The Rugby League International Federation is aiming to break new ground in 2019 with the introduction of a Nines World Cup for the first time as part of long-term plans to expand and popularise the game at international level in the style of Twenty20 cricket.
The sport has some experience with a shortened nine-a-side format already, with the NRL hosting a pre-season nines tournament for the past four years. However, the RLIF board agreed to introduce an international nines tournament for the first time at a meeting on Tuesday, which will complement England’s tour to Australia and New Zealand in the same year.
The concept, similar to sevens in rugby union, has attracted praise since its debut in 2014, with the NRL’s changes to the traditional rules including nine-minute halves, unlimited interchanges and extra points being awarded for tries scored in a “bonus zone”. It has not been confirmed whether the RLIF will adopt those rules for its own nines event. A decision will then be made following that event to determine whether it becomes a regular fixture on the international calendar.
“Expressions of interest to host the Nines World Cup have been received and a full report will be made to the board meeting in May,” the RLIF announced. “Following an evaluation of the 2019 Nines World Cup, the board will review whether the 2023 RLIF Global Event should be a Nines World Cup or a 13-a-side event.”
There is an appetite from within Super League to introduce the nines concept domestically in this country in the coming years, and that may now increase following confirmation of the 2019 tournament.
England will attempt to win the 13-a-side World Cup for only the second time this autumn, but their plans for next year have yet to emerge despite some discussions about Great Britain possibly returning as a concept for the first time in more than a decade.
However, the RLIF did announce plans for next year’s international schedule to include an Emerging Nations World Championship. The RLIF will invest a six-figure sum into the two-week tournament to try to develop the international game beyond the sport’s more established tier one nations.
Canada, Greece, Hong Kong, Hungary, Latvia, Malta, Niue, Philippines, Thailand and Vanuatu will all compete in the event, which will be held in Sydney. “The RLIF is determined that a measure of success for the event and RLIF’s investment of $100,000 will be the legacy provided by players returning to their home nation to expand and further develop the sport,” it said.
“It will put the spotlight on the fact that rugby league is played in more than 60 countries and give recognition to the many volunteer players and officials around the globe who do great things for this sport,” added the RLIF’s chief executive, Nigel Wood.
Fourteen teams will compete in this year’s World Cup in Australia and New Zealand, and the RLIF confirmed that figure will be increased to 16 for the 2021 event in England. The qualification criteria have been expanded to ensure that two teams from the Americas reach the tournament: only one, the USA, qualified for this year’s event.
However, all eight sides who reach the quarter-finals of this year’s World Cup will be assured automatic qualification for the tournament in four years’ time. “The Board were mindful that every nation should have an opportunity to participate in a qualification process in 2021,” Wood said. “This solution provides every nation with that opportunity while rewarding success for eight of our members who reach the quarter-finals of the 2017 World Cup.”