England suffer major blow as World Cup foes Samoa reject series invitation

The Rugby Football League says it is exploring all options after Samoa rejected an invitation to play a three-match series in England next autumn.

Samoa, who beat Shaun Wane's side in last year's World Cup semi-finals, plan to play in the Pacific Championships following their participation in the inaugural tournament this autumn.

The decision is a major blow to England's hopes of building momentum after backing up a home World Cup with a first-ever series against Tonga – and the first of any kind since 2018.

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England are due to tour Australia in 2025, while New Zealand and the Kangaroos have both agreed to visit these shores in consecutive years after the 2026 World Cup.

RFL chair and IRL board member Simon Johnson said: “Samoa’s decision is especially disappointing, coming just days after the conclusion of Tonga’s history-making visit to these shores this autumn, but we can’t afford to dwell on it. They have made their decision.

“We now owe it to Shaun Wane and the players and to England supporters to deliver meaningful international rugby league in 2024. We are working with RL Commercial and the IRL to make that happen.

“We’ll make further announcements as soon as there are any positive developments.”

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England were comfortable winners over Tonga, claiming a whitewash thanks to victories in St Helens, Huddersfield and Leeds.

England celebrate their series win over Tonga. (Photo: Allan McKenzie/SWpix.com)England celebrate their series win over Tonga. (Photo: Allan McKenzie/SWpix.com)
England celebrate their series win over Tonga. (Photo: Allan McKenzie/SWpix.com)

Wane spoke throughout the series about facing Samoa in 2024 but now faces a scramble to find a nation that can take their place.

Australia, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, Fiji and the Cook Islands all competed alongside Samoa in the Pacific Championships, a competition that is split into two groups.

Samoa lost both of their group games against Australia and New Zealand in the Pacific Cup, which was won by the Kiwis, while PNG beat Fiji in the final of the Pacific Bowl.

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With Tonga set to participate in the Pacific Championships for the first time next year, England's options are limited, short of asking for an invitation to join the competition in the southern hemisphere.

Wane's men shrugged off their World Cup hangover in April by swatting aside France, England's closest rivals in the northern hemisphere but a nation that remain some way off providing stiff opposition.

France were due to host the next World Cup in 2025, only to withdraw earlier this year.

In a statement released on Thursday, the IRL revealed two expressions of interest have been received for the rescheduled tournament in the southern hemisphere in 2026.

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The next World Cup will see the men's, women's and wheelchair tournaments run concurrently in a repeat of last year before returning to standalone events from 2028 to 2030.

The IRL have received 22 expressions of interest in total for the next four tournaments.

IRL chair Troy Grant said: "The IRL Board made the decision in July that future men’s, women’s and wheelchair World Cups would be staged as standalone events after RLWC2026 and the level of interest in hosting those tournaments confirms that was the right decision.

"The response to the ITT (invitation to tender) process also underlines the strategic approach behind the IRL Board’s decision to reduce the size of the World Cup finals in order to cultivate more host countries, which will make rugby league a more global sport and the World Cups more accessible events.

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“It is one of the many benefits of the international calendar that the IRL is able to schedule three World Cups in three years to provide more countries with an opportunity to host one or more of the game’s flagship tournaments."

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