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Rugby League World Cup 2021 organisers anticipate 'biggest and best' event


Rugby League World Cup trophies
The men’s, women’s and wheelchair World Cups will run concurrently in 2021

Organisers of the 2021 World Cup in England anticipate that the tournament will be the biggest and best ever staged in the event’s 67-year history.

The fixture plan for the men’s, women’s and wheelchair tournaments, starting on 23 October, has been released.

All three will run simultaneously for the first time, with the men’s and women’s finals taking place in an Old Trafford double-header on 27 November.

“I think this could be a transformative moment,” CEO Jon Dutton told BBC Sport.

“Every minute of every game is live on the BBC domestically, and there’s the opportunity to project that on a global stage, the opportunity to have some new nations and new continents.”

The 2013 World Cup was deemed a success after a forgettable 2000 tournament which was hampered by bad weather, a disappointing England performance and reduced attendances.

Highlights such as a packed Memorial Stadium in Bristol when the Cook Islands faced USA, Scotland beating Tonga in Workington and the heart-stopping drama of New Zealand’s semi-final win over England at Wembley helped give the game a lift on the international stage.

The same is hoped for 2021 after a well-received 2017 tournament in the southern hemisphere.

“The World Cup has had a chequered history but a wonderful heritage to celebrate,” Dutton continued.

“2013 here in the UK put it on the map in terms of a ‘grown-up’ World Cup, and 2017 took it a step further.

“We are hopefully going to take it to the next level with all three tournaments.”

An opening night to savour

Newcastle United’s St James’ Park is an example of the ambition and optimism surrounding the event, taking England and the men’s tournament’s opener to a non-heartland stadium with a capacity in the mid-50,000s.

Previous Magic Weekend and rugby union fixtures have shown the appetite for big events in England’s north east, while for rugby league purists, the game against Samoa should provide sporting interest.

“They’ve got a tough game there against Samoa,” former England and Great Britain international Jason Robinson told BBC Sport. “They’re big boys who will want to make an impact and there’s no bigger impact for Samoa than beating England in the first game.”

World Cup draw
Jason Robinson helped to conduct the World Cup draw in January, along with Dame Katherine Grainger and the Duke of Sussex

Robinson played in England’s 1995 opener against Australia, scoring a try in the 20-16 victory at Wembley – a game which ignited interest in the tournament on a national scale.

Similar hopes are held for this fixture.

“England will be massively excited,” Robinson continued. “(New England coach) Shaun Wane’s in charge, he’ll add passion and fire and experience.

“But not just rugby league fans, but just general sports fans are going to see great games during the tournament, that game at St James’ Park will be a great atmosphere.

“It’ll be bouncing, everyone will want to kick us off with a great game.”

The big four split

Previous men’s tournaments have top-loaded the major Tier One nations of England, Australia and New Zealand, but the emergence of Tonga as a serious rival has enabled the groups to be split equally into four, with an elite side in each.

The offshoot is that the prospect of lesser nations qualifying for the latter stages has been made more difficult.

Dutton believes that challenge could have a positive impact on the standard of nations across the board.

New Zealand beat England in 2013
When England last hosted a Rugby League World Cup in 2013, they lost to a last-minute Shaun Johnson try for New Zealand in their semi-final at Wembley

“They become more competitive by playing against bigger nations and having that exposure,” he added.

“The Netball World Cup had bigger scores in the group games there, but nations need to experience what it’s like to be part of a World Cup and that will make them stronger in the future.”

High expectations for women and wheelchair competition

The selection of impressive venues such as Leeds’ revamped Headingley and the new Community Stadium in York is an indication of the status that the women’s tournament is expected to aspire to.

Likewise the wheelchair venues, which include the Copper Box Arena in London – a big part of the 2012 Paralympics – and the Liverpool Arena, where last year’s Netball World Cup enjoyed big crowds.

“We’re really excited to start the women’s tournament off against Brazil, we’ve high aspirations for the number of people inside Headingley,” Dutton added.

“If we can get the tournament off to the best possible start then we’ve got England v Canada at Liverpool’s Anfield in week two.

“Canada, from what we saw in 2017, looked a really competitive team, Brazil could be anything but certainly bring excitement and in the other group we’ve got Australia and New Zealand.

“We’ve specifically looked at double-headers in the women’s and wheelchair games, so people can come along and see two high-quality games.

“Those tournaments won’t take second stage at all.”



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