In 1895 twenty-one clubs split with the Rugby Football Union, citing that they wanted to play professionally, and formed the Northern Rugby Football Union. The twenty-one clubs were all from Northern England and the players were largely working class. However it was not just English players who made the switch, Scottish and Welsh players also switched allegiance to the new code, wanting payments for playing. Switching heightened in the early 20th century with more Scottish and Welsh players leaving the RFU than ever before.
The England national rugby union team had been playing international matches since 1871, but it was not until 1904, nine years after the formation of the new code, that an international rugby league match was played. At the start of 1903 season the Northern Union thought about international matches and scheduled a match for England on New Year's Day 1904 in Oldham. On that day though, the ground was frosty and the match was cancelled and it was rescheduled for April.
On 5 April 1904 England competed against a team called "Other Nationalities", who were made up of ten Welshman and two Scotsman, including George Frater, who captained the side. It was a period of experimentation for the Northern Union and each team had twelve players, not thirteen. At Central Park, Wigan the ground was muddy and in poor condition, however the match went ahead. England steamed into a 3–0 lead, from a try by Warrington's Jackie Fish. This is despite Salford's James Lomas arriving late and causing England to start the match with eleven players. Fish missed the conversion and so the Other Nationalities were able to level the scores a little later, Welshman Thomas crashing over for a try. The conversion was missed and going into half-time the score was tied 3–3. In the second half Thomas went over for another try before Wigan's Harris sealed a 9–3 win for the Other Nationalities in the final minutes of the match. A total of 6,000 spectators turned up for the match, which was considered a poor showing despite a Broughton Rangers v Bradford cup clash being scheduled on the same day.
In 1905 a match between the two sides was played at Bradford. This time England won 26–11 even though they were losing 11–0 at half-time. Wigan's Jim Leytham scored four tries in succession, a record that still stand today. The match was played with fifteen players on each side and so was the 1906 match. Played in Wigan again, the match finished a 3–3 draw. The concept was abandoned after the 1906 match. By 1908 the game had expanded much more into Australia, New Zealand and Wales and England began playing those teams. Harold Wagstaff made his debut for England in 1908 against the touring Kangaroos team at 17 years and 228 days.
The Other Nationalities side did return in 1921. An England side beat the Australasian team of the 1921–22 Kangaroo tour of Great Britain 4–5 at Highbury. England played only one international between 10 May 1956 and 7 November 1968 an 18–6 victory at Headingley.
England played at the World Cup in 1975 coached by Alex Murphy, which was played over several months in both hemispheres on a league basis. Normally Great Britain would represent England in the World Cup, but the RLIF wanted to capitalise on the large amount of Welsh players in the game at the time, and so England and Wales fielded separate teams.
England won their first match, a 20–2 victory over France in Leeds in March. In June the Lions suffered their first defeat in just their second match of the tournament, losing 12–7 against a strong Wales side in Brisbane. A little later England managed to hold on for a draw against Australia in Sydney, the final score being 10–10. And they also picked up a point in Auckland, drawing 17–17 against New Zealand. At the end of October, after the domestic season had finished, England beat the Welsh 22–16 in Warrington and then crossed the English Channel to thrash a French side 48–2 in Bordeaux. Bradford played host the England versus New Zealand match, in which England won comfortably 27–12.
At the start of November, England squeezed past Australia winning 16–13 in November at Wigan. This meant that the Kangaroos had finished on 13 points, with the Lions on 12 points. Australia were deemed champions by finishing top of the table, but because they had not beaten England a final match was quickly arranged. Australia beat England 25–0 at Leeds to clinch their fourth title.
In the 1995 World Cup for the first time since 1975. England were coached by Phil Larder. The Lions got off to a flying start beating Australia 20–16 in the opening game at Wembley, then hammering Fiji and South Africa in the remaining group games to finish top of group A. This set up a semi-final game at Old Trafford against Wales. England won the tussle 25–10 to reach the World Cup final, but they lost 16–8 to Australia at Wembley Stadium. England would not play again until 2000.
John Kear was coach of England for the World Cup in 2000. Compared to 1995, England had little success, losing their opening game at Twickenham 22–2 against Australia. But they won their remaining two pool games against Fiji and Russia. A surprisingly competitive display by Ireland in the quarter-finals, saw England scrape through to the semi-finals 26–16. England then went down to a record defeat, losing 49–6 to New Zealand at Bolton, and were knocked out of the tournament.
