The early years of the Northern Ontario Rugby Football Union were exceedingly grim as the clubs had to struggle to survive. They had to finance equipment purchases and seasonal operating costs and establish the league as a viable form of entertainment to the northern sports fan.
To overcome the financial struggles most clubs turned to the high schools and the professional teams at the time for old equipment, and, prominent sportsmen, local merchants and fund raising ventures for financial support.
The league and intermediate football also had to be sold to the communities as a spectator sport and this was accomplished by the manner in which the clubs staged intermediate football games. The ensuing media coverage and the institution of an in-depth statistical records package, in 1959, allowed the local sports fan to follow the exploits of the players competing in the league. The league also instituted league awards to recognize outstanding play. In 1958 the Northern Ontario Rugby-Football Union instituted the Most Valuable Player award, in 1960 the Lineman of the Year award, and, in 1963 it instituted the Leo Troy Trophy, named in honour of long time executive and league supporter Leo Troy, for the Rookie of the Year award. All of these awards were voted upon by the players and the coaches. The packaging of the games, the media coverage and the recognition of outstanding play through league awards allowed the league to be embraced by the northern communities as exciting entertainment.
The league began with four teams: Sudbury Hardrocks, North Bay Roughriders, Kirkland Lake Alouettes and the Tri-Town Raiders. During the ensuing decade the league had expanded by three teams but by 1963 only Sudbury Hardrocks, North Bay Roughriders (renamed Ti-Cats), Kirkland Lake Alouettes and Sturgeon Falls Bombers, who entered in 1955, remained. The Tri-Town team for two years then took a three-year leave of absence before returning for one more season, whereas, the Rouyn-Noranda Fantassins participated for a three-year period then took a three-year leave of absence before returning for another two years. The other team to join the league was the North Renfrew Rams who participated for only one season in 1956.
Perhaps not so ironically, the teams that completed the first decade where also the most competitive teams on the field. The Sudbury Hardrocks captured the Plaunt Memorial Trophy five times, the Sturgeon Falls Bombers captured it on three consecutive occasions and the North Bay Ti-Cats captured it once. The exception to the pattern was the North Renfrew Rams who won a championship in their only year in the league.
Beginning in 1955 the N.O.R.F.U. champion went on to compete for the Ontario Intermediate championship. The teams from the south won all the first nine contests but the games became very close as the decade wore on.
By the time of the Northern Ontario Rugby-Football Union’s tenth season, in 1963, the league had resolved its early financial struggles and established itself as a “major” sport in many northern communities.