It was the news that nobody wanted to hear but probably expected to anyway.
Following the withdrawal of Australia and New Zealand, it has been decided by RLWC officials that the tournament will now be held in 2022 – rather than in October this year as originally planned.
We can announce this morning that the tournament will be postponed until 2022. We have done everything in our power to stage the tournament this year, but it is not to be. 🏆
Remain supportive of the tournament, the teams, the players and most of all our amazing sport. ❤️
— Rugby League World Cup 2021 (@RLWC2021) August 5, 2021
Organisers had been negotiating around the clock to try and come up with a workable solution, but without the Aussies and the Kiwis, the tournament simply wouldn’t be the same – they have won every edition between them since 1972, and would have started as the heavy favourites in the betting from Space Casino and other bookmakers.
RLWC chief executive Jon Dutton confirmed that it would have been ‘unfeasible and irresponsible’ for the World Cup to go ahead without the two Oceanic giants, and by moving it to 2022 it gives the best possible opportunity for the competition to go ahead as planned.
The broadcast deal with the BBC, who would have shown all of the World Cup matches on its various platforms, will remain in place, and the £25 million in funding offered by the government will – presumably – be held over until next year.
The question that the RFL must now consider is how will they plug the gap in the rugby league calendar in October and November now that the major international tournament is off the table?
Fixture Pile-Up Averted
For various reasons, the 2021 Super League campaign has been hit hard by postponements and cancellations.
In a happy twist of fate for that particular competition, in theory, the Super League season could now be extended – ensuring the outstanding games, of which there are more than a dozen to be rescheduled, can be played without being crammed into a rehashed itinerary.
That would be a move welcomed by Hull FC owner Adam Pearson, who said: “A couple of extra weeks for the rugby league domestic season would be good because we could complete without playing three games a week.”
Maintaining the integrity of the Super League is vital and if the extension is granted, the likelihood is that the Grand Final will be delayed from its current October 9 timeslot and played later that month or even into November instead.
The other issue that the delay of the World Cup creates is another yawning chasm in the schedule for the England team, who have not had a prolonged run of fixtures for the best part of three years – the 0-34 defeat to New Zealand in November 2018 being their last competitive outing.
— Rugby League Planet (@RugbyLeaguePlan) April 20, 2021
A number of warm-up matches for the RLWC had been planned against the likes of Fiji and Samoa, and the hope is that one of those nations – or even Tonga – could be persuaded to travel to England for a series in October and November. The issue would be whether the NRL clubs, who vetoed the involvement of their Australian and Kiwi players in the World Cup, will let that happen.
That means it could take even longer for Shaun Wane, the England head coach, to finally sink his teeth into the role. The former Wigan Warriors boss has only helmed one game for the national team, and that was an exhibition against the Combined Nations All Stars back in June.
The uncertainty over the fixture list isn’t helping him or anybody else for that matter…