand representative player it suspected of involvement. They had the New Zealand Government’s Agent General in London deliver a statement to the British press in an effort to undermine the tour’s credibility. This had little effect and by that time the professional All Blacks were already sailing across the Tasman to give Australia its first taste of professional rugby.
The All Golds
It was during this time that references to the professional All Blacks as the All Golds first appeared. Clearly, “All Golds” was a play on the amateur “All Blacks” name but it was also an insult to the players, criticising the arrangement where they would each share in the wealth of the tour. The name “All Golds” is now thought to have originated in a New Zealand newspaper in May/June 1907 (see panel below), amidst editorial arguments over whether it was honourable for the proposed “professional All Blacks” team to be paid. The first documented use in Australia was in a headline in the Sydney Morning Herald (7 August), just before Baskerville’s team arrived. Interestingly, those same Herald articles also had a tag for those who supported the amateur rugby union calling them the “Lily Whites” (who were clean, pure, and repelled the evils of professionalism).
The first tour
Professional rugby in the southern hemisphere kicked off with the professional All Blacks playing a professional rebel New South Wales team organised by Smith’s contact, James Giltinan. The games drew little interest to start with, but were a major success for the rugby rebels of Australia, as they finally had the money to start the first professional Rugby Football League and hence change the face of rugby in Australia. New Zealand finally made it to Great Britain in 1907. They included Australian Dally Messenger in their party. He missed the first Test defeat, but played in the two Tests which the All Golds won. At this time professional rugby, under the banner of the Northern Union, was not played by the RFU rules which was all the All Golds knew. The All Golds took on a week of intensive training after which they started the tour. From a New Zealander’s point of view, the tour may not have been successful, but to the All Gold’s credit they performed well considering they only had a week to learn the rules. However, from the NU’s point of view the tour would have been a godsend, because professional rugby was left in a better state than when they arrived. The tour’s results were seen the following year when the NRFU clubs more than doubled their membership numbers. The tour had obviously excited the public, raised the profile of their game as well as the game’s finances. During their return voyage from England, the All Golds made a stop-over in Australia where they discovered that professional rugby was being played with Northern Union rules, under the banner of the New South Wales Rugby Football League (NSWRFL). The All Golds played another 10 games in Australia, boosting the finances of the fledging NSWRFL premiership; making the All Golds tour one of the most significant contributions to the sport of rugby league in Australia. The All Golds were Hercules Richard “Bumper” Wright (captain), George William Smith (vice-captain), Albert Baskirville (secretary), Herbert Turtill, Harold Rowe,Duncan McGregor, Dally Messenger, Edgar Wrigley, Joseph Lavery, Richard Wynyard, William Wynyard, Lance Todd, Edward Tyne, William Tyler, Arthur Kelly,Tom “Angry” Cross, William Massa Johnston, Eric Watkins, Conrad Byrne, Adam Lile, Daniel Gilchrist, Arthur Callam, Charles Pearce, William Trevarthen,Charles Dunning, William Mackrell, Daniel Fraser (assistant manager), Jim Gleeson (treasurer), and H.J. Palmer (financial manager).
The 1910 Great Britain Lions tour of Australia and New Zealand saw the Kiwis’ first ever test on home soil, with the British side proving too strong. In 1911 the New Zealand national team toured Australia. The NZRU was able to control a lot of what the New Zealand Rugby League (NZRL) was able to get its hands on. In 1926, the Union took legal action, trying to stop the League from using the name, the “All Blacks” as their touring name. The NZRL felt that they had equal ownership to the name and were not ready to relinquish it. However by this time the press had already nicknamed the team ‘the Kiwis’, because of the badge included on their jerseys. Despite the League trying to discourage its usage, the name has stuck ever since. The 1926–27 New Zealand tour of Britain involved several skirmishes within the Kiwi party. Problems began on the boat journey over, with disputes developing about aspects of the trip and a rift developed between tour manager and coach, Mr Mair, an Australian and seven forwards. The disputes continued once the party arrived in Britain, with one of the rebels being involved in a street fight with another member of the tour party after the opening match. In mid-November, following further disturbances, which almost led to the tour party being evicted from their Harrogate hotel, it was decided that coach Mair would withdraw from team selection and match tactics for a period of four weeks. The tour, and the costly disputes, continued, with the rebels eventually setting sail for home a week earlier than their colleagues. Three months later all seven players were banned for life by the New Zealand authorities. New Zealand did not visit Europe again until 1939. In 1938, for a tour of Australia, the New Zealand Rugby League officially adopted the name the “New Zealand Kiwis”. This side was also the first to wear a white “V” on their jerseys.
