Australia and New Zealand have signed legally binding agreements to take part in next year’s rescheduled Rugby League World Cup, which will finish with all three finals in Manchester over one weekend.
The withdrawal of two of the game’s most successful nations prompted organisers in August to choose to postpone the event for another 12 months, leading to 100 days of work to reschedule the fixtures and put all plans back in place to host the event in 2022 instead.
The result was the confirmation on Friday of the new schedule for the whole tournament, with only a handful of venue changes made from the original plan.
Jon Dutton, chief executive of RLWC2021, confirmed at the launch of the fixtures in Manchester that, unlike earlier this year, there are “legally binding, signed agreements” for all 32 teams that will compete across the men’s, women’s and wheelchair events.
“We now have 32 signed participation agreements from the 21 competing nations,” said Dutton. “We have rebuilt some relationships and now we’re looking forward.
“We’ve had to work hard; we’ve reached out to Andrew Abdo, the chief executive of the ARLC, and Greg Peters, the chief executive of New Zealand Rugby League, and had what I would describe as positive reconciliatory conversations.
“What has changed is desire. They did not want to play in the tournament this year, they want to play in the tournament next year. They appreciate how significant this is for international Rugby League.”
Dutton will continue to work on building relationships Down Under by meeting the chief executive of every NRL club and as well every nation over the coming months, having revealed how his team had to renegotiate around 170 contracts to put the show back on the road for next year.
In total five matches have had to be relocated from the proposed schedule for hosting in 2021, most significantly the Wheelchair final, which was due to be at the now-unavailable M&S Bank Arena in Liverpool.
Instead, it will be at Manchester Central on 18th November, meaning that all three finals will now be in the same city over one weekend, with the men’s and women’s finals taking place at Old Trafford the following day.
“I don’t believe in sporting history there has ever been a situation where people can watch three World Cup finals in the same city in 24 hours,” hailed Chris Brindley, RLWC2021 chair.
The other changes to the schedule see Wigan’s DW Stadium become a host venue, replacing the unavailable Anfield as host for a double-header involving a men’s quarter-final and an England women’s group match against Canada, while Headingley and the MKM Stadium have swapped men’s group matches with Australia-Fiji moved to Leeds and New Zealand-Jamaica now in Hull.
The showpiece matches remain in place, including the men’s opener at St James’ Park between England and Samoa and a men’s semi-final at the Emirates Stadium in London, with tickets now back on sale.
“No surprise, but the three biggest sellers are the double-header finals at Old Trafford, the Emirates Stadium, which continues to attract way above our target, and the opening game in Newcastle,” said Dutton.
“Ambitiously we are going to target a sell-out for the opening women’s game, England versus Brazil at Headingley, and we believe we can achieve that. And of course, (we target) a sell-out for all three finals.”
The BBC has also recommitted to televising every minute of the action in all three competitions across their platforms.
There will also be a fourth competition running alongside the other three next autumn, with the first-ever Physical Disability Rugby League World Cup, now including Ireland to form a six-nation tournament (the four Home Nations plus Australia and New Zealand) which will be held entirely in Warrington.
“We’re responsible for staging the tournament, but it’s slightly different in that athletes will fundraise to come over here, so we won’t be responsible for the direct team cost,” said Dutton of the PDRL competition.
“What we are responsible for doing and what we will absolutely (do) is make it significant,” he continued, adding: “This is for the sport to get behind and say, ‘we are an inclusive tournament, let’s celebrate that’.”
The above content is also available in the regular weekly edition of League Express, on newsstands every Monday in the UK and as a digital download. Click here for more details.