World Cup: The show must go on

The Duke of Sussex hosts the Rugby League World Cup 2021 draws at Buckingham Palace, London.

Columnist Ed Anderson outlines why the World Cup must go ahead, and what the future should have in store for international rugby league.

We’re a broad church over here at Love Rugby League and although James and Drew last week had a video laying out why they believe the World Cup should be postponed, I can’t see myself that being anything other than a terrible decision.

Firstly, there is no guarantee that the NRL won’t pull rank and not come the next year. It should be clear to anyone now that the NRL could not give one iota about international rugby league unless they control it and with more than enough teams in the southern hemisphere for end of season games, Australia has in effective given up on us in the northern hemisphere. England are surplus to requirements for them. Anyone who believes it is about player welfare is deluding themselves or paid by the NRL to state such a falsehood. 

As a result, calls to postpone the World Cup at great cost and expense just for Australia to pull out in a year´s time would be even worse than going ahead without them. Unless the NRL are going to give the RFL a bond for next year then we have to goa head.

The other reason is that British Rugby League will not get a better shot at a clean calendar where we are up against nothing. Next year, when the Football World Cup is on and major sports events have been back in full swing, the coverage and momentum for Rugby League World Cup will be lost in the shuffle. 

Plus, the vast majority of people who will be watching on television and going to games do not know (or frankly care) who are the NRL ´superstars´. Personally, if players want to come the RFL should look into getting insurance for rebel teams to play in the competition (a precedent already set with Tonga invitational) or invite the USA in as they lost the repechage and one other team. Will the tournament have less prestige without New Zealand or Australia? Perhaps but the cost to the sport of not going ahead will be significantly higher. Play and be damned. 

Build our own baby… 

Of more importance is that the NRL pulling rank shows the importance now for England RFL and the northern hemisphere of building our own baby in the shape of an annual tournament. There has been talk of a four nations with England Knights but I have to say this is a non-starter from a FTA and commercial perspective. Audiences don’t want to watch B teams and you aren’t going to get commercial partners (or fans) on board for such an event. 

We actually have the materials to make a end of season four nations possible in the shape of England, France, Wales and Jamaica. Would England be comfortable for several years? Probably but the alternative of begging Australia or New Zealand to play is no alternative at all. 

With a four nations tournament, that’s two home games for England (vs Jamaica and the Four Nations final) and if we are serious about growing International Rugby League, there’s the chance of a mid-season game in Canada or the USA. 

From an FTA and sponsors point of view, knowing that England will have 5 games a year on FTA is a game changer. Not just for England though, there needs to be more confidence in internationals drawing potential if we are serious. Could an Ireland vs USA game mid-season take place in Boston? What about France vs Canada in Quebec? If North America do get an annual semi-professional comp going, we have to support them with international games and give a reason for players to pick the other nations bar England. 

Also, an annual 4 nations tournament is something we can go to a FTA provider with and get a long-term contract. There’s no evidence from TV figures that England vs Australia would draw any more viewers than England vs Scotland or England vs Wales. 

Whatever happens with the World Cup, the time has come for northern hemisphere rugby league to forgot about begging teams in the south to play us and come together to create an international calendar which we can all win from. 


  1. 100% agree with everything you say, the NRL is a fantastic comp but they will do anything to promote themselves and nothing to promote the game.
    Crack on without them, build the internationals up, we can’t keep waiting for them to get on board.

  2. As an Australian fan I’m gutted about the decision. Im hoping plans for Australian and NZ indigenous dont get scuttled.
    As for RL in the Northern hemisphere I’m a fan and follow the developments keenly.
    Realistically though none of the leagues there are sufficiently strong to create competitives sides to play England. The closest is France and we dream of the resurgence of their great teams of the past

    • Chicken and Egg, until they know they are going to play Eng regularly then players won´t make themselves available. Plus if FTA providers and sponsors know that France, Wales, Ireland and or Jam are playing in an annual tournament involving England, that will transform the commercial and sponsor opportunities for these nations.

      Could Wales get 500,000 a year in sponsors if this 4 nations happens. Absolutely and that´s a full time academy in Wales paid for. We have to commit long term to international rugby league outside of the southern hemisphere.

  3. AUS and NZ abstaining from RLWC 2021 is a de facto boycott. The NRL and ARLC wants the sport to die out in the UK and France, so that it’s a South Pacific sport with Australia being its hegemon and the Pacific Islands its satellites.

    Australia and New Zealand are already partaking in the Olympics and international Rugby Union and cricket, including sending teams to the UK! Apparently, COVID only lingers in RL stadiums?.. The RLWC 2021 has gotten record sponsorship money and record UK government funding. They want the event this year, not next year when there’s the FIFA World Cup and Euro Womens. The UK govt wants a big event in 2021, while the sponsors want the event to not be overshadowed by other events.

    When life gives you lemons, make lemonade. Use this tournament as an opportunity to promote the sport internationally. Along with USA, invite Serbia, Turkey and another team for the men’s comp. That’s two extra teams, but between Greece, Serbia and Turkey, it would do wonders for the game’s coverage in Southeast Europe. Between USA and Jamaica, it would do wonders for the game’s coverage in North America as well.

    The loss of the women’s AUS and NZ teams pretty much kills off Group B, and they need to be replaced with the two next-best qualified teams as well. Perhaps consider expanding that comp by two teams as well.

    A tournament without AUS and NZ is a great opportunity for the Pacific Islands and England to win. Whoever wins, their name is going to be in the record books all the same as the best national side, and it will boost the game’s popularity in that part of the world. The IRL and RFL need to be smart and tactical.

    • If I was one of the “record” sponsors and Australia and New Zealand don’t take part, I’d want a signficant refund!
      And as for victory for any other nation if it were to go ahead, I can’t help feeling it will be rather a hollow victory when the only two teams to have won it since 1972 will not be there.

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