In 1947 at Bradford in England, a crowd of 42,680 saw New Zealand play, setting a new record for the team on British soil. The Kiwis were unbeaten in any test series from 1948 to 1951 and won six of their nine tests. They toured England and France in 1951–52. New Zealand were hosted by France for the first ever World Cup match in 1954’s inaugural tournament. They lost that match as well as the remaining two to finish last. In the 1957 World Cup New Zealand got their first World Cup win, with victory against France in one of their three matches. The Kiwis got exactly the same result in the1960 World Cup too. During the 1961–63 era, New Zealand won seven out of ten test matches, including a 2–0 series win over Great Britain, then considered the top rugby leaguenation in the world. The most outstanding performance by the New Zealanders was their record-breaking 19–0 win over Britain in 1962. It was only the second time a British team had been held scoreless. New Zealand in the period 1960-65 won the Courtney Goodwill Trophy for most successful test-playing nation, The Kiwis again got a sole win against France from their three matches of the 1970 World Cup. In 1971, the Kiwis embarked on a 34 match tour of England and France. While they only won half of the matches they played against English club teams, they won the test series 2-1 (winning the first test 18-13, the second 17-14 but losing the third 3-12). They won the series against France 2-0 (winning the first test 27-11, the second 24-2 but drawing the third 3-3). In the 1972 World Cup New Zealand failed to win a game. In the season-long 1975 World Series, New Zealand won 2 out of their 8 games, finishing second last. The 1977 World Cup brought the Kiwis the familiar result of a sole win against France. A World Cup rated Test took place on Sunday 7 July 1985 at Carlaw Park. Australia’s 18–0 defeat was the first time they had failed to score in a Test against New Zealand. On Tuesday 7 July 1987, New Zealand team warmed up for internationals against Papua New Guinea and Australia by taking on the Queensland state team at Lang Park, Brisbane. They then went on to record a 22–16 victory. Australia crashed to a defeat on Tuesday 21 July 1987, when the Kangaroo dominance of the international game suffered a rare setback. New Zealand were their opponents in a match which had been arranged to fill the gap created by the non-appearance of France. New Zealand won the game 13–6. The next four internationals between Australia and New Zealand were all staged in New Zealand, and all were won by the Kangaroos. In the final Test match of the 1988 Great Britain Lions tour, New Zealand just pipped the British 12-10 in a freezing encounter in Christchurch for a place in the final against Australia. Played at Eden Park in Auckland, it was the most hyped game in the history of rugby league in New Zealand, and the crowd of 47,363 was the biggest ever for a game in Auckland. Sadly for the Kiwis, the final proved to be a huge anti-climax and they were outplayed by the Aussies. On 20 June 1993 the first all-professional, and all-overseas based, Kiwis side took the field against Australia. New Zealand almost got their revenge on Australia in the 1995 World Cup semi-final when, with the scores level at 20–20, a last minute drop-goal attempt by skipper Matthew Ridge brushed the wrong side of the post, allowing the game to go into extra-time. From there, Australia went on to win. Due to the NZRL’s alignment with Super League, a New Zealand team selected only from Australasian based players competed in 1997’s Super League Tri-series against Queensland and New South Wales. In 1998 the Kiwis traveled to the UK for a three-test series against Great Britain, winning the first and second tests and drawing the third.
