IRL’s draft plans for international fixtures in 2023 and update on long-term calendar

TROY GRANT, the Chairman of International Rugby League (IRL), is confident that supporters who have enjoyed the World Cup tournament will have plenty to smile about when they release a ten-year plan for the international game later this year.

Grant, who is currently in England for the tournament, has been hampered by the delay in the negotiations in Australia for a new Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) between the Australian Rugby League authorities and the Rugby League Players Association.

“The CBA negotiations have been acrimonious and are impacting on our ability to finalise arrangements,” Grant told League Express.

“But the important thing is that there has been agreement reached regarding four matches at the end of the season in response to abandoning the mid-season internationals.

“The mid-season Test against France will be England’s next match.

“What is being drafted for the southern hemisphere is a form of Pacific Cup for 2023, which will include Australia and New Zealand, and a touring option to the northern hemisphere for another nation, but not Australia or New Zealand.

“The 2023 and 2024 matches will be finalised hopefully at our December meeting if not before.

“Given that we have only three years until the next World Cup, the qualification process is the priority.

“The much spoken about IRL calendar will then cover the next ten years, and all nations can look forward to more regularity and long-term planning.”

Contrary to what some people believe, Grant insists that the NRL clubs are fully supportive of the IRL’s plans.

“The NRL clubs I have met with and built a relationship with have been terrifically supportive and are working with the NRL on the future of the international game,” said Grant.

“They have had legitimate concerns that we have worked hard with them to address, such as player welfare in camp with other nations while they are away. 

“The clubs want the best medical, physio support and accommodation for their players on tour. And they are all very happy that the professionalism of the World Cup camps have been much improved for this tournament.

“For the clubs, planning is vital, so that they know what’s coming. What they don’t want are Test matches put together with little notice. They want international competitions to be more valuable and consistent.”

Grant has been delighted with the process of some of the tier two nations in the current World Cup, with Samoa making history as the first to reach the final.

“It’s a balancing act but we have demonstrated that competitiveness has got better over time.

“Fiji nearly beat New Zealand in the quarter-finals while Papua New Guinea almost beat Tonga in the pool.

“So let’s not be too quick to do what Rugby League fans often do, which is to have an insatiable appetite for criticising the game.

“What can’t be debated is that more people have watched Rugby League at this World Cup than at any other time in our history. It doesn’t matter how they digest it, either live or on TV, but it has surely given more people an appetite to support our game in future.”

Meanwhile Grant was delighted to be able to welcome The Princess of Wales to Wigan last week to watch England defeat Papua New Guinea.

“Her Highness was exceptional; I just couldn’t be more grateful for her presence. I said to (RFL Chair) Simon Johnson that if you are going to get a Patron you might as well get the best one.

“The privilege of meeting her was a moment I’ll remember for the rest of my life. And when she joined two England players to watch the second half, their rapport with the Princess of Wales did more to enhance Rugby League’s image than almost anything else I can think of.”