The first Rugby League match played in the Royal Navy took place on 25 Feb 97, and involved teams from HMS COLLINGWOOD and HMS OSPREY. HMS COLLINGWOOD won by 42 points to 20. On 1 Mar a squad represented the Royal Navy in the annual Army Rugby League 9s competition held at Chatham, beating various teams including in the final the Parachute Regiment 20 points to nil. On 12 March Portsmouth Command played Naval Air Command and in April HMY BRITANNIA became the first ship to play a fixture and were narrowly defeated by the Australian Air Force. The official launch of the RNRLA took place on 17 Sep 97 when the Royal Navy played Great Britain under 23s at Burnaby Road, Portsmouth. Sponsorship from local firms and donations from various ships Welfare Funds made it possible to finance the inaugural game, which was watched by some 1,000 spectators. The games obvious potential was quickly recognised by the WARRIOR group which became RNRLA sponsor.
Despite a requirement for a 3 year period before being formally recognised by the Royal Navy Sports Council, exceptional approval was given on 29 Oct 97 (i.e. just 6 months after the first game played). This was due to the obvious grass roots ground swell of support for the game within the Royal Navy. Formal recognition brought Public Funding to the Association in the form of Recreational Travel, Annual Sports Grant and Annual Sports Equipment Grant.