The Kiwis handed England their biggest ever loss to again make the final in the 2000 World Cup, but again went down to the Kangaroos 40–12. Gary Freemancoached New Zealand from 2001–02. Since 2002, a ‘New Zealand A’ team has been selected from players in the domestic New Zealand competition. New Zealand A toured France and the United States in 2002, and the United Kingdom in 2003. In 2004 they hosted New South Wales Country. In 2003 the Kiwis played their 100th international against Australia. Brian McClennan was appointed national coach of New Zealand in June 2005. His appointment was controversial, mainly because he had no top-level experience in the National Rugby League or Super League. 2005 would be considered one of the Kiwis greatest years, as they captured the 2005 Tri-Nations title, effectively becoming “de facto” World champions as the three best countries compete in that competition. In the course of winning the Tri-Nations the Kiwis defeated Australia in Sydney for the first time in half a century. In London the Kiwis posted their highest score ever against Great Britain, and in winning the final posted the first shut out of Australia in 20 years. The 24–0 result at Elland Road, Leeds equalled the Kiwis’ biggest ever win against Australia – a 49–25 win in Brisbane almost 50 years ago. It was Australia’s first defeat in a series or tournament since 1978. In New Zealand, Brian McClennan earned praise from the press and signed an extension to his coaching tenure with the Kiwis. In 2006 the Kiwis lost both mid-season tests to the Kangaroos and Lions. The 2006 Tri-nations brought controversy when New Zealand fielded an ineligible player, Nathan Fien, against Great Britain and were later stripped of the two points earned from their 18–14 win. In November 2010, The Kiwis’ kicked off a new decade of International football with victory in the now remodelled Four Nations competition. The final was off such intensity, it was widely noted as more intense then even State of Origin series matches. The Kiwis’ win was a thriller, with them behind 10-12 with two minutes left, after Benji Marshall had missed a difficult equaliser. Marshall more than made up for this error in the next set of six by quickly drifting across the field, drawing defenders, then landing a pinpoint long cut-out ball to flying winger Jason Nightingale; then after a series of miracle passes – Nathan Fien touched down, and New Zealand had snatched the game.
In July 2007 Leeds Rhinos announced that Brian McClennan would be joining the club as Head Coach on a two year contract from 1 December 2007. McClennan subsequently resigned as national coach, his position was taken up by Gary Kemble in August 2007.
Under Gary Kemble the Kiwis went on to lose the first of their three test series against Great Britain going down 14–20 against the Lions at Huddersfield on 27 October 2007. Following the loss an Australian newspaper reported that former Kiwi captain Hugh McGahan was concerned at Kemble’s poor start and suggested that former Australian and current Brisbane Broncos coach Wayne Bennett should be pursued for the role. McGahan later claimed that his comments had been grossly misreported by the journalist. In the second test of the series on 3 November 2007, Kemble returned to KC Stadium, the ground on which he had spent a large portion of his playing days with Hull. It was to be a disastrous homecoming however as the Kiwis suffered their second humiliating defeat under Kemble when beaten 44–0 by an inspired Great Britain. The win gave Great Britain an unassailable series lead leaving the Kiwis with only pride to play for in the final test at JJB Stadium in Wigan. Intense criticism followed the Second Test loss, some of it directed at the players, some of it toward the management of the NZRL, however Kemble also copped severe criticism from some quarters with one commentator suggesting that Kemble “must be sacked at the series-end” and describing him as a “captain of calamity”.Following the loss, Kiwi’s captain Roy Asotasi hinted at the possibility of internal issues for the players in adjusting to Kemble’s coaching style when he compared Kemble’s approach with that of his predecessor McClennan describing them as “very different” and reporting that the group was “still trying to gel”.Following the loss in an extremely frank admission Kemble acknowledged that he was contemplating resigning from his post if the Kiwis were whitewashed 3–0 by Great Britain. Despite a far more spirited performance in the 3rd Test the Kiwis were unable to prevent the whitewash losing 22–28 after leading 12–0 early in the match. Kemble was forthright in expressing his desire to remain Kiwi coach following the loss with the general feeling being that the loss was “close enough” for him to retain the position. Kemble was the subject of some ridicule for post-match comments which suggested that the Kiwis “almost won the test series” despite an aggregated score of 92–36 across the three tests. In December 2007 the NZRL held its annual awards dinner. Being one hundred years since the inception of rugby league in New Zealand, a 13-man New Zealand team of the century was named on the evening, with Cliff Johnson named at captain. Mark Graham was named in the second-row and was also honoured as the greatest Kiwi player of the century. Kemble resigned as head coach after captain Roy Asotasi and David Kidwell both publicly said that they had no confidence in his coaching abilities. Subsequently former Kiwi, Stephen Kearney was appointed coach with Wayne Bennett given a role as an advisor. The All Golds were revived again in 2008 as a testimonial match for Ruben Wiki, where they defeated the New Zealand Maori team 44–10 at Yarrow Stadium inNew Plymouth.