Australian born Tony Smith took charge of England in 2008 and his first game was against France in Toulouse where his Lions won 56–8. In his second game England were missing St Helens and Leeds Rhinos players but the team still created history with a record 74–0 win over Wales in Doncaster. It was England's biggest win they recorded over Wales since 1978. Smith has been living in England since he first arrived to play for Workington in 1996 and he controversially became a neutralised British citizen on 8 September 2008 in Huddersfield. It was World Cup year and he announced his ambitions that he wanted England to win their first World Cup since 1972 when Great Britain represented the country at the event. In the event they were placed in Group A alongside hosts Australia, New Zealand and Papua New Guinea. England faced a scare in their opening game against Papua New Guinea as the Lions were trailing 16–12 at halftime but they did go on to win the game. They were humiliated in their second game against the hosts suffering their biggest defeat to date, beating their 43-point margin against New Zealand eight years ago. In their final pool game against New Zealand they produced a much better performance but for only 28 minutes as they gave up a 24–8 lead to lose 24–36. Before and during the match England were accusing New Zealand of being soft, however after the match media outlets were calling England the biggest losers of the tournament. Controversy also occurred before the game kicked off, when England refused to face New Zealand's haka challenge. Smith said 'In some cultures poking your tongue out at others could be seen as insulting and the Kiwis pushed things too far by crossing into England’s side of halfway.' They took on New Zealand again in the semi-final. This time they never had the lead over the Kiwis as they lost the match by 10 points. After rumours Smith would be sacked from his position, the RFL announced they'd keep faith in Smith for the remainder of his contract. The World Cup players took the blame for their performances.
After the World Cup nightmare, England began 2009 on a high-note with a record breaking 54 point away win over France. Later that year, England were co-hosts of the year's major international tournament the inaugural Four Nations. After thrashing them earlier in the year, England faced a shock half-time deficit in their opening game against a French side coached by former Great Britain international Bobbie Goulding. But despite trailing at the interval, England scored 30 consecutive points to record another victory over 'Les Tricolores'. They then took on New Zealand and, after losing to them twice at last year's World Cup, England earned revenge with an 8-point win over the Kiwis. England then went on to make the final to face Australia again after losing to them by 10 points a week earlier. In the final England at one point led 16–14 and were credited with how they were able to produce a real contest. However, in the final quarter of the game, Australia dominated proceedings and eventually went on to win 46–16. On 16 November 2009, A few hours after crediting that the England national team had a bright future in rugby league, Smith resigned from the England national team.
Steve McNamara's first game in charge as England coach was against France in Leigh in 2010. England thrashed the French to keep their impressive winning run going over their opponents that dates back to 1981. McNamara also fielded the first brothers, Sam and Joel Tomkins, to start on the field for England since Paul and David Hulme represented Great Britain in 1989.
At the end of the 2011 club season, England co-hosted the 2011 Four Nations with Wales. They took on their co-hosts in the opening game in Leigh and they won in a game where Sam Tomkins scored a record equalling four tries in one game. The win meant England kept their impressive record of not losing on home soil against Wales since 1977. England then met New Zealand in a must win game at the KC Stadium after losing to Australia at Wembley. England thrashed the Kiwis by 22 points setting up a rematch of the 2009 Four Nations final at Elland Road. In the final England at one point were tied at 8–8, but they would be outclassed again. England were held 'try-less' in the second half as Australia won by 22 points.
In mid-2012, the second International Origin series was held. The Exiles had won the first series in 2011 after Samoan International George Carmont scored a try with less than 40 seconds remaining to win the game for the Exiles. England won their first ever International Origin series game after winning game 1 of the 2012 series held in St Helens by 8 points. However the Exiles would win the 2012 series after recording a bigger winning margin in game 2. In October and November that year, England competed in the Autumn Internationals where they took on Wales, and France. In their first game, England racked up their biggest points tally against Wales as they thrashed 'the Red Dragons' 80–12 in Wrexham. In their second game against France, fullback Sam Tomkins became England's top try scorer when he scored his 14th try for England, breaking the record set by former Wigan and St Helens winger Alf Ellaby in 1935. In the final, England had a rematch with France at Salford City Stadium. England thrashed their opponents to win their first tournament title since the 2004 European Nations Cup.
In the lone 2013 International Origin game, England thrashed their opponents by 20 points. At the end of the year, the 2013 World Cup was held in England and Wales. England, who were now known as the 'Wall of White', featured a new record of three brothers in their squad: Sam and twins George and Tom Burgess. England played their first game against Australia in Cardiff. England got off to a surprising early lead for many when they were up 10–0 after 20 minutes. England, however, went on to lose in what was one of their best displays against the Kangaroos in years, losing 20–28. They then went on to thrash Ireland to nil in front of a record crowd in Huddersfield, in a game which saw Ryan Hall become the new England top try-scorer after a hat-trick took him to tally 17 total tries for his country. England also beat a determined Fiji in front a sold-out crowd at the KC Stadium to advance to the quarter-finals. They took on European rivals France in Wigan and after trailing 6–0 early, England went on to advance to the semi-finals to meet defending World Champions New Zealand at Wembley. It was a see-saw affair which saw England leading 18–14 with one minute on the clock remaining until New Zealand play-maker Shaun Johnson produced a historical moment to level the scores and then convert his try after the siren to win the match and make the Kiwis advance to a third consecutive World Cup Final. This was the first time England or Great Britain had lost to New Zealand in England since 2005.
