Believe it or not, Rugby League's War of the Roses was a competition created in 1895 - the same year as Rugby League itself was born. In fact, the Yorkshire versus Lancashire clash was a fixture that ran for 96 years before it was scrapped in 1991 due to a lack of interest. It was revived in 2001 and renamed the Origin Series, inspired by the hugely successful State of Origin Series contested between Queensland and New South Wales in Australia. Despite full-blooded, entertaining games, the series lasted for just three years before it was once again scrapped in 2003, largely due to the amount of games players would be playing. The question is, therefore, could the War of the Roses ever prosper in Britain?

Unique and different

The State of Origin was introduced in Australia in 1982.

At first, people believed it would fail. However, in 1982 the three games attracted a total crowd of 67,000. By 2015, the series was a rocketing success and the three games in that year drew in a massive 225,000 spectators. The State of Origin is now one of the most talked about events in Rugby League and has certainly increased the popularity of NRL. Is it time for Super League to follow suit?

Though the War of the Roses has never attracted as big as publicity as the State of Origin nor the amount of fans that flock to watch the series, the concept has the potential to be something new, exciting and completely different to the Super League competition, the Grand Final and the Challenge Cup. In the early 1990s, there was not just the First Division - which became the Super League in 1996 - and the Challenge Cup, but there was an abundance of other competitions as well.

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The Regal Trophy, the BBC2 Floodlit Trophy and even a Rugby League Charity Shield - contested by the First Division champions and Challenge Cup victors - offered fans something different to the traditional competitions.

Bearing in mind that there are now just two major domestic competitions - the Super League and the Challenge Cup - there is a huge opportunity for something unique to catch the attention of Rugby League fans. The International Origin series, fought between England and an 'Exiles' team, lasted just three years before that too was cast aside in 2013. With the RFL appearing to run out of ideas about potential tournaments to rival the Origin series Down Under, the time could be right to revert back to one of the oldest rivalries in Rugby League.

Fans are key

For the War of the Roses to be a success, fans throughout the UK need to jump on board with the idea. The highest match attendance for this competition was set, remarkably, in 1900 when 18,000 spectators flocked to the now-demolished Athletic Grounds in Rochdale to watch Lancashire retain the title.

When the competition was reintroduced in 2001, just over 10,000 attended Wigan's then-named JJB Stadium for the clash. By 2003 however, the interest had waned and just under 6,500 fans watched Yorkshire regain the title at Bradford's Odsal Stadium.

Incredibly, the highest attendance in Australia's 2017 State of Origin series was 82,000 at Sydney's ANZ Stadium. The War of the Roses will likely never be as popular as that, but there is a yearning within the British Rugby League fraternity to escape the current dreariness of the Super League and Challenge Cup. Rugby League fans in this country are mad for the game; put something different, exciting and competitive in front of them and there is no reason why they will not jump on-board.

Entertainment and the need to market it

When the War of the Roses was resurrected in 2001, Wigan stalwart Andy Farrell stated: "When you get professional players with equal ability playing against each other, you can't help but come up with a game that's very exciting." With spot-on advertising, Yorkshire v Lancashire could thrive. Who doesn't want to watch the country's greatest players go head-to-head with club teammates as they turn into enemies for 80 minutes?

The lack of interest from supporters was a concern in the early 2000s, but this was all down to the lack of marketing. There was a quite obvious inability to market the audience and get them interested in the game, along with the lack of time given for the concept to develop as it was scrapped after just three years. The Magic Weekend suggests that the RFL have improved their marketing structures - though it is still way off where it needs to be - perhaps, therefore, the War of the Roses could become an iconic event in the Rugby League calendar if the sport's hierarchy throw their heart and soul into the idea.

Improving the national game

Introducing the Lancashire v Yorkshire series would allow many of England's international players to play big atmosphere, competitive games. This would, quite obviously, stand the same players in good stead for when the "big game" competitions come along, such as the mid-season Test against New Zealand in Denver. Going up against the league's best would also get the same players ready for tough, physical games that are part and parcel of the international setup.

Australian players go hammer and tong at each other for Queensland and New South Wales, readying them for the world stage. Don't we want English players to do the same?


The War of the Roses was scrapped for a reason though - players were playing too many games. Add into the mix that coaches are constantly bemoaning the tough Easter period and the War of the Roses concept would likely not go down well. The introduction of another three games into the already demanding structure may not exactly be the best for player welfare and could create as much negative publicity as positive.

It is also possible that the series' teams would be made up of many players from the same team. For example, Leeds and Castleford would be without a number of their stars for the fixtures. The difference in the NRL's salary cap to the Super League's means those Down Under can afford a bigger, more in-depth squad. Take Kallum Watkins, Ryan Hall, Jack Walker, and Stevie Ward out of the Leeds side and the Rhinos would be seriously disrupted. To lose key men such as this for the series would not exactly sit well with the Leeds club nor would it enable them to be at full-strength for their Super League campaign.

But, there is another problem in the midst too; is concentrating on Yorkshire and Lancashire too narrow-minded? The likes of Cumbria and London have all produced a number of stars in recent years. Kyle Amor, Brad Singleton, Shaun Lunt and James Donaldson all hail from Cumbria whilst the likes of Louie McCarthy-Scarsbrook, Mike McMeeken, Dan Sarginson and Tony Clubb are all London born-and-bred. To constrict the concept to just these two counties would be a hand in the face to stars such as these and would acknowledge that Rugby League is still very much limited to the M62 corridor.

The RFL needs to firmly back it

Rugby League at the minute appears stagnant; it needs something to rejuvenate it. The War of the Roses would not exactly be the saviour for the sport, but it would offer fans a different and unique competition. To watch many of Super League's greatest players play out a thrilling and competitive one-off game or series would appeal to the majority of Rugby League fans in this country.

It would also allow international-quality players to experience big-game occasions, preparing them for international games and competitions. If the RFL marketed and advertised it as well as the Magic Weekend concept, then the fans are sure to come. But, it would need something special from the RFL to do so and, lately, it does not appear as though the governing body has what it takes.. #RugbyLeague #RL #WaroftheRoses