2008 Rugby League World Cup
New Zealand were granted automatic qualification to the 2008 World Cup. The 2008 Rugby League World Cup tournament was held in Australia from 26 October, culminating in the final between Australia and New Zealand on 22 November. It was the 13th staging of the World Cup since the inauguration of the tournament in 1954, and the first since the 2000 event. It was the fourth time that the tournament has been held in Australia, the first being in 1957. The tournament was won by New Zealand, being coached by Steve Kearney and Assistant Coach Wayne Bennett, who defeated Australia 34-20 in the final in one of the greatest upsets in the history of the sport.
The match started after a confrontational New Zealand haka, with Australia choosing to march forward to face the Kiwis rather than watching from the usual several metres away. New Zealand almost opened the scoring, Benji Marshall just knocking on in the in-goal area. Australia then struck with two quick tries to captain Darren Lockyer and David Williams, who was a mid-week replacement for the injured Brent Tate. Australia almost scored a third time, however Lockyer was ruled to have knocked on over the goal line in similar circumstances to Marshall’s attempt. Australia looked to have full control of the game before Jeremy Smith opened the scoring for New Zealand by busting over right under the goal posts. Four minutes later New Zealand were in again, via an Anthony Laffranchi strip which led to a Jerome Ropati try.
With only five minutes before the break, Lockyer scored to put Australia in front 16-12 at half time. After half time it was the Kiwis who scored first when fullback Lance Hohaia slipped past Lockyer and beat Slater to score. Billy Slater then made a costly error to gift New Zealand their fourth try in the 65th minute. Having fielded a kick, Slater ran close to the touchline and under pressure when about to be pushed out of play, threw the ball backwards over his head in a futile attempt to keep the ball in play. But the ball fell towards Marshall who ran to score an easy try. The Kangaroos closed the gap to 22-20 with a Greg Inglis try before a controversial penalty try put New Zealand comfortably clear. A Nathan Fien kick into the in goal was mishandled by Joel Monaghan who then pulled the collar of Lance Hohaia, unfairly denying him a chance to ground the ball. Adam Blair then scored for New Zealand to seal the win, and the World Cup, for New Zealand. The game was the Australian team’s first loss since Great Britain defeated them in November 2006 and their first loss to New Zealand since November 2005. It was also their first loss in a World Cup match since 1995 and in a final since 1972.
New Zealand have been playing international matches since 1907.
A red box around the year indicates tournaments played within New Zealand
|World Cup record|
|Tri-Nations/Four Nations record|
|Tournament Changed to Four Nations|
Most recent squad
New Zealand Squad for the 2013 Rugby League World Cup, where the kiwis will play Samoa, France and Papua New Guinea.
|2013 World Cup Squad|
|First team squad||Coaching staff|
Updated: 9 October 2013 Source(s): 2013 World Cup Squad
New Zealand A
New Zealand are also represented by a second-string representative team called “New Zealand A”.
- New Zealand A def. Australian Invitational XIII 48–18 (22 October 2006)
- New Zealand A def. Australian Invitational XIII 40–16 (15 October 2005)
Between 2002 and 2003 the New Zealand Residents were referred to as New Zealand ‘A’
- National League 1 Representative def. New Zealand A 40–28 (2 November 2003)
- Great Britain def. New Zealand A 52–18 (29 October 2003)
- Warrington Wolves def. New Zealand A 28–26 (26 October 2003)
- National League 2 Representative def. New Zealand A 27–6 (22 October 2003)
- New Zealand A drew Cumbria 24–24 (19 October 2003)
- New Zealand A def. USA 74–4 (6 October 2002)
- France def. New Zealand A (29 September 2002)
- Rugby league from 1966 encyclopaedia of New Zealand
All statistics are correct as of September 2013, as per RLP.
- New Zealand Rugby League Playing Records NZRL.co.nz
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- Coffey and Wood The Kiwis: 100 Years of International Rugby LeagueISBN 1-86971-090-8
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