The Duke of Sussex, Patron of the Rugby Football League, wishes Rugby League a Happy 125th Birthday, praising the sport’s community values
The Duke spoke with players, coaches, and volunteers, hosted a special birthday quiz, and introduced his own special guest – one of the greatest ever players of the game – Ellery Hanley MBE.
The Duke of Sussex talked via videolink to members of the Rugby League family about what the sport means to them and their experience during lockdown. He then led the group in a just-for-fun ‘set of six’ quiz to help celebrate the sport’s 125th birthday. The Duke expressed his admiration for the way Rugby League people have come together in this period ‘as a family’ and how the sport has thrived over 125 years – and his particular admiration for the speed and bravery of the players and the contribution the sport makes to its communities. He said:
“It can bring so many families together, bring so many people together… it doesn’t matter whether you’re in the stands, whether you’re the groundsman, whether you’re a player, whether you’re a fan, or whether you’re a first-time watcher, every single person is bound by this family feeling.”
The Duke surprised the group by introducing his own special guest – Rugby League legend Ellery Hanley. Ellery shared his life-long love for the sport, including the mutual respect between players and its warmth and friendliness. The Duke heard from St Helens Women’s Super League players Gemma Walsh and Emily Rudge, who also captains England Women. Both players are missing the sport and glad to have each other to train alongside. Jamie Jones-Buchanan spoke passionately about the founding of the rebel sport of Rugby League 125 years ago as ‘the glue that holds communities together’. The Leeds Rhinos and England star was joined in his home-made gym by son Kurgan who plays for Stanningley ARLFC. Newcastle Thunder’s Jordan Robinson and academy player Alex Donaghy joined from Kingston Park Stadium in the city and shared how the sport has come together in the North East despite the impact on the playing season.
Volunteer Fionna Everson joined from her home in Hull where she has supported the community game for over 30 years and is helping the return of children’s Rugby League. The Duke looked forward to the Rugby League World Cup in 2021 and concluded by congratulating everyone on getting their quiz questions right and by thanking everyone for their continued commitment to the sport.
Rugby League is one of the few sports that can point to the time and date of its founding – 6.30 pm on Thursday, 29 August 1895 at the George Hotel in the centre of Huddersfield. The Northern Union was founded, enabling working men to break time to play and be remunerated. Rugby League was born. The Duke succeeded HM The Queen as Patron of the RFL in December 2016. Last year he presented the Challenge Cup at Wembley, meeting representatives of children’s, Women’s and Wheelchair Rugby League as well as the finalists.
In January he hosted the draw for the 2021 Rugby League World Cup in Buckingham Palace and launched the RLWC2021 Mental Fitness Charter. The Duke has been active in supporting the England squad throughout his relationship with the sport.