International Rugby League Chairman Troy Grant has admitted that he was shocked by the decision of the Australian Rugby League Commission and the New Zealand Rugby League to announce their withdrawal from the World Cup last week, but he believes there is still a chance they could be persuaded to change their minds, even though the timescale will be tight.
“We will hold a meeting on Monday with the World Cup team and stakeholders and quite clearly we have to decide how we are going to respond formally to the notification from the ARLC and NZRL,” Grant told League Express at the weekend.
“If they are going to change their minds, they need to do it by the first week in August in order to satisfy certain domestic protocols.
“Part of the problem for the people in the NRL is seeing so many matches being postponed in Super League. Clearly that has an unsettling effect and it’s perhaps the main barrier to them changing their stance.
“Nonetheless, at the moment we have to plan on the basis that Australia and New Zealand won’t be coming.”
Grant believes that the decision by the Australians and New Zealanders is unlikely to affect the other southern hemisphere nations.
With Samoa due to play England in the opening match of the tournament, it would be an almost insurmountable obstacle if the Samoans were also to pull out.
“That is highly unlikely,” said Grant.
“The NRL clubs may not be happy to see their players heading to England, but they are obliged to release their players for international fixtures that have been sanctioned by the IRL.
“Ultimately it will come down to the players themselves.”
One fear that Grant has dispelled, however, is the prospect of Australia playing New Zealand this autumn in direct opposition to the World Cup.
“That idea has been floated, but it would only happen if the World Cup wasn’t played,” he explained.
Meanwhile, Grant admits that the prospect of Australia and New Zealand sending Indigenous teams to the World Cup, rather than the Kangaroos and Kiwis, is a genuine possibility.
“A player contract in the NRL obliges clubs to release players to represent their Indigenous communities games organised for that purpose, so I certainly wouldn’t rule that out,” he added.
“And I think the Australian Indigenous team and the Maoris would potentially bring a lot of interest to the competition.
“Failing that, I’m sure we would want to bring in two other teams, looking first at those nations (USA, Spain and Serbia) that fell at the final hurdle in the qualifying tournaments.
“And I can certainly imagine that many nations in the World Cup would benefit from the Australians not coming by having heritage players who might expect to have played for Australia playing for them instead. Two who spring to mind are Tyson Frizell for Wales and Dale Finucane for Ireland, as well as the Trbojevic brothers potentially for Serbia, if they were to come into the World Cup.”
A crucial factor in determining the outcome of the current crisis will be the attitude of players in Australia, with the Rugby League Players’ Association outlining its own position in a statement issued on Friday.
“The news overnight that Australia and New Zealand will not compete in the 2021 World Cup is no doubt disappointing for players who were hoping to represent their Nations in the tournament,” said RLPA Chief Executive Clint Newton.
“We have had feedback from a number of players eligible for these Nations stating their intentions to compete in the tournament, pending more information becoming available in the coming weeks.
“Clearly, the views of those players have not been enough to prevent this decision and we believe it has been made prematurely.
“We have worked closely with Rugby League World Cup staff for some time now and we are committed to continuing those discussions regarding player health and safety protocols.
“We have an obligation to advocate on behalf of all players to secure the best possible terms and conditions for the tournament, and this remains ongoing.
“For players representing remaining participating Nations, our priority will be to help ensure appropriate health and safety measures are in place, and also provide them with the relevant information to make an informed decision about participation.
“We had anticipated that players from Australia and New Zealand would have that same opportunity, which has unfortunately been taken away from them with last night’s decision.”
And RLPA President, Daly Cherry-Evans, who is also the incumbent Australian captain, has added his voice to those objecting to the ARLC decision and especially the lack of consultation with the players.
“The players wanted to go and the game probably knew that, which is probably why they didn’t want to consult us,” said Cherry-Evans.
“So, of course we would have loved to have been given a bit more of a heads up on it but we do understand the game’s acting within the best interests at heart.
“There obviously is definitely an element of disappointment for sure, it’s a World Cup and I’m not getting any younger.
“So it’d be nice to hopefully have been involved.
“I can completely understand if they’re going to continue the competition but I wouldn’t begrudge the people who were making those decisions to continue on.
“Because there’s a lot more at stake than just Australia and New Zealand.”
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