Scaled-down rugby showcase pushed back to 2026


Rugby League WC pushed back one year Image: Principality Stadium, David Roberts, CC BY 2.0

The next Rugby League World Cup has been pushed back 12 months to 2026 and will take place in the Southern Hemisphere on a reduced scale. It is the main part of a revamped long-term international calendar that will include the return of an Ashes series for the first time in more than 20 years.

‘The Guardian’ stated that the tournament was due to be staged in France in 2025 before the scheduled hosts withdrew in May, saying a failure to secure certain financial guarantees left them unable to assure the International Rugby League (IRL) that they could stage the event. That left the IRL facing a frantic scramble to secure a new host in time, with New Zealand, Australia, Fiji, and even Qatar among those expressing an interest.

The Rugby League World Cup is an international rugby league tournament contested by the top national men’s representative teams. The tournament is administered by the International Rugby League (IRL) and was first held in France in 1954, which was the first World Cup held for any form of rugby football.

The International Rugby League (IRL) is the global governing body for the sport of rugby league football. Previously known as the Rugby League Imperial Board, the International Rugby League Board and latterly the Rugby League International Federation, the IRL is responsible for the Laws of the Game, the development, organisation and governance of rugby leagues internationally, and for the sport’s major international tournaments, most notably the Rugby League World Cup.

‘The Guardian’ further stated that the host nation is yet to be confirmed, but the IRL said on August 3rd that it had agreed at a board meeting in Singapore recently to postpone to 2026, as part of a new cycle for the international game. It also announced that the World Cup will take place in the southern hemisphere, though it will not be in Qatar after they withdrew from the reckoning. Australia and New Zealand appear to be the likely frontrunners, with the men’s, women’s and wheelchair tournaments running alongside one another as they did last year in England (UK).

However, the men’s tournament will be reduced from 16 teams to 10, with the eight quarter-finalists from last year’s tournament -Australia, Samoa, England, New Zealand, Tonga, Papua New Guinea, Lebanon and Fiji – automatically qualifying. They will be joined by two qualifiers, with the host nation to be revealed this year.

Informed Troy Grant, Chair of the IRL, “We will have an expedited bid process and the host will be identified before the year’s end, once the Board has completed its due diligence of those bids.”

The long-term plans for the England men’s side have also been revealed, with the return of the Ashes for the first time since 2003. England will travel to Australia in 2025 for a series against the world champions before the Kangaroos head North in 2028.

The Australian national rugby league team, the Kangaroos, have represented Australia in senior men’s rugby league football competition since the establishment of the ‘Northern Union game’ in Australia in 1908.

New Zealand will tour England in 2027 with a World Cup penciled in for 2030, continuing the timetable of the men’s tournament taking place every four years. The same is not true for the women’s World Cup, though, with that event due to take place in 2026 alongside the men’s tournament before becoming a standalone competition in 2028. It will then take place every two years.

Potential Tri and Four Nations competitions are expected to fill the remaining gaps on the calendar for 2024 and 2029, with England probably competing against fellow Northern Hemisphere sides and the likes of Australia, New Zealand, Tonga and Samoa (countries in Oceania) doing the same on the other side of the world.

It had already been confirmed that Tonga would tour England this autumn, with a three-Test series penciled in for the end of the season.

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