Competitive football was introduced into Northern Ontario in 1923 when the high schools in northern communities began to play. Later, exhibition games between graduates of the high school competitions and the high school teams were staged to allow the high school graduates an opportunity to play the game they loved one more time. In the years prior to World War II inter-community exhibition games, or "intermediate caliber" games, were played between the graduates of high school teams. The exhibition games involving high school graduates ceased during the war years.
During the early years of the 1950s High school football players, upon their graduation, began looking for an opportunity to continue to play intermediate football in their own communities. Newspaper accounts show that in 1950 interested players in Kirkland Lake played exhibition games against their counterparts in the Tri-towns (Cobalt, Haileybury, New Liskeard) area. In 1951 the Kirkland Lake Youth Club football team was formed and continued to stage exhibition games. This Club would later become the Kirkland Lake Alouettes. The Tri-town team would later become the Tri-town Raiders. At a meeting in June 1952 at the Red Cross Centre in Sudbury, the Sudbury Amateur Football Club was formed. The club organized exhibition games against neighbouring communities through the fall of 1952 and 1953. This Club would later become the Sudbury Hardrocks. In 1953 a group of players from North Bay formed to compete in these exhibition football games. This group would later become the North Bay Roughriders.
During the 1953 home and home series of exhibition games between Sudbury and North Bay, Britt Jessop, a prominent North Bay sportsman, felt that if these players were willing to play "outlaw" games they were deserving of an organized league. He sent telegrams to delegates of the northern community football clubs to invite them to a meeting in North Bay in the spring of 1954. The delegates met at the North Bay City Hall and created an organized league for competitions and named it the Northern Ontario Rugby-Football Union. This newly formed Northern Ontario Rugby-Football Union petitioned the Canadian Rugby Union for the privilege of operating a "recognized" Northern Ontario league. The league was granted admission and affiliated with the intermediate class of the Canadian Rugby Union and granted a league logo.
Bill Plaunt, a Sudbury, sportsman and businessman, donated the Donald Plaunt Memorial Trophy to the league to be competed for as the league championship trophy. The trophy was donated in memory of Bill's brother Donald, who was killed in action during World War II. Henry Kangro, an outstanding player in the "outlaw" and early years of the league, donated the August Kangro Memorial Trophy for the league's leading scorer. The trophy was donated in memory of Henry's older brother August, who was killed in action during the Korean War (1950-1953).