In October and November 2014 England travelled down-under to play in the 2014 Four Nations. In the opening game, England took on Samoa in an affair which saw the lead change several times. In the end England survived a shock result occurring after winning by 6 points. In the second game against Australia controversy occurred. Australia led 16–12 with one minute left on the clock. England player Liam Farrell put a grubber-kick in the in-goal area which forced Australian fullback Greg Inglis to force the ball dead however the video referees decided to have a look and see whether or not Inglis or the incoming Ryan Hall got the last touch on the ball. On the slow-motion replays it showed that Ryan Hall's right hand's little finger had put some downward pressure on the ball however in normal speed it was deemed 'inconclusive' by Australian officiating rules. It was eventually given a no-try to the anger of English players and fans. Ryan complained on Twitter saying “Looking at the video, I’d say it was a try if we’re playing Super League rules...” Had Hall scored and England converted it would have been England's first win over Australia since 1995, the first time Australia suffered back-to-back home defeats since 1970 and the first time Australia didn't qualify for a tournament final since the 1954 World Cup final. England lost their final game against New Zealand and in the process ending any chance of qualifying for their first Four Nations final in the Southern Hemisphere.
In 2015 England took on New Zealand in a three match series held in England. Before the series, England recorded their biggest ever win over France, beating their previous 73–6 win in 1996. England beat New Zealand 2–1 in the Baskerville Series to retain the trophy that Great Britain last won in 2007. During that series vice-captain James Graham reached the milestone of becoming England's most capped player, surpassing Kevin Sinfield's record of 27 test appearances. Despite the series victory, McNamara was facing scrutiny beforehand and the RFL decided not to renew his contract which expired after the series. McNamara therefore left the England national team.
Before his first game in charge of the national team, legendary Australian coach Wayne Bennett demanded the RFL for England to have a pre-season training camp, a mid-season international in 2017 (the first since the 2013 International Origin fixture), as well as shortening the 2017 Super League season in order to prepare for the 2017 World Cup which he desires to win. RFL President Nigel Wood accepted Bennett's first two demands but said shortening the domestic season is a "big disturbance in lots of ways..." Bennett's plans suffered criticism from some professional club coaches.
The BBC have the rights to screen all England games. They showed every game England competed in at the 2013 Rugby League World Cup as well as all their Four Nations games.The Lions crest
The badge was originally a combination of the St. George's cross, the Three Lions Coat of Arms of England and Tudor rose. It was similar to most other English sporting badges, such as the England national football team and the English national cricket team which all promote similar attributes.The Shield Crest
The new official logo was launched on 6 February 2008 on the rugby league magazine programme Boots N' All. The cross of St George is positioned across a three-dimensional shield within the design. The date "1895" is placed through the centre of the cross, symbolising the birth of rugby league. Many people involved in the sport were consulted throughout the design process, which took a little under a year. The logo was first used for the 2008 World Cup and was replaced in 2017.Three Lions Cross
As part of a rebrand across all of the RFL in 2017, a new England crest was introduced. It is a merge of both the shield crest and the old lions crest. It has the St. Georges cross on the background with three lions in front of it.In a test match against France on October 22, 2016, Kingstone Press was replaced by Rugby to the Core due to the Evin law.
The England national team squad selected for the end of year test match against France and the 2016 Four Nations. (caps and points apply for after the test match, and Four Nations tournament, finished)On October 17, one week after the squad announcement, Sam Burgess was announced captain of the team after Sean O'Loughlin was unavailable through injury.
On October 18, Brett Ferres had to withdraw from the squad due to a knee injury. He was replaced by Stevie Ward.
As of 13 November 2016
Bold- denotes player still active at club level
Only one England player has scored 20 tries or more.
England have played 191 games in their history with the first being played in 1904. The team have only been playing regularly since 1995, playing 75 of their games from then to the end of 2015 at an approximate average of 4 games a year. This means that in the preceding 91 years before 1995, the team played just 116 games. The reason for this lack of games is because the home nations were represented by Great Britain for most of the 20th century, playing 322 games. England and the other home nations mainly only played in the European Cup. International rugby league teams very rarely play friendlies except as warm-up games to tournaments and so most of England's game are competitive tests. If Great Britain games are taken into account, English players have actually taken part in 511 games between 1904 and 2015.
