A tidal wave of players committing to their international nation of heritage means that five men’s teams have a realistic chance of winning the World Cup.
That’s the view of Rugby League World Cup chief executive Jon Dutton who says the pledges of allegiance to Tonga by Jason Taumololo and David Fifita in 2017 have lit the fuse for what has now happened five years on.
Speaking exclusively on this week’s Love Rugby League Podcast, Dutton predicted the most competitive ever international rugby league tournament.
“There is a revolution that is happening 12,000 miles away in Australia and from an international perspective that is tremendously exciting,” he said.
“When players are sticking their hand up and choosing Samoa or Tonga, what happened with Fifita and Taumololo in 2017 was the start of that and it’s a tidal wave.
“We now start off with five men’s teams who legitimately based on selections could lift the trophy. That is super exciting, maybe a bit daunting from an England perspective.
“We start off now with potentially the game of the tournament in England v Samoa; and then a repeat of the semi-final from the last two tournaments Australia and Fiji.
“I’m really looking forward to seeing Papua New Guinea, I think PNG will be a force to be reckoned with. And of course Australia and New Zealand will turn up incredibly strong.
“We are also starting to see player declarations for Greece. Steve Georgallis at North Queensland Cowboys has done an incredible job and I think they will be competitive and from a diplomacy perspective it has helped legitimise the sport in Greece.”
Australia favourites to retain World Cup crown
Australia (1/3) are the overwhelming favourites to win their 12th World Cup title in 16 attempts.
The 2008 winners New Zealand are 11/2 second favourites ahead of England (6/1).
Tonga’s exploits at the last World Cup and in the 2019 international series has them fourth favourites at 12/1.
With more players declaring allegiance for Samoa (22/1), there are fears that England may not top their group.
In an in-depth half-hour discussion, Dutton is also asked both about England’s controversial decision to play in the navy and white of Scotland; and the possibility of Australian-born stars like Victor Radley and even Jackson Hastings turning out for Shaun Wane’s side.
“I’m not sure it’s for me to determine,” said Dutton. “But my take is that if players are eligible to play for their heritage nations then they are eligible to play. That’s the same in any sport.
“As a tournament we want the world’s best players. Which shirts they choose to put on is entirely down to them and their chosen nation.”