During the 1920s and 1930s the club regularly turned out two teams and on odd occasions three, normally in school holiday periods when local 6th-formers played.
Rotherham in common with many clubs shut down during the Second World War and the club was reformed in 1946 at Clifton Lane. The next fifteen years were a struggle in terms of running teams and raising finance to improve facilities. The club received a big boost when a local secondary modern school started rugby and soon a regular supply of players were coming through.Rugby started to be played in many local schools and the arrival of a number of Physical Education teachers in the area who were rugby specialists helped both the playing standard and the club organisation.
Prior to the advent of a national league structure, Rotherham struggled to get fixtures against establishment sides, largely from the south of England, meaning when the league was established they were placed well down the league structure despite always showing an ambition to develop. This perceived snub by other top teams, and placement at the bottom of the rugby hierarchy fired the initial drive up the leagues and led to several former players such as Mike Yarlett investing their time and resources to transform the club.
Rotherham entered league rugby in 1987 enjoying enormous success with seven subsequent promotions culminating by eventually reaching the Premiership. In the 1988–89 season, Rotherham won the North East 1 title and so began its rise up the rugby pyramid. This was immediately followed up by five further promotions in six seasons to propel the club to the fourth tier of English rugby by 1995–96.
This period in the club’s development was later to be considered the start of the “golden decade”, and secured legendary status for several players including John Dudley, Richard Selkirk, Craig West and Kevin Plant. During this period Rotherham attracted some criticism for their early adoption of paying players during a period later referred to as “Shamateurism” as most progressive clubs in essence paid their players while keeping up the pretence of being Amateur clubs.
In this era, the Yorkshire Cup, still a prestigious competition in which all the top Yorkshire sides competed, became a symbolic quest for the Rotherham players and management. The competition had been dominated for the previous 25 years by Wakefield, Harrogate and the four big Leeds clubs, Headingley, Roundhay, Morley and Otley, none of whom would give Rotherham a fixture prior to the introduction of league rugby. Rotherham reached the final for the first time in their history in 1993, going down 22–5 to Otley, however 2 years later there was no doubting that Rotherham had arrived as they defeated Harrogate 39-3 at Kirkstall to win the Cup for the first and to date only time.
The 1994 County Championship final at Twickenham also provided further evidence of Rotherham’s ascent to senior club status in Yorkshire, as Kevin Plant and Craig West were members of the Yorkshire side (along with soon to be Rotherham scrum-half Guy Easterby — then with Harrogate) who won the championship in exhilarating fashion with a 26–3 triumph over Durham.
Summarising the success in 1995, the independent put Rotherham’s success into context saying:
|The Morley outside-half Kevin Plant was the next significant arrival at Clifton Lane, with the RAF and Lancashire scrum-half Steve Worrall soon joining him. However, Forster’s masterstroke was to persuade the Yorkshire No 8 Richard Selkirk to leave Headingley and take over the captaincy. With Selkirk and Forster at the helm, Rotherham swept through the Northern League, winning promotion three times – twice after unbeaten campaigns and each time as champions – to lift the Whitbread Junior Club of the Year trophy in 1992.
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