Internationals played by the top nations since the last World Cup

Australia have been criticised for not playing rugby league internationals in recent seasons
Photo: Brett Phibbs / www.photosport.nz /SWpix.com

Australia have been criticised for not playing any internationals since 2019 – but there’s been a dearth of them across the board since the last World Cup.

The COVID pandemic probably came at the worst possible time for the international rugby league scene, which appeared to be finally getting somewhere before it struck.

A planned Ashes tour to England could have been a real re-start for the international game.

As it was, COVID put paid to that and then a year later, forced the delay of the World Cup for a year.

It means a perhaps strange looking world rankings, which has Australia in fourth and Tonga up to second – despite the latter losing their only game since 2019.

MORE: Tonga move above England in rugby league internationals world rankings

According to the IRL, ranking points are awarded to each team for each match based on:

  • The result of the match i.e. win, lose or draw
  • The margin of victory (or defeat) – the larger the winning margin the greater the value to the rankings
  • The relative strength of opposition faced – if you play a higher ranked team that is of greater value than playing a lower ranked team
  • The date of the match – more recent matches are weighted more heavily – a result in the most recent 2 years is worth double a result 3 years ago and 4 times a result that is 4 years old
  • The importance of the match – World Cup matches are ranked top followed in order by World Cup Qualifiers, Regional Championships and one-off international matches

We’ve had a look at the games played by the top 10 nations since the last World Cup.

1. New Zealand – P10 W6 L4

The most active of the top teams since the last World Cup sit top of the rankings.

The Kiwis have played 10 games, including a 26-6 win over second placed Tonga recently.

That’s despite not playing at all in 2020 and 2021, years decimated by the pandemic.

Three defeats to England and one to Australia in that time haven’t been enough to deny them first place.

A narrow 26-24 win over Australia in Auckland back in 2018 appears to be a key reason they’ve maintained their place, and also why the Kangaroos are down in fourth.

  • June 2018 – New Zealand 18-36 England (Denver)
  • October 2018 – New Zealand 26-24 Australia (Auckland)
  • October 2018 – England 18-16 New Zealand (Hull)
  • November 2018 – England 20-14 New Zealand (Liverpool)
  • November 2018 – England 0-34 New Zealand (Leeds)
  • June 2019 – New Zealand 34-14 Tonga (Auckland)
  • October 2019 – Australia 26-4 New Zealand (Wollongong)
  • November 2019 – New Zealand 12-8 Great Britain (Auckland)
  • November 2019 – New Zealand 23-8 Great Britain (Christchurch)
  • June 2022 – New Zealand 26-6 Tonga (Auckland)

2. Tonga – P6 W3 L3

Some hold Tonga almost entirely responsible for breathing some much needed life in to the international game with their performance at the last World Cup.

The scenes in the semi-final against England will be long remembered, and they followed that up with a historic display in 2019.

They defeated Great Britain 14-6 and then followed that up with a famous 16-12 win over Australia.

Their only test match since the win over the Kangaroos ended in defeat to New Zealand last month.

It’s understood that games against Great Britain do count for the team playing against them – though of course GB doesn’t have a place in the rankings.

  • June 2018 – Samoa 22-38 Tonga (Sydney)
  • October 2018 – Australia 34-16 Tonga (Auckland)
  • June 2019 – New Zealand 34-14 Tonga (Auckland)
  • October 2019 – Tonga 14-6 Great Britain (Hamilton)
  • November 2019 – Tonga 16-12 Australia (Auckland)
  • June 2022 – New Zealand 26-6 Tonga (Auckland)

3. England – P6 W5 L1

Although Shaun Wane’s side have faced the Combined Nations All Stars in each of the past two seasons, they don’t count towards their international ranking.

As such, their only proper test match since the end of 2018 was the 30-10 win over France last October.

The Great Britain tour of 2019 of course rendered England out of action at the end of that year.

The only test match England have lost since the 2017 World Cup final defeat to Australia was a 34-0 hammering by New Zealand at Elland Road in 2018.

But they had already won the Baskerville Shield series by then, having won the previous two encounters 18-16 and 20-14.

Four of England’s six matches in the past five years have been against New Zealand, including the failed experiment in Denver, USA, that drew a crowd of nearly 20,000.

  • June 2018 – New Zealand 18-36 England (Denver, USA)
  • October 2018 – England 44-6 France (Leigh)
  • October 2018 – England 18-16 New Zealand (Hull)
  • November 2018 – England 20-14 New Zealand (Liverpool)
  • November 2018 – England 0-34 New Zealand (Leeds)
  • October 2021 – France 10-30 England (Perpignan)

4. Australia – P4 W2 L2

The 11-time World Cup winners find themselves fourth in the rankings, supposedly because of their inactivity.

Since the last World Cup, which they won by beating England on home soil, they have played just four matches.

All of those came in 2018 and 2019 – a win and a loss each against New Zealand and Tonga.

Their lack of engagement is often blamed for holding back the international game – though the efforts Down Under to facilitate a successful international weekend alongside Origin were a positive.

  • October 2018 – New Zealand 26-24 Australia (Auckland)
  • Oct 2018 – Tonga 16-34 Australia (Auckland)
  • October 2019 – Australia 26-4 New Zealand (Wollongong)
  • November 2019 – Tonga 16-12 Australia (Auckland)

5. Papua New Guinea – P5 W3 L2

Papua New Guinea’s shock win over Great Britain in 2019 was perhaps overshadowed by the achievements of Tonga in the same series.

But it’s a signal of their strength in recent years, with two wins over Fiji lifting them to fifth in the rankings.

The most recent of those wins was a 24-14 win over Campbelltown last month, and they’ll have eyes on doing well at the World Cup.

  • June 2018 – Papua New Guinea 26-14 Fiji (Campbelltown)
  • June 2019 – Papua New Guinea 6-24 Samoa (Sydney)
  • November 2019 – Papua New Guinea 20-22 Fiji (Christchurch)
  • November 2019 – Papua New Guinea 28-10 Great Britain (Port Moresby)
  • June 2022 – Papua New Guinea 24-14 Fiji (Campbelltown)

6. Fiji – P6 W3 L3

Fiji made the headlines at the last World Cup with a 4-2 win over New Zealand, before bowing out in the semi-finals to Australia.

They haven’t played any of the “big three” nations since then, but have recorded wins against three different nations – Lebanon, Samoa and Papua New Guinea.

  • June 2018 – Papua New Guinea 26-14 Fiji (Campbelltown)
  • June 2019 – Fiji 58-14 Lebanon (Sydney)
  • September 2019 – Fiji 16-42 Lebanon (Sydney)
  • November 2019 – Samoa 18-44 Fiji (Auckland)
  • November 2019 – Fiji 22-20 Papua New Guinea (Christchurch)
  • June 2022 – Papua New Guinea 24-14 Fiji (Campbelltown)

7. Samoa – P4 W2 L2

Samoa are in England’s group at the World Cup and are fancied to be a real contender, with more players committing to play for them.

They have been less active than the other Pacific nations since the last tournament, where they were heavily beaten by Australia in the quarter-finals, and didn’t win a game in the entire tournament.

  • June 2018 – Samoa 22-38 Tonga (Campbelltown)
  • June 2019 – Samoa 24-6 Papua New Guinea (Sydney)
  • November 2019 – Samoa 18-44 Fiji (Auckland)
  • June 2022 – Samoa 42-12 Cook Islands (Campbelltown)

8. Serbia – P10 W6 L4

Serbia haven’t qualified for the 2021 World Cup, but find themselves 8th in the rankings, largely thanks to their triumph in the European Championship B tournament last year.

In the current rankings period, they have been thumped 86-0 by Scotland and 82-6 by Greece.

But they have won their last four games against Bosnia, Bulgaria, Russia and Ukraine.

  • October 2018 – Russia 36-18 Serbia (Vereya, Bulgaria)
  • October 2018 – Serbia 24-20 Spain (Belgrade)
  • August 2019 – Czech Republic 18-10 Serbia (Prague)
  • September 2019 – Serbia 36-8 Canada (Belgrade)
  • October 2019 – Scotland 86-0 Serbia (Glasgow)
  • November 2019 – Serbia 6-82 Greece (Belgrade)
  • June 2021 – Bosnia 4-50 Serbia (Bosnia)
  • June 2021 – Bulgaria 16-28 Serbia (Sofia)
  • October 2021 – Serbia 66-10 Russia (Kragujevac)
  • October 2021 – Serbia 54-18 Ukraine (Belgrade)

9. France – P6 W4 L2

Aside from two defeats to England, France have had a decent run since the last World Cup.

They won the 2018 European Championship, and will be hoping to continue momentum ahead of hosting the World Cup in 2025.

  • October 2018 – England 44-6 France (Leigh)
  • November 2018 – France 54-18 Wales (Carcassonne)
  • Nov 2018 – Ireland 10-24 France (Dublin)
  • November 2018 – France 28-10 Scotland (Carcassonne)
  • October 2021 – France 10-30 England (Perpignan)
  • June 2022 – France 34-10 Wales (Albi)

10. Malta – P14 W7 L7

Rounding off the top 10 is Malta, who will benefit from how active they are in international rugby league.

They have never played at a World Cup, but since the last tournament, they have played 14 games.

Quite an achievement, considering there were no games in 2020 and 2021.

  • February 2018 – Malta 40-28 Hungary (Sydney)
  • June 2018 – Malta 24-30 South Africa (Sydney)
  • June 2018 – Malta 22-34 Ukraine (Marsa)
  • September 2018 – Greece 60-4 Malta (Athens)
  • October 2018 – Malta 36-10 Philippines (Windsor)
  • October 2018 – Malta 16-26 Niue (Sydney)
  • Oct 2018 – Malta 20-10 Hungary (Sydney)
  • October 2018 – Malta 24-16 Niue (Sydney)
  • October 2019 – Malta 23-20 Italy (Sydney)
  • Oct 2019 – Malta 28-12 Turkey (Sydney)
  • October 2021 – Czech Republic 40-16 Malta (Bodrum, Turkey)
  • October 2021 – Turkey 36-12 Malta (Bodrum)
  • May 2022 – Malta 66-6 Montenegro (Mosta)
  • June 2022 – Malta 14-30 Lebanon (Sydney)

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About James Gordon 7122 Articles
Love Rugby League editor. Founded the website back in 2005. Worked with a range of clubs and sponsors during that time. Also commentates for BBC.

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