2026 Rugby League World Cup: Women’s qualification process announced, with four nations’ places already secured

Drew Darbyshire
Australia lift 2021 Women's Rugby League World Cup - Alamy

Australia lift the 2021 Women's Rugby League World Cup - Alamy

International Rugby League has announced the qualification process for the women’s 2026 Rugby League World Cup, with four nations having already secured their place.

The women’s World Cup will be played alongside the men’s and wheelchair tournaments  in 2026 before it is played as a standalone event in 2028.

The 2026 tournament will feature eight teams comprising of four Pacific nations, three from Europe and the winners of the inaugural IRL World Series, which takes place in 2025.

Current holders Australia, New Zealand, England and Papua New Guinea have already qualified for the 2026 tournament as semi-finalists at last year’s World Cup in England, with four berths remaining.

There are 17 nations competing for the remaining four berths.

The qualification process gets underway next April when Italy host Netherlands for a place in the European RLWCQ tournament alongside France, Greece, Ireland, Serbia and Wales. The loser of Italy-Netherlands will be eliminated.

The remaining six European nations will split into two groups of three, each headed by the two highest ranked teams in the next IRL world rankings, which will be announced next week.

A seeded draw in January will determine the placement of the remaining four teams.

The teams will play a mid-year round robin tournament, with the winner of each pool joining England as the three European nations at the World Cup in two years time.

A play-off next October between the teams finishing second in each pool will determine the European nation in the 2025 World Series. The team with the highest world ranking after June 30 (2024) will host the match.

Also playing off for a spot at the World Series as the MEA representative will be Kenya and Nigeria, who will meet in two international matches in Kenya next September.

Brazil, Canada, Jamaica and the USA will play in Florida for the Americas berth at the World Series, with the highest ranked nation to play the fourth ranked nation, and the second and third ranked nations to meet. The two winners will then play-off for a spot at the World Series.

And the remaining berth at the World Series will go to a Pacific nation.

2026 Rugby League World Cup: Women’s qualifying process confirmed

4 Asia Pacific Rugby League, 3 Euro berths & 1 from 2025 World Series


  • Brazil, Canada, Jamaica, USA to play in Florida during 2024 post-season international window
  • Teams ranked 1 & 2 by 30/6/24 IRL world rankings kept apart
  • Match 1: Team 1 v Team 4, Match 2: Team 2 v Team 3
  • Match 3: Winners match 1 v Winner match 2
  • Winner of match 3 progresses to 2025 World Series

Asia Pacific Rugby League 

  • Format TBC in due course
  • One to qualify for RLWC2026 in 2024, one to qualify for 2025 World Series


  • Italy v Netherlands on 27/28 April (Italy to host as highest ranked team), loser eliminated, winner proceeds to Europe RLWCQ
  • Italy/Netherlands + France, Greece, Ireland, Serbia, Wales in two groups of three, round robin (one home & one away game each)
  • Teams ranked 1 & 2 by 31/12/23 IRL world rankings in separate groups
  • Teams ranked 3 & 4 by 31/12/23 IRL world rankings in separate groups
  • Draw in January
  • Group games in April, May and June
  • Two group winners qualify for RLWC2026
  • Two second place teams play in World Series qualifying match in October 2024, winner qualifies for 2025 World Series. Highest ranked team by 30/6/24 to host.

Middle East-Africa Kenya, Nigeria

  • Two-game series in Kenya in September 2024
  • Winner qualifies for 2025 World Series

IRL boss praises growth of women’s game

IRL secretary general Danny Kazandjian said: “Planning around women’s World Cup qualification has been ever present since mid-2021, which has enabled us to interact frequently with the membership on the direction of women’s rugby league.

“The focus that many IRL members are putting on growing their women’s programmes is really clear.

“We began consulting with national federations around six strategic pillars IRL felt were cornerstones to on and off-field women’s development in mid-2022.

“We then surveyed members again a year later and were able to use that data and evidence of their progress to shape these exciting qualification competitions that put the focus on members that have invested in local development, which is essential for sustainable growth.”

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