England have played 19 different teams over their history with 5 of these being representative teams. They hold a 0% win record against only one national team, Italy, by whom they were beaten 14 points to 15 in a friendly at the AJ Bell Stadium, Salford as a prelude to the 2013 World Cup. England have played Wales the most with 69 games, winning 50 of these. Because the home nations were represented by Great Britain for most of their history England have only played Ireland 3 times and Scotland once.
England have competed five times in the World Cup; in 1975, 1995, 2000, 2008 and 2013. They have never won the competition, though finished runners-up to Australia in 1975 and 1995. In every other year, Great Britain have represented England. Despite having only played in 5 world cups, England have hosted matches in 8 different tournaments including 3 that took part internationally. England have played 28 games in the world cup, winning 15, drawing 2 and losing 11. Of those losses, only one has been against a team other than New Zealand or Australia, when Wales won 7-12 in the 1975 tournament. England lost out on reaching the final in 2013, when New Zealand beat them 20-18 after Shaun Johnson scored a conversion in the last 30 seconds of the game to secure the win.
England replaced Great Britain in competing in the Rugby League Four Nations which replaced the previous Tri Nations tournament. They have been runners up twice in 2009 and 2011, these two tournaments also having been hosted by England.
England have competed in twenty-six European Nations Cups, the first in 1935. In the past the tournament has been axed and revived many times, and it was stopped for six years because of the Second World War. From 1935 to 1949 (minus the war years) England played France and Wales annually, and won the tournament in 1935, 1946, 1947 and 1948. From 1950 to 1956 an Other Nationalities team were added as the fourth team in the competition (except in 1956 when Wales did not field a team). During those years England won in 1950 and 1954. Since then the tournament has run for some seasons, but never for more than five years at a time. But from 1970 to 1996 England won it six out of a possible nine times. In 2003 the tournament was revived and England comfortably won, beating her old rivals plus Scotland, Ireland and Russia. England beat the same opponents to win the cup again in 2004. This was the last time England competed to give the competition more of a level playing field for other teams, however the England Knights competed in 2012.
Runners-up (2): 1975, 1995
Semi-finalists (3): 2000, 2008, 2013
Runners-up (2): 2009, 2011
Winners (14):1935, 1945–46, 1946–47, 1947–48, 1949–50, 1953–54, 1969–70, 1975, 1978, 1979, 1980, 1996, 2003, 2004
Winners (1): 2006
Baskerville Shield:Highest winning score: 84–4 v France at Leigh, 24 October 2015 test match
Widest winning margin: 84–4 v France at Leigh, 24 October 2015 test match
Highest losing score: 52–4 v Australia at Melbourne, 2 November 2008 World Cup
Widest losing margin: 52–4 v Australia at Melbourne, 2 November 2008 World Cup
Most tries in a match: 4
Jim Leytham (Wigan) v Other Nationalities at Bradford, 2 January 1905
Stan Moorhouse (Huddersfield) v Wales at Plymouth, 15 February 1913
Peter Norburn (Swinton) v Other Nationalities at Wigan, 28 November 1953
Keith Fielding (Salford) v France at Bordeaux, 11 October 1975
Stuart Wright (Widnes) v Wales at St. Helens 28 May 1978
Martin Offiah (Wigan) v France at Gateshead, 12 June 1996
Sam Tomkins (Wigan) v France at Leigh Sports Village, 12 June 2011
Tony Clubb (Harlequins) v Papua New Guinea at Auckland, 6 November 2010
Sam Tomkins (Wigan) v Wales at Leigh Sports Village, 29 October 2011
Most goals in a match: 15
Wayne Godwin (Castleford) v Russia (European Nations Qualifier) at Moscow, 25 Oct 2004
Most points in a match: 34
Wayne Godwin (Castleford) v Russia (European Nations Qualifier) at Moscow, 25 Oct 2004 (15g 1t)
Winners (1): 2015
In 2011 the England Knights were created to serve as a step up for the younger players from their club in view of playing for the 1st team. A squad of players were chosen (below the age of 25) to represent the Knights in a few games. Their first ever game was against France and the Knights came out 38–18 victors.
The Knights won the 2012 European Cup by beating Ireland and Scotland in a 3-game tournament.
The following players played for England and are either British Rugby League Hall of Fame inductees, or are one of the top five caps, tries, goals, or points scorers for England. Although both Gus Risman, and Jim Sullivan were Welsh, they are British Rugby League Hall of Fame inductees, and actually played for England, as well as for Wales and Great Britain. British Rugby League Hall of Fame inductee Vince Karalius was English (of Lithuanian heritage), and although he played for Great Britain, he never played for England, as England games were limited in his playing era.