How the international rugby league calendar is shaping up for 2023

James Gordon
Australia Mal Meninga International Rugby League calendar

Following the completion of the World Cup, attention naturally turns to the upcoming international rugby league calendar.

Unfortunately, despite years of promises, a regular calendar still hasn’t come to fruition meaning that when Australia defeated Samoa in last month’s men’s final, we still didn’t know when the next elite level games would be.

England did announce a double-header against France, to be held at Warrington’s Halliwell Jones Stadium, though the choice of venue was criticised by some for a lack of ambition.

The 2023 calendar remains sparse for the time being though, with the southern hemisphere giants yet to confirm their activity – partly due to the fact that the NRL is still locked in talks with its players over a collective bargaining agreement.

IRL chief Troy Grant promised earlier this year that the calendar would be locked in by mid-2022, but in a recent update said it would be by the end of December.

England’s plans in 2023

So far, England only have one locked in date to take on France on April 29.

They have been confirmed as part of the 2023 European Championship, though it is understood the preference is to still hold a test series against a southern hemisphere nation. However, that won’t be either Australia or New Zealand.

If that was to happen, then England Knights could line up in the European competition, which will partly make up a World Cup qualifying section.

The two sides who finish highest, outside of England and France, will qualify for the 2025 World Cup.

However, the other nations aren’t too happy with the prospect of the Knights side being parachuted in. Even though it would likely make things more competitive, they see it as devaluing the competition and themselves as international nations.

Whichever version of England shows up, if you’re betting on rugby today, then all will have them as favourites.

What are Australia and New Zealand doing?

The Kangaroos broke their three year international exile by participating in the World Cup, and of course winning it, and there’s been little talk of them coming to these shores again after COVID put paid to the planned 2020 series.

It is 20 years since they last came over for a series, beating Great Britain three times in 2003.

New Zealand are hoping to play at least four tests in 2023, including a home and away series against Australia.

That’s naturally a lot easier to arrange logistically, and will fit around the State of Origin schedule.

The plan is for there to be a form of Pacific Cup competition in 2023, including Australia and New Zealand.

Is the international game in the hands of the NRL?

The big headache that’s growing for England is that there are enough southern hemisphere teams to run a decent international schedule without including them, or the logistics problems that come with it.

As the NRL clubs employ a sizeable portion of all those players, their buy in is very much needed for any successful calendar to be devised.

IRL chief Grant said recently: “The NRL clubs I have met with and built a relationship with have been terrifically supportive and are working with the NRL on the future of the international game.

“They have had legitimate concerns that we have worked hard with them to address, such as player welfare in camp with other nations while they are away.

“The clubs want the best medical, physio support and accommodation for their players on tour. And they are all very happy that the professionalism of the World Cup camps have been much improved for this tournament.

“For the clubs, planning is vital, so that they know what’s coming. What they don’t want are Test matches put together with little notice. They want international competitions to be more valuable and consistent.”

The first games scheduled for 2023

While the make up of the European Championships is still to be confirmed, the European Championship B schedule has already been announced, the first confirmed international rugby league so far for the year.

Six nations will battle across two groups of three, with the two winners earning their right to play for a spot at the 2025 World Cup next year.

Group A comprises of Greece, Norway and Ukraine, with Czech Republic, Germany and Netherlands in Group B.

We also know that there will be an Americas Rugby League Championship, involving Brazil, Canada, Jamaica and the USA; as well as the Middle East Africa Cup between Ghana, Nigeria, South Africa and possibly Lebanon.

Greece’s first game after historic World Cup

After making history at the World Cup, Greece will be back in action in May when they take on Serbia with a team of domestic based players.

Serbia are one of the strongest home-grown nations in Europe and will be hoping to build towards the European Championship at the end of the year. They won the last meeting between the two sides 50-6 in Belgrade back in 2017.

GRLA president, George Stilianos, said: “We are very excited about the match. The is a lot of competition for spots in the team and there will be some real selection dilemmas for the coach. It will be a good test for our players as we prepare for the 2025 World Cup qualifiers later in the year. We will do everything we can to promote the match and are confident we can get a big crowd along now we are a fully recognised sport.”

List of men’s international rugby league fixtures in 2023

  • 27 January – Philippines 16-28 North Macedonia (Terry Lamb Complex, Sydney)
  • 29 April – England v France – International (Halliwell Jones Stadium, Warrington)
  • 13 May – Greece v Serbia – International
  • 21 October – Germany v Czech Republic – European Championship B (Group B)
  • 21 October 21 – Ukraine v Norway – European Championship B (Group A)
  • 28 October 28 – Czech Republic v Netherlands – European Championship B (Group B)
  • 28 October 28 – Greece v Ukraine – European Championship B (Group A)
  • 4 November – Norway v Greece – European Championship B (Group A)
  • 4 November – Netherlands v Germany – European Championship B (Group B)

List of women’s international rugby league fixtures in 2023

  • 28 January – Greece v Philippines (Lidcombe Oval, Sydney)
  • 18 March – France v Serbia (Avignon)
  • 29 April – England v France (Halliwell Jones Stadium, Warrington)

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