John Priestley (L) and Andrew Cudbertson (R)

Date: 20/3/18

Photo: John Priestley (L) and Andrew Cudbertson (R) at the unveiling of the plaque on March 15th at Leigh Recreation Ground, Powerhouse lane, Widnes

The first ever official game of Rugby League between two UK university teams was played on March 15th 1968 when the University of Liverpool hosted the University of Leeds. Leeds had started their Rugby League adventure almost exactly one year previously. The game was played at Leigh Recreation Ground in Widnes, largely due to the unavailability of a university pitch and thanks to the efforts of the great Rugby League referee, Mick Naughton.

To mark the anniversary, there was a series of events over the last weekend culminating in a Gala Dinner in Liverpool city centre attended by players past and present which included eight people from the original Liverpool squad and six players who played in the original game representing both Liverpool and Leeds.

Liverpool’s original organiser was John Priestley who recalled how the game came about.

“Our Chemistry Department played Leeds in an annual Rugby Union game but we had several players who played Rugby League on a regular basis. I knew that Leeds had started a Rugby League team and so I made contact with Andrew (Cudbertson), he just showed me my original hand written letter which he has kept for all these years.”

“I approached the Athletic Union for support and they told me that the first thing I needed to do was prove that I had enough interested players. I posted a sheet of A4 on the notice board and watched it fill up over a few days to the point where we clearly had the interest.”

“We approached Mick Naughton to referee the original game and we got more than we bargained for, he arranged the pitch, the referee and even coached us”

“We never thought that our idea to play a game of Rugby League would progress to what we see today but I am glad that it did.”