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 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 League 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.
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. 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.
THE SUMMER ERA
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.
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 they 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 KR 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 1 following a poor Season which left the club in administration. For 2011 they started the season with a -9 point penalty but after the club was rescued from Administration by a consortium led by Dick Raaz and his fellow directors Ralph Calvin and Michael Woods, the Club has started to rebuild and have appointed David Seeds the assistant over the previous three seasons and who is the record tryscorer at the club his aim is to move the club forward and back into the championship. Before the start of the 2011 season, the club also added directors Paul Nelson, Ian Harvey and Gary Blinco. The club moved forward but unfortunately the 9 point penalty was to much and the club finished fifth in the league. They went away to Doncaster in the first round of the playoff where they lost and were knocked out the competition. After the Game David Seeds resigned from the post of Head Coach.
After this decision by David the club was on the look put for a new coach, there was a lot of interest in the post, and the club opted for an Australian Coach in Don Gailer a respected coach from the Queensland Cup completition. On the back of this appointment the club made some big name signings in the form of Richard Varkulis and Jamie Rooney.