World Cup relocation too early to call, says NRL chief

Jasper Bruce |

NRL chief Andrew Abdo says it is too early to determine whether Australia can assume hosting rights for the 2025 Rugby League World Cup after financial issues prompted France to pull out.

Whether or not the tournament is relocated to Australia, Abdo says the league remains focused on a five-year plan to grow the international game, details of which are expected imminently.

France withdrew from hosting the World Cup after failing to guarantee the French government the showpiece event of the international rugby league calendar would not run at a financial loss.

“This difficult decision was taken so as not to threaten the robustness of the major international sporting event models that France now wishes to promote,” a statement from the International Rugby League read overnight on Monday (AEDT).

The IRL is preparing to discuss alternative arrangements in July, with the view to informing member nations of alternative fixtures later that month.

Given England hosted the most recent World Cup last year, Australia and/or New Zealand appear the likeliest destination for the besieged tournament, having last hosted it together with Papua New Guinea in 2017.

Australia hosted the event on its own in 2008.

New Zealand and Australia are league’s only tier-one nations outside of England, and the international game has been a focus of Abdo’s NRL administration, particularly since COVID-19 restrictions began to ease.

Abdo said it was too early to determine whether Australia could put its hand up for the World Cup, but admitted France’s decision to surrender hosting rights had not come as a shock.

“It’s too premature to comment on just exactly what we do next,” he said.

“I’ve been across the issues for a while now. France 2025 was always going to be a great opportunity to grow the game in Europe and particularly in France. 

“But it wasn’t without challenge and without risk, and it required a few things to go the way of the IRL. 

“We are working on, and have been working on, a mitigation plan to make sure that international content is played over the next five years.”

The NRL re-implemented the mid-season Test window last year after the pandemic forced its cancellation for two years.

Buoyed by the success of it and the 2022 World Cup, the league is keen to lock in a regular four-week post-season international window for October and November.

“Everyone in the game is really united around making sure that we revive and then we invest in international football,” Abdo said.

“We’re hard at work as to what that calendar looks like over the next five years. Hopefully very soon, we’ll be able to talk more openly about what those plans look like.

“If we’re not playing a World Cup in France, there are plenty of other really good opportunities for us to showcase international games.” 

Growing the game in the Pacific Islands has been of particular interest to the NRL in recent times, with the region floated as a possible destination for an 18th team.

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese previously suggested taking State of Origin games there as a chance to strengthen ties.

PNG international Alex Johnston suggested NRL-mad Papua New Guinea as a possible World Cup co-host, after it hosted games as part of the 2017 edition.

“The atmosphere is completely different in PNG, it’s a whole different world for sure,” he said.

“We’re literally rock stars (over there), not just us, any team that goes over there. They just love rugby league.”