Australian labour historians have rarely examined the social history of sport. The world of work has proved more engaging than patterns of popular culture and studies of the working class at play. The following article examines the history of a variant of rugby, rugby league, which, in two states of Australia and in the north of England became the ‘people’s game’. It reveals another side to the political lives of major labour movement figures and an important cultural dimension of the working-class experience. Contemporary events in the history of rugby league - principally the Super League ‘war’ of 1995 and its sequel, are placed in the context of the changing allegiances of Labor politics and the dismantlement of links between community and class. These shed light on why, despite rugby league’s historical links with a powerful labour movement, the code proved vulnerable to corporate piracy.