The southern hemisphere giants say they made the call because of the worsening Covid-19 situation in the UK which made it “simply too unsafe to send teams and staff over” but they were branded “cowardly” and “selfish”.
The issue was addressed in Parliament by Leader of the House of Commons Jacob Rees-Mogg while Speaker Sir Lindsay Hoyle, a Warrington fan, announced he would be meeting tournament organisers to discuss the matter and Vaccines minister Nadhim Zahawi said he and Government officials were also happy to meet them.
Replying to a point of order from the chair Ms Cummins said “I never thought I’d see the day when we see Rugby Union players look tougher than Rugby League players. Yet we have the situation where Rugby Union are sending players here, but Australia and New Zealand have bottled it. Perhaps they are afraid of the competition?
“We must do all we can to make this event great. Rugby League is a fantastic celebration of our culture. Fans across the North and the wider world deserve better. My view is we carry on without them and get on with it.
Rugby Football League chairman Simon Johnson said: “The World Cup organisers have bent over backwards and turned double somersaults to meet every single requirement that was asked of them, by the Australians particularly.
“To have those assurances completely dismissed, I am angry about this. This is a selfish, parochial and cowardly decision which has been taken by the Australian and New Zealand leadership.”
Johnson is hoping for a change of heart and former England coach Steve McNamara is urging the NRL clubs to put their self-interest to one side and get behind the tournament.
Officials promised the most efficient bio-security measures possible in an effort to allay safety fears but the NRL clubs remain unconvinced, while wary of the need for player to go into quarantine on their return to Australia which would affect their preparations for the 2022 season.
Organisers are frantically trying to work out their next step after being caught on the hop by the decision, which came just seven days after it was announced the tournament would go ahead as planned on October 23.
The decision comes a week after the NRL relocated its competition to Queensland following fresh Covid outbreaks in New South Wales and Victoria but Johnson says the rugby league authorities in Australia are bucking the trend as the world emerges from lockdown.
“I would have some sympathy for them were I not aware that right now Australian athletes are in Tokyo for the Olympics, that New Zealand men’s cricketers have played in England this summer and that the rugby union team from Australia will be coming for a series of internationals in October,” he said.
“So, if their sports’ governing bodies are comfortable with the arrangements that are made, why are the rugby league authorities not satisfied with that?”
A joint statement from the two nations said: “The Australian Rugby League Commission (ARLC) and New Zealand Rugby League (NZRL) today informed the International Rugby League (IRL) and Rugby League World Cup (RLWC) organisers that Australia and New Zealand will not compete in a 2021 World Cup because of player welfare and safety concerns.
“The ARLC and NZRL have again requested the RLWC2021 be postponed until 2022 to minimise risk of players contracting COVID-19 and ensure the best outcome for player well-being.”
A statement issued by World Cup organisers said: “RLWC2021 note the disappointing statement made by the ARLC and NZRL which may have wide ranging implications for international Rugby League.
“RLWC2021 were informed at very short notice and will continue discussions with all stakeholders to agree on the best way forward. A further statement will be made in due course.”