Objectives To compare 1-year clinical efficacy of (1) initial triple disease-modifying antirheumatic drug therapy (iTDT) with initial methotrexate (MTX) monotherapy (iMM) and (2) different glucocorticoid (GC) bridging therapies: oral versus a single intramuscular injection in early rheumatoid arthritis. Methods In a single-blinded randomised clinical trial patients were randomised into three arms: (A) iTDT (methotrexate+sulfasalazine+hydroxychloroquine) with GCs intramuscularly; (B) iTDT with an oral GC tapering scheme and (C) MTX with oral GCs similar to B. Primary outcomes were (1) area under the curve (AUC) of Health Assessment Questionnaire (HAQ) and Disease Activity Score (DAS) and (2) the proportion of patients with radiographic progression. Results 281 patients were randomly assigned to arms A (n=91), B (n=93) or C (n=97). The AUC DAS and HAQ were respectively -2.39 (95% CI -4.77 to -0.00) and -1.67 (95% CI -3.35 to 0.02) lower in patients receiving iTDT than in those receiving iMM. After 3 months, treatment failure occurred less often in the iTDT group, resulting in 40% fewer treatment intensifications. The difference in treatment intensifications between the arms required to maintain the predefined treatment goal remained over time. No differences were seen between the two GC bridging therapies. Respectively 21%, 24% and 23% of patients in arms A, B and C had radiographic progression after 1 year. Patients receiving iTDT had more adjustments of their medication owing to adverse events than those receiving iMM. Conclusions Treatment goals are attained more quickly and maintained with fewer treatment intensifications with iTDT than with iMM. However, no difference in radiographic progression is seen. Both GC bridging therapies are equally effective and, therefore, both can be used.