Women’s World Cup qualifying process set out as European sides vie for places

ENGLAND will be joined by women’s sides from at least two other European nations at the next World Cup in 2026.

The International Rugby League (IRL) has set out a new qualifying process after the delay from 2025 and switch from France to the southern hemisphere also saw the women’s tournament reduced from 16 teams to eight.

That is the same number as at last year’s World Cup in England, when teams were invited, with this set to be the first-ever qualifying competition.

Only two European nations played at the 2022 event – England and France – but there will be at least one other next time.

While England have automatically qualified as a semi-finalist last year, France will play in a six-team tournament next spring, alongside Wales and Ireland.

Greece and Serbia will also participate, along with the winner of an April play-off between Italy and Netherlands.

In a draw next month, the six teams will be split into two groups of three for a round-robin tournament, with the group winners qualifying for the World Cup and the runners-up to play-off next October for a place at the inaugural IRL World Series in 2025.

The World Series will see a team from each of Europe, the Pacific, the Americas and Middle East-Africa compete for the final World Cup slot.

Alongside Europe, the Pacific region is the only other guaranteed World Cup participants, with four.

Australia, New Zealand and Papua New Guinea are already assured places, while the method of determining the other – plus a side to play in the World Series – is yet to be determined.

In the Americas, Canada and Brazil – who both played in last year’s World Cup – will play in a four-team knockout competition with Jamaica and the USA for a World Series place.

And in Middle East-Africa, Kenya and Nigeria will play two fixtures next September to determine which goes to the World Series.

IRL secretary general Danny Kazandjian said the governing body had focused on the progress of women’s Rugby League in countries when determining who would participate in qualifying.

“The focus that many IRL members are putting on growing their women’s programmes is really clear,” he said.

“We began consulting with national federations around six strategic pillars IRL felt were cornerstones to on and off-field women’s development in mid-2022. 

“We then surveyed members again a year later and were able to use that data and evidence of their progress to shape these exciting qualification competitions that put the focus on members that have invested in local development, which is essential for sustainable growth.”