Rugby league in Cumbria can trace its roots back over 100 years to the formation of the Northern Union. Whitehaven had its own team, Whitehaven Recreation, which competed in the Rugby League Challenge Cup in the first decade of the 20th century.
Whitehaven RLFC was formed at a meeting held in the Miners' Welfare Club at Kells from the Whitehaven Miners' Welfare team in 1948 and shortly afterwards were admitted into the Northern Rugby Football Union by just three votes. Whitehaven took over the Miners' Welfare lease at the Recreation Ground. In their first game Haven beat Hull 5-0. There was a "disappointing" turnout of only 9,000 because of the pouring rain; in those days the Supporters' Club had 4,000 members. The early Whitehaven team were nicknamed "the Colliers" as the Recreation Ground because of the Miners' Welfare connection.
In a Britain that still was still recovering from wartime rationing and austerity Whitehaven gradually picked itself up. In 1951 the first of a long line of players from Australasia joined Haven as Neville Emery became player-coach. Under his guidance the club built a team that could compete with the best.
On Saturday 20 October 1956, Whitehaven defeated the Australian tourists 14-11 before a crowd of 10,917 at the Recreation Ground. Later that season the club came within minutes of a Wembley appearance when they lost 10-9 to Leeds in a Challenge Cup semi-final before a 50,000 crowd at the Odsal Stadium, featuring players such as the legendary Dick Huddart and full back John McKeown. The end of that season saw Emery return home to be replaced by Eppie Gibson, who rebuilt the team, and in 1959/60 the club finished 6th in the league their highest ever position.
1960s and onwards
The club's record attendance was set in 1960 when 18,500 spectators turned up for a third round Challenge Cup game against Wakefield Trinity.
The 1960s were a period of decline as the club struggled on the field, though in 1965 the club defeated the touring New Zealanders 12-5,the winning try scored by John Coupe. It wasn’t until 1970 that the club emerged from this lean spell. Under the coaching of Sol Roper they topped the league table for part of the 1969/70 season. Once again the club defeated the game's top clubs like St Helens, Wigan and Bradford Northern at the Recreation Ground.
Jeff Bawden in 1971/72, his first season as head coach, was able to take Whitehaven to Central Park and beat Wigan on their own patch for the first time in Whitehaven’s history. The club progressed over the next few years and in 1973 acquired floodlights.
However success was once again denied at the last hurdle as the club suffered semi-final defeats in both the Lancashire Cup and the John Player Cup. Two promotions to the top division came in 1980s and during this period the club produced a batch of internationals in scrum half Arnold 'Boxer' Walker, forward "Vince" Fox and centre "Vince" Gribbin. By the end of the 1980s the club found itself back in Division Two.
Whitehaven faced a financial crisis in 1992. Eleven local businessmen, Copeland Council and Albright & Wilson joined forces to form Whitehaven 1992 Ltd, the holding company which owns 70 per cent of the shares.
When Super League was proposed Whitehaven were supposed to merge with Barrow, Carlisle and Workington Town to form a Cumbria club to be based at Workington that would take part in the new summer competition. This was successfully resisted.
Whitehaven Warriors ended 1996 one place above the relegation positions. The appointment of Kiwi coaches Kurt Sorensen and Stan Martin brought about a revival at the club with Haven finishing 3rd in Division One in 1997 and reaching the play-off semi-finals only to lose to Hull.
Martin quit as coach in summer 1998, Colin Armstrong took temporary charge of Whitehaven before Edgar took over.
The merger issue resurfaced in 2000, Whitehaven were so heavily in debt that a merger with Workington seemed the only means of survival. However, the board of directors rejected a merger proposal with Workington Town and then resigned en masse.
Paul Cullen arrived as coach from Warrington in September 2000 taking over from Kevin Tamati. This heralded upward progression for Whitehaven. The club made steady progress and earned a place in National League 1 for 2003. He left in August 2002 to manage Warrington and was replaced by Steve McCormack.
In 2004 they were undefeated at home in the league and made it to the semi final of the Arriva Trains Cup losing to the eventual winners Leigh. They also narrowly lost out on promotion to Super League after losing 32–16 in extra time to Leigh in the NL1 grand final.
The following year despite Castleford being red hot favourites for promotion Whitehaven managed to win their first piece of silverware when the took the National League One League Leader's trophy, however they were unable to take this success into the grand final, where they were heavily beaten by the Castleford side.
Steve McCormack left to manage Widnes and was replaced by Dave Rotheram.
In 2006 in Dave Rotheram's first season in charge, they finished 4th and reached the National League 1 play-offs, only to be beaten by Steve McCormack's Widnes in a hard fought semi-final by 24–20. They were knocked out of the Northern Rail Cup at the quarter final stage by Hull Kingston Rovers who would eventually be promoted to the Engage Super League that season.
In late 2006 they became the first ever winners of the pre-season Ike Southward Trophy, beating neighbours Workington Town 18-6 at the Recreation Ground. Haven made it to the final of the Northern Rail Cup for the first time in 2007 but lost 54–6 to Widnes.
At the end of the 2010 season the club were relegated to Championship one and Following relegation Haven went into administration and re-formed under the name 'Whitehaven 2010' as a consequence Haven were deducted nine points. Club legend and record try-scorer David Seeds was appointed head coach and started the season unbeaten, wiping out the nine point deduction in the first few games but fell short of promotion being knocked out in the play-offs by Doncaster. Following the game David Seeds resigned as coach and Les Ashe resigned as assistant coach.
Towards the end of 2011 Haven appointed Don Gailer from the North Devils in Australia as new coach, with the remit being promotion to the Co-operative Championship. Haven finished 4th, thus securing the final promotion berth after Doncaster, Barrow and local rivals Workington Town. 2012 was a season of upheaval with coach Don Gailer leaving the club after a televised defeat at London Skolars.
In September 2012 Haven announced that ex Castleford coach Dave Woods would coach the side in 2013, Haven immediately set about strengthening for 2013 signing prop Paul Jackson from Super League side Castleford. Prior to the start of the season Haven announced a dual registration link-up with Super League side St Helens, during the season Ade Gardner, Paul Clough, Tommy Makinson, Carl Forster, Jordan Hand, Joe Greenwood, Anthony Walker and Adam Swift would turn out for the club with Swift in particular impressing from fullback. Haven started well, winning the opening two games before losing at home to Leigh Centurions in front of the Premier Sports cameras. Haven would finally break a 7 game losing streak against local rivals Workigton Town winning 29–18 on Sunday 23 June before securing a place in the Championship for the following season. Coach Dave Woods also signed a new deal and will be in situ at the Recreation ground in 2014.
The history of Whitehaven RLFC
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