Wales Rugby League CEO Chris Thair has said that he is delighted with the recent announcements by the Rugby League International Federation that maps out the next four years.
The four-year cycle, beginning in 2018, will include a New Zealand tour to Europe and an Emerging Nations championship in 2018, followed by a Lions Tour to the Southern Hemisphere in 2019, and a Kangaroos Tour to Europe in 2020. The Kangaroos Tour will feature at least three Test matches against England and one Test against France.
The final year of the cycle in 2021 will feature the Rugby League Men’s and Women’s World Cups in the UK.
To support the development of Tier Two nations, the RLIF will work with the Continental Federations to strengthen existing regional competitions in Europe, Asia Pacific, the Americas and Middle East/Africa.
The RLIF also authorised the creation a dedicated mid-season international weekend, giving nations an opportunity to participate in a co-ordinated suite of fixtures for men and women that will incorporate the current Pacific Test Series.
Thair said: “The new RLIF calendar is combining the past with the present to ensure a brighter future for the whole of the sport across the globe. I’m particularly delighted to see the return of the British Lions and a dedicated mid-season international weekend which will mean more international rugby league more often.
“Everyone involved in the sport from the administrators to the fans now has a duty to make these events as big as possible.”
In total, 113 Welsh internationals turned out for Great Britain from 1908-2006 including five from the original Wales side who beat New Zealand 9-8 in the first ever Rugby League international on January 1st 1908 in Aberdare. A number of other Welsh born players also played for Great Britain without playing for Wales.
Thair adds: “Welshman will once again have the opportunity to wear the British Lions jersey and tour the southern hemisphere in 2019. These games will receive huge coverage and certainly widen the appeal of the Welsh superstars that play rugby league, all of which can be capitalised upon to help grow the sport in Wales and widen the appeal of our own international games. There is one scenario that may create a problem for us and that is if we, Wales, have World Cup qualifying games in 2019 and our best players are away with the British Lions, however we’ll cross that bridge if and when we come to it.
“New Zealand and Australia touring Europe in 2018 and 2020 respectively will significantly enhance the profile of the sport in the UK outside of World Cup years and add to the plethora of international games happening at that time of year. As current European Champions, Wales will be looking to defend their title in 2018 and 2020 however these Championships are still to be confirmed.”
The RLIF Board further committed to preparation of a thorough business case for international Nines with the potential for a pinnacle World Cup for men and women to be held in 2019 and both youth and women’s Nines included as part of the Commonwealth Games Festival in 2018.
Additionally the Board determined that qualification for World Cups will be concluded two years prior to each event with the qualifiers for the 2021 World Cup in England to be completed by December 2019.
Thair continues: “We are particularly glad the RLIF listened to our request, which was also made by others, to finalise qualification for the next World Cup two years beforehand. Wales, Ireland and Italy only qualified twelve months before the 2017 Rugby League World Cup in Australia whereas the other eleven nations all had two to four years preparation time. This will significantly enhance the commercial and operational aspects of not only each participating nation but the World Cup itself; most importantly broadcasters can be confirmed earlier.
“The refocus on the Nines to enhance the global appeal of the sport is a good call as it is more accessible and certainly an exciting format to take to broadcasters. A Nines Commonwealth Games Festival in the Gold Coast in the early part of 2018 will probably be too early for Wales however we will be able to build towards the games plans to stage a Nines World Cup for men and women in 2019.
“Wales Rugby League is extremely excited in which direction the international game is heading and will endeavour to play a pivotal role in this.
“Establishing the Calendar is a huge step forward for the sport and in amongst a number of recent announcements, we should all be excited about the future. This year’s World Cup is set to be the best ever, the RLIF published a long term strategy through to 2025 to provide direction and goals for everyone. The BBC covered seven live World Cup games in 2013 but will cover all 31 in 2021, sixteen of which will be on the terrestrial channels.
“The UK Government in 2013 supported the World Cup with around £3m and in 2021 will do so with £25m. The 2025 Rugby League World Cup is to be taken out of Europe and Australasia for the first time ever to USA and Canada, the latter nation the host of new professional club outfit Toronto Wolfpack which broke the League 1 attendance record at the weekend. From 2021 the World Cup will expand from 14 to 16 competing nations which will give more opportunity to the 67 countries playing rugby league to compete on the greatest stage. These are all huge indicators the international game is moving forward and this gives us great hope for the future.
“The challenge now is to continue to make it work and this requires resource. The RLIF grasped this nettle, in particular RLIF Chairman Nigel Wood, with the appointment of David Collier as its first ever fulltime CEO just over two years ago. This dedicated resource has meant a greater level of discussions could take place with the NRL, Super League, broadcasters, continental federations and RLIF member nations to take these strides forward. Resourcing the international game must continue and with so much positivity around at the moment we are hopeful this will be the case to ensure a brighter future for us all.”