The 2021 Rugby League World Cup ‘shows where the international game is going’

From tropical Colombia to the Gulf of Guinea, qualification campaigns are already creaking into action for the 17th edition of the Rugby League World Cup which is scheduled to kick off in France in 2025.

After five weeks and 61 matches across men’s, women’s and wheelchair disciplines, the 2021 tournament reached its conclusion in front of 67,502 at Old Trafford on Saturday with a predictable double triumph for Australia’s all-conquering Kangaroos and Jillaroos.

Bolstered by strong television viewing figures and backed by Mal Meninga, one of its most persuasive of promoters, there appears to be genuine intent among many of the sport’s power-brokers in sustaining the future of the international sport.

Australia v Samoa – Rugby League World Cup – Final – Old Trafford
The future of international rugby league will be dictated by the power-brokers in Australia (Tim Goode/PA)

“I’m in a position where I can say this, because I’m the coach of the World Cup winners, but I thought the whole tournament was an excellent showpiece and just shows where the international game is going,” said Meninga after his side’s 30-10 final win over Samoa.

“Having Samoa in there is great for the international game, so I’m looking forward to the decision-makers making their next decision about where the game is going. I’m a great supporter of rugby league and I want it to prosper in a way that delivers for everyone.”

International Rugby League, the organisation responsible for running the global game, is hoping to finalise a calendar in December but is being frustrated by difficult negotiations being conducted down under by the players’ union and the Australia Rugby League Commission.

Australia v Lebanon – Rugby League World Cup – Quarter Final – John Smith’s Stadium
Mal Meninga hopes international rugby league can start to flourish (Mike Egerton/PA)

World Cup chief executive Jon Dutton joined Meninga in calling for its urgent implementation in order to build on the progress made at this year’s tournament.

The next fixture for England’s men will be against France in April but an international schedule for the end of the 2023 season and beyond has yet to be drawn up.

“I understand it’s complicated but something has to change,” said Dutton. “I think it’s going to take some bravery, some boldness and some vision – but all the components are there.

“There is exponential growth in in international rugby league in the totality and I don’t think the focus should be solely on the men’s game.

“The women’s, wheelchair and PDRL games can take to the sport to new heights alongside the men.”

Next week in Jerico, Colombia, the host nation will be joined by Brazil and Chile in the South American Championships, which acts as the first round of continental qualifying for 2025. Similar tournaments have already taken place in Bodrum, Turkey, and the Ghanaian capital Accra.

Canada v Brazil – Women’s Rugby League World Cup – Group A – Headingley Stadium
Brazil’s Amazonas lit up the 2021 Rugby League World Cup (Isaac Parkin/PA)

They are a world away from matching Australian might, which was underscored by the women’s clinical 54-4 final win over their closest rivals, New Zealand, before the stage was set for Meninga’s men to also wrap up their third straight title.

Yet from Jamaica’s debut, culminating in the scenes surrounding their first try from full-back Ben Jones-Bishop against New Zealand, to Brazil’s engaging Amazona, the tournament served to underscore the enormous untapped potential of the international game.

Greece, plus America and Spain in the wheelchair tournament, also made their respective World Cup debuts and Dutton is optimistic all five nations can build on their initial forays.

New Zealand v Jamaica – Rugby League World Cup – Group C – MKM Stadium
Ben Jones-Bishop made history for Jamaica (Danny Lawson/PA)

“I’ve sat down with Jermaine Coleman and had a long conversations about Jamaica’s journey,” he said.

“Jamaica have such a chance because there’s development and growth in Kingston already. Romeo Monteith has done such work there.

“The World Cup gives you profile and visibility and scope for growth and I think that’s going to be felt in Jamaica.

England v France – Wheelchair Rugby League World Cup – Final – Manchester Central
Tom Halliwell led England to an historic wheelchair rugby world title (David Davies/PA)

“In Greece, we know through the work done with their Government with the team going to Athens has created visibility for them.

“Brazil is more complicated because of the size of the country but what it’s done is create an appetite for growth.

“With the USA and Spain wheelchair teams, you’re seeing new nations who in the men’s running game might never get to the latter stages of a World Cup but the USA in particular, with the athletes they have at their disposal, it may well be possible that one day they lift a Rugby League World Cup and I think that’s brilliant.”