What next for Rugby League World Cup after Australia and New Zealand pull out?

·4-min read

The decision of Australia and New Zealand to pull out of the Rugby League World Cup has thrown organisers into a quandary.

Here the PA news agency looks at what might happen next.

Does this mean the tournament will have to be postponed to 2022?

That will be one of the considerations when the 2021 World Cup board members sit down to discuss their next move. It seems inconceivable that the tournament could go ahead without two of the three major powers, although there was something of a precedent in 1995 when Australia were forced to leave behind roughly half their squad who were aligned to the ARL at the height of the Super League war – and they were still good enough to beat England in the final at Wembley. There is a suggestion that Australia and New Zealand players could switch their allegiance to other nations who are competing in the 2021 tournament.

Is the decision irreversible?

Rugby Football League chairman Simon Johnson clearly believes not and he began a campaign to shame the Australians and New Zealanders into performing an about-turn. It looks a tall order but there are hopes the players themselves might put pressure on their NRL clubs to relent. Kangaroos hooker Damien Cook has publicly spoken of his desire to play in the World Cup and his sentiments are thought to be typical.

Will there be a knock-on effect for other southern hemisphere nations?

England v Tonga – Rugby League World Cup – Semi Final – Mount Smart Stadium
Tonga are keen to play in the 2021 World Cup (PA Media/NRL)

The bulk of players will come from NRL clubs who are the ones who have been most vocal in calling for a postponement so Thursday’s announcement will inevitably cast a doubt over the participation of Fiji, Tonga, Samoa, Papua New Guinea and Cook Islands. Lebanon and Greece would also rely on NRL players and England have five NRL-based players in Shaun Wane’s squad so the ramifications of the announcement are considerable. Encouragingly for the organisers, Tonga coach Kristian Woolf, who also coaches St Helens, says his players are keen to represent the Pacific nation this autumn.

What sort of pressure will there be to press ahead without the big two?

Arsenal v West Bromwich Albion – Premier League – Emirates Stadium
The Emirates Stadium has been booked to host one of the World Cup semi-finals (Richard Heathcote/PA)

Planning began over five years ago and organisers were excited at the prospect of capitalising on the feel-good factor generated by the successful staging of Euro 2020. There has already been pressure from the UK Government which invested £25million in the tournament as part of its Northern Powerhouse project while all 21 venues have been locked in, including Arsenal’s Emirates and Old Trafford, along with accommodation and base camps for the competing teams. There is also a commitment by the BBC to broadcast live all 61 games across the men’s, women’s and wheelchair competitions.

What would be the ramifications if the tournament is re-scheduled for 2022?

Apart from having to re-book stadia, with the complications of the football season in full swing, and re-negotiate with the BBC, the tournament could go up against the FIFA World Cup which is scheduled to take place in Qatar from November 21 to December 18. There would also be knock-on effects for both Super League and the NRL, whose domestic seasons would be impacted in 2022.

What would happen in the autumn if the World Cup is put back?

For a start, there would be an opportunity to extend the Super League season, which is currently in danger of falling apart due to the spate of postponements. But internationals could still take place, with the Emirates Stadium booked for November 20 and Old Trafford secured for a week later. England head coach Shaun Wane is desperate to see his side in action after losing the Ashes Series in 2020 to Covid and Wigan half-back Jackson Hastings has proposed a three-match series against the Combined Nations All Stars for whom he played in June.