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Long road to world cup glory

Long road to world cup glory

The New Zealand rugby league team are world champions after the weekend’s historic win over Australia but the road to that pinnacle has been anything but smooth, according to Bill Greenwood.

Mr Greenwood graduates in Palmerston North on Friday with a PhD. His thesis chronicles the early development of the sport in New Zealand, from 1908-20.

The 76-year old, who was born in Lancashire but has lived in Wanganui for more than 30 years, completed a Master’s degree after retiring, which focused on the emergence of rugby league in Wanganui and its surrounding provinces.

For his PhD thesis Mr Greenwood widened his research to cover the entire country and found rugby league faced major hurdles in the early days.

“Rugby league began here in 1908 and faced opposition from the more established rugby union from the beginning,” Mr Greenwood says. “Union campaigned against rugby league in a number of ways to try and keep stop players making the switch.”

An Auckland team toured the country in 1910 and the game grew from there until the World War I.

“After the war, it was a struggle to get players involved. While it was true that most players in New Zealand were working class, like those who played the game in Australia and England, the numbers involved was considerably less than in those countries. In Australia, for instance, 20 clubs were started in New South Wales by a group of businessmen. In New Zealand, there weren’t the centres of industry and the factories that there were in Sydney.”

Research was carried out mainly by reading old newspapers, as there was a dearth of literature about rugby league’s formative years.

“Even the minutes of rugby league club meetings and other similar documents had mostly been lost or destroyed, so newspapers were my main source of information,” he says.

Rugby league, of course, kept its foothold in the New Zealand market and the game here reached its pinnacle with the weekend’s world cup triumph, in what Mr Greenwood says was a wonderful game.

While 2008 is the centenary season for rugby league across the Tasman the official centenary here is in 2010, which Mr Greenwood thinks would be an opportune time for his history of the game’s roots in New Zealand to be published.

“At the moment I’m taking a break, but it would be nice for it to come out then.”

Mr Greenwood’s will be one of 29 new Doctorates to be conferred on Friday.


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