Rugby League World Cup: Disappointment at Leeds Rhinos and Wakefield Trinity as Australia and New Zealand pull out

Australia and New Zealand’s refusal to take part in this year’s World Cup has left former international coaches Richard Agar and Chris Chester “disappointed.”

Thursday, 22nd July 2021, 4:45 pm

The Australian Rugby League Commission (ARLC) and New Zealand Rugby League (NZRL) yesterday confirmed the two countries “will not compete in a 2021 World Cup because of player welfare and safety concerns”.

Their announcement came just a week after tournament organisers RLWC2021 said they had “passed the point of no return” and the event would go ahead with or without the southern hemisphere giants.

Though concern had been mounting over whether the Aussies and Kiwis would sign their participation agreement, yesterday’s news sent shockwaves through the sport.

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Australia captain Cameron Smith and coach Mal Meninga with the World Cup after the 2008 final. Picture by Tertius Pickard/www.photosport.nz/SWpix.com.

Rhinos coach Agar, who had a spell in charge of the French national side, admitted he can understand the reluctance Down Under, given the rising number of coronavirus cases in this country and Australia.

“I am sure in the current climate we can all understand the question marks around it all,” he conceded.

“I am unaware of the intricacies and what’s planned in terms of quarantines and bubbles they’d have to work in, but clearly the situation in Australia - particularly around Sydney at the moment - is teetering.

“They are getting more and more cases every day.

“Their players are in a bubble for the rest of the season and to come away and spend [more time] in another one, I can understand why the whole tournament has got some concerns and question marks around it.

“I would just say, for the game, it is pretty disappointing.”

The World Cup is due to kick-off three months today, when England take on Samoa at Newcastle.

That is just two weeks after the Betfred Super League Grand Final.

If the tournament is postponed, it would open the possibility of pushing the domestic title decider back to Saturday, November 27, when Old Trafford is already booked for the World Cup final.

That would ease pressure on clubs struggling to complete their full fixture list because of Covid.

Leeds are struggling to find a date for their postponed home meeting with St Helens and, asked if he would support lengthening the season, Agar said: “It depends on when we start next year and what you’d be shaving off pre-season.

“My first reaction is, it is worth a discussion, for the clubs that want revenues and the parity of the competition.”

Chester, the Wakefield Trinity team boss, has international experience as joint-coach of Scotland.

He admitted the withdrawal of the Kangaroos and Kiwis “doesn’t come as a surprise.”

Chester said: “It is really, really disappointing and commercially it is a bit of a nightmare for the RFL.

“I am disappointed for Shaun [Wane, England’s coach], his staff and the players who aren’t going to be able to test themselves against the best teams in the world.”

Other nations could be drafted in to replace the missing two, but another option may be for Australia and New Zealand to enter as invitational sides made up of players based in Europe.

“I don’t know, that’s way beyond my pay grade,” Chester said of whether that could be a way forward.

“I would like to see some kind of representative side, but we will see what happens.”

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