Australia and New Zealand commit to playing at Rugby League World Cup

The Guardian
The Guardian
Australia take on New Zealand in 2019 Photograph: Mark Metcalfe/Getty Images

Australia and New Zealand have signed legally binding participation agreements to compete in next year’s Rugby League World Cup, the tournament’s chief executive revealed on the day the full schedule for the delayed event was unveiled.

The World Cup was due to be held in England this autumn before organisers pushed the tournament back 12 months after the Kangaroos and the Kiwis said they would not attend due to concerns around player safety and Covid-19 rates in the United Kingdom. However they, along with the other 19 nations that will compete in the men’s, women’s and wheelchair competitions, have now fully committed to participating in 2022, Jon Dutton said.

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He said that with the agreements now signed, his remit reverts to rebuilding relationships with Australia and New Zealand. He will go to Australia in January and hold up to 50 meetings with NRL clubs and senior figures from both nations.

“That adds more confidence,” he said. “We’ve had what I would describe as positive, conciliatory conversations. They didn’t want to play this year, but they do next year. They appreciate how significant this is for international rugby league.

“We all needed a break after August [when the competition was postponed]. We needed to stop feeling sorry for ourselves and come back positive. The agreements are as legally binding as any other contract we have in place. We have every nation signed and committed and we didn’t have that before. Dwelling on what might have been isn’t important any more. Everyone now wants to look forward and make this happen.”

Dutton also insisted that no matter what the Covid situation looks like next autumn, the tournament has no plans to introduce its own policy surrounding the vaccination status of players. “The rates both here and in Australia are heartening but regardless, we will adhere to whatever Public Health England rules are in place,” he said. “There will be nothing mandatory from our end in terms of vaccination status.”

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The men’s tournament begins on 15 October when England play Samoa at St James’ Park, with a crowd of more than 50,000 the aim. The women’s event begins in Leeds on 1 November, where organisers are targeting a sell-out at Headingley for England’s game with the debutants Brazil. Only five of the 61 fixtures have been affected by the postponement across all three tournaments, but one of those is the men’s quarter-final that was due to be staged at Anfield.

With Liverpool’s stadium undergoing renovation work next autumn, the quarter-final involving the winner of England’s group will be staged at the DW Stadium in Wigan instead. The Emirates Stadium will still host a men’s semi-final – almost certain to be England’s should they reach that far – while all three finals will now be played in Manchester within 24 hours of each other. The men’s and women’s finals will take place at Old Trafford in a double-header on 19 November, the day after Manchester Central stages the wheelchair final.

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