Rugby League World Cup future to be discussed in key meeting

INTERNATIONAL RUGBY LEAGUE (IRL) delegates will convene in Singapore this week for a three-day meeting to thrash out some key decisions about the future of international Rugby League.

The meeting, which will be attended by RFL Chair Simon Johnson and Super League CEO Rhodri Jones, will debate whether the 2025 World Cup can go ahead after France pulled out of hosting the event in May this year.

There were indications at the time that a modified version of the tournament could be switched to New Zealand, which is currently acting as a joint host of the FIFA Women’s World Cup.

Greg Peters, the chief executive of NZRL, who will attend the meeting in Singapore, said at the time: “It’s early days, but prior to this announcement we had already started thinking about what that might look like at a high level, and we have some recent experience from 2017, when Australia and New Zealand hosted it.

“But we believe that with help from Pasifika countries and Pasifika elements, we can create something pretty special down here.”

The 2025 World Cup was originally going to be played in the United States, and it has now lost its proposed host twice.

IRL Chair Troy Grant has admitted that the postponement of the 2021 Rugby League World Cup for twelve months cost £11 million and that the tournament’s ticketing strategy failed.

The World Cup was pushed back a year, and eventually staged in England in October and November 2022, after pressure from Australia, New Zealand and the NRL clubs over safety concerns and Covid-19 to withdraw in 2021.

The IRL will no doubt need to be assured that losses on that scale wouldn’t be repeated in 2025.

The 61 men’s, women’s and wheelchair games were watched by a combined attendance of 473,477, but the original ambitious target was for 750,000 ticket sales.

Grant admitted that the World Cup last year was not as successful in selling tickets as had been hoped because of the impact of the cost-of-living crisis and the culture of late ticket buying in UK Rugby League.

“It was not as successful as it could have been. There’s a culture that I’ve learned in England where the fan waits for last-minute cut-price ticket sales, well that wasn’t the business model the Word Cup took,” he said. 

“They offered tickets at the front-end, this was pre-Covid, there was great deals on but the market in England were late buyers, late-turner-uppers to get those deals, which weren’t on offer. 

“Which I think had an impact on ticket buying. In addition to that the cost of living there, seriously, I’d fill up my car and I was astounded at how much it cost. 

“So people were making a choice about whether they paid their electricity bill or bought a ticket for the World Cup. 

“And you can’t just ignore that as an impact. 

“It’s not anybody’s fault… Was it a financial success in terms of ticket sales? No.”

With Tonga due to visit England for a Test series this autumn, the IRL will also debate the establishment of two three-sided tournaments in the southern hemisphere later this year, with Australia, New Zealand and Samoa in one group and Fiji, Papua New Guinea and the Cook Islands in the other, with the latter tournament likely to be played in PNG.

The complicating factor, however, is the continuing dispute between the NRL and the players down under, with no agreement yet reaches on a collective bargaining agreement (CBA) between the NRL and the Rugby League Players Association, which could potentially limit the participation of NRL players in international competition.