Rugby league World Cup back on track as harmony is restored

RUGBY LEAGUE World Cup chief executive Jon Dutton hopes valuable work in repairing relationships with Australia and New Zealand will now crucially strengthen the international game for years to come.

Friday, 19th November 2021, 5:00 pm
FULL STEAM AHEAD: Rugby league World Cup chief executive Jon Dutton with the trophy. Picture: Alex Whitehead/SWpix.com.

The tournament was due to be held in England this autumn but was postponed in August for 12 months after the Kangaroos and Kiwis both refused to travel due to concerns about Covid and player safety.

Their decision rocked organisers and left many in the sport infuriated, especially given Australian and New Zealand teams in other sports have since successfully played in the UK.

However, when confirming the full revised 61 match schedule for the tournament in 2022 and all nations had signed participation agreements, Dutton explained why he is now far more confident.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

“We needed a break after August 5th (when the competition was postponed),” he said.

“We needed to stop feeling sorry for ourselves, dust ourselves down and go back with positivity. We’ve had to work hard. I gradually started to rebuild those relationships.

“We’ve reached out to the chief executive of the ARLC and the chief executive of New Zealand Rugby League and have what I would describe as positive, conciliatory conversations.

“What has changed is desire: they did not want to play this year.

Leeds Rhinos' Headingley ground will host the opening night clash between Wolrd Cup holders Australia and Fiji on Saturday, October 15, 2022. Picture: Allan McKenzie/SWpix.com.

“They want to play next year. That was the first conversation.

“They appreciate how significant this is for international rugby league.”

Asked if he felt it could augment the international game which has too often been fractured, with Australians tending to be more focused on their club competition, Dutton replied: “I certainly hope so.

“When we reflect and look at some of the rhetoric and language many people would not be proud of, I firmly believe that throughout all of that we were professional, dignified and we stayed focused. I do think, when you look back, it was not the moment for anyone to be proud of international rugby league but this can be the opportunity…

Hull’s MKM Stadium will host the World Cup match between New Zealand and Jamaica on Saturday, October 22, 2022. Picture: Allan McKenzie/SWpix.com.

“The focus for the NRL was playing the season. It is now played and hopefully we can have some more normality.

“This is such a big moment for international rugby league.

“We hope that 2025 is better than our tournament and ‘29 is better than ‘25.

“But we have to focus on delivering this tournament, having more nations than ever before and making sure people collaborate in the best interests of international rugby league.”

It is a sign of the stellar work of organisers and support of stakeholders that only five fixtures have been affected during the hasty rescheduling plans.

With the MKM Stadium out of action due to the Hull Fair, Leeds’ Headingley Stadium will now host the opening night clash between holders Australia and Fiji on Saturday October 15 (7.30pm).

Hull’s MKM Stadium will, instead, take New Zealand v Jamaica on Saturday October 22 (7.30pm) which had originally been planned for Headingley.

Similarly, Anfield is unavailable due to building work so the quarter-final involving the winner of England’s group will be staged at the DW Stadium in Wigan instead as part of a double-header with the England v Canada womens’ group match.

Lastly, Liverpool’s M&S Bank Arena is unavailable for the wheelchair final so Manchester Central will host that on Friday November 18 (7.30) ahead of the men’s and women’s finals at Old Trafford the following day.