Rugby League World Cup: Full quota sign up, even the Aussies are coming

JON DUTTON could afford himself a wry smile yesterday when revealing which nation was the last to sign the participation agreement for next year’s postponed Rugby League World Cup.

Men's International - France v England - Stade Gilbert Brutus, Perpignan, France - Mark Kheirallah of France is tackled by John Bateman (C) and Joe Philbin of England last month (Picture: SWPix.com)

Hosting a media briefing in Manchester, with a revised fixture list in hand and one year out from the 2022 finals day in the same city, the RLWC2021 chief executive was asked if Australia and New Zealand had been the last ones to do so.

“No, interestingly, and quite dramatically, on Tuesday, Canada Ravens came into the office,” said Dutton.

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“They have been over here as part of the Masters tour and they came in and physically signed the 32nd contract.”

The tournament, of course, was due to take place this autumn but was called off in August when Australia and New Zealand stated they would not travel to the UK due to concerns over Covid and player safety.

What has happened in the interim is a logistical feat to behold from Dutton and his team as they successfully reorganised, replanned and revisited so many of their preparations to ensure the competition does go ahead.

Thankfully, all 18 original host towns and cities remain involved – as do all 32 teams across men’s, women’s and wheelchair – with rescheduling only impacting five of the 61 matches.

The difficult process involved around 170 contracts needing to be renegotiated, rafts of discussions and talks with so many partners in such a short timeframe is hard to comprehend but organisers have achieved their aim.

The Rubgy League World Cup Trophies at the Manchester Central Convention Centre with John Bateman, Tom Halliwell and Amy Hardcastle as the new Rugby League World Cup schedule is announced. (Picture: SWpix.com)

Moreover, remarkably they have been able to do so while retaining all their previous commercial deals, too.

Dutton revealed it was last Friday, exactly 100 days after that initial bombshell news in August, that he was able to report back to the RLWC2021 Board and confirm they had met all those myriad challenges and were able to relaunch with confidence for 2022.

With this sort of resolve and grittiness, when Dutton says they are “more determined than ever before” to make it the most successful World Cup in history, few could argue.

Recalling the point when Dutton knew years of hