England drawn with Australia and rookies Lebanon in 2017 Rugby League World Cup

New England rugby league head coach Wayne Bennett

New England rugby league head coach Wayne Bennett

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England will make history at the 2017 World Cup by playing a first-ever international against Lebanon.

Wayne Bennett’s men have been paired in Pool A with hosts Australia, France and the Cedars, who qualified for their second World Cup with a two-legged win over South Africa.

Scotland, who qualified automatically after reaching the quarter-finals in 2013, are in a group of death alongside co-hosts New Zealand and Pacific rivals Tonga and Samoa.

The tournament draw, announced simultaneously at events in Brisbane and Auckland, is following the successful format of the England and Wales event in 2013, with three teams going through to the quarter-finals from the top two pools and one each from pools C and D.

The final will be held in Brisbane, which also hosted the 2008 final, on Saturday, December 2.

England will get the tournament under way against the Kangaroos, the holders, under the lights of Melbourne Rectangular Stadium on Friday, October 27

They then meet Lebanon at Sydney Football Stadium on November 4 before flying on to Perth to play France eight days later.

Steve McCormack’s Scotland, who are playing the big three in the Four Nations Series at the end of this season, face opponents as daunting as their schedule.

They open their campaign in Cairns against Tonga before flying to Christchurch to take on the Kiiws and then returning to tropical North Queensland for their final group game against Samoa.

The Bravehearts beat Tonga 26-24 at the pool stage in 2013 before going on to lose 40-4 to New Zealand in the quarter-finals.

Organisers say the composition of the pools was determined by a number of considerations, including the final placings from 2013 and current world rankings.

Ireland and Wales are among a group of six nations still hoping to take three of the 14 spots still up for grabs when they complete the European qualifying section this autumn.

Papua New Guinea, as a hosting partner, will play all their three pool matches in Port Moresby, against Brian McDermott’s United States and two European qualifiers, and other venues include Townsville, Darwin and Canberra.

There is a concentration of matches in Queensland following a push by the Queensland State Government and only two in Sydney, apparently due to a lack of financial incentives from the New South Wales Government.

Quarter-finals will be held in Darwin, Christchurch, Wellington and Melbourne while Brisbane and Auckland will host the semi-finals.

Cairns, Perth and Townsville will all host double headers and, although kick-offs have yet to be determined, organisers say they have made an effort to make the tournament family friendly by avoiding mid-week fixtures.

RLWC2017 chief executive Michael Brown said: “The tournament draw demonstrates how far and wide we are taking matches, from established rugby league communities to those new and emerging fan bases in all three countries.

“Over the course of the pool stages we have looked to position matches in strong rugby league communities and where large populations of ex-pats, Pacifica and indigenous fans live, to give those who love the sport and their national teams the chance to see some World Cup action.

“The decision to take matches to places like Darwin, Perth, Christchurch and Port Moresby was made with the future of the game in mind. They are matches we believe will give profile to the sport in markets that have already shown an appetite for rugby league.”

Pools

Pool A: Australia, England, France, Lebanon.

Pool B: New Zealand, Samoa, Scotland, Tonga.

Pool C: Papua New Guinea, European Qualifier 1, European Qualifier 2.

Pool D: Fiji, USA, European Qualifier 3.

Fixtures

October 27: Australia v England (Melbourne Rectangular Stadium).

October 28: PNG v Euro Q1 (Port Moresby).

October 28: New Zealand v Samoa (Mount Smart, Auckland).

October 28: Fiji v USA (Townsville Stadium).

October 29: Scotland v Tonga (Barlow Park, Cairns).

October 29: Euro Q2 v Euro Q3 (Barlow Park, Cairns).

October 29: France v Lebanon (Canberra Stadium).

November 3: Australia v France (Canberra Stadium).

November 4: New Zealand v Scotland (Christchurch Stadium).

November 4: Samoa v Tonga (Waikato Stadium, Hamilton).

November 4: England v Lebanon (Sydney Football Stadium).

November 5: PNG v Euro Q2 (Port Moresby).

November 5: Euro Q3 v USA (Townsville Stadium).

November 5: Fiji v Euro Q1 (Townsville Stadium).

November 10: Fiji v Euro Q3 (Canberra Stadium).

November 11: Samoa v Scotland (Barlow Park, Cairns).

November 11: New Zealand v Tonga (Waikato Stadium, Hamilton).

November 11: Australia v Lebanon (Sydney Football Stadium).

November 12: PNG v USA (Port Moresby).

November 12: Euro Q1 vs Euro Q2 (Perth Rectangular Stadium).

November 12: England v France (Perth Rectangular Stadium).

November 17: Quarter-final (Darwin Stadium).

November 18: Quarter-final (Christchurch Stadium).

November 18: Quarter-final (Wellington Regional Stadium).

November 19: Quarter-final: (Melbourne Rectangular Stadium).

November 24: Semi-final (Brisbane Stadium).

November 25: Semi-final (Mount Smart, Auckland).

December 2: Final (Brisbane Stadium).

Danny McGuire

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