2026 Rugby League World Cup update delivered by International Rugby League board with host nation still to be confirmed

Ben Olawumi
England Wheelchair World Cup winner Tom Halliwell, James Tedesco of Australia Men's and Kezie Apps of Australia Women

Tom Halliwell OBE (left - England Wheelchair), James Tedesco (centre - Australia men) and Kezie Apps (right - Australia women) with their respective World Cup trophies - Alamy

Further details have been revealed by the board of the International Rugby League in relation to the 2026 World Cup and the tournaments beyond, though a lot is still in the ‘to be confirmed’ category.

As with last year’s delayed edition here in England, 2026 will see the men’s, women’s and wheelchair tournaments take place simultaneously.

The host nation(s) for 2026 remain unconfirmed though, and at the request of those bidding for the privilege, the IRL have now extended the deadline to put in an application until March 31, 2024.

France – currently playing host to the Rugby Union World Cup – should have been the host nation in 2025, but withdrew earlier this year. Accordingly, it will now take place a year later in the Southern Hemisphere.

2026 Rugby League World Cup update delivered; Host nation still to be confirmed

Following another delayed tournament being forced upon the game after France’s withdrawal, it was confirmed that from 2026 the World Cup will operate in a reduced format.

Just 10 men’s teams will be involved, with eight apiece in both the women’s and wheelchair tournaments. Where the men’s section is concerned, eight of those 10 spots are filled automatically with the eight quarter-finalists from last year’s World Cup.

Accordingly, only two spots remain, something which has caused great frustration for nations such as Ireland, as detailed by their captain George King in an interview with Love Rugby League.

The announcement of a ‘World Series’ tournament in 2025 clears up how those last two spots will be filled. The Cook Islands – as the sole eligible Asia-Pacific nation – and the winners of the Americas, European and Middle East-Africa (MEA) qualifying tournaments will all face off, with the top two from those four claiming a place at the 2026 World Cup.

Details of the qualifying competitions will be finalised this year. Australia, Samoa, New Zealand, England, Lebanon, Tonga, Fiji and Papua New Guinea are the eight nations who already know they’ll definitely be involved in three years’ time.

Following the cancellation of the European Championships, England and Tonga face off in a three-match test series starting later this month, while the rest of those above – excluding Lebanon – will compete in the inaugural Pacific Championships down under.

Men’s, Women’s and Wheelchair World Cups to become asynchronous from 2029

Despite the success experienced by all three editions of the World Cup being held side by side last year, and the fact that same structure has been stuck with for 2026, beyond that it won’t be the case.

After 2026, the men’s (2028), women’s (2030) and wheelchair World Cups (2029) will now all be held separately. The IRL say that decision has been made to ‘increase the attractiveness of commercial sponsorships and provide more high-quality content for broadcast partners’.
A bidding process to host one or more of the 2028 Women’s Rugby League World Cup, the 2029 Wheelchair Rugby League World Cup and the 2030 Men’s Rugby League World Cup 2030 has been confirmed, and a public invitation to tender (ITT) process will be launched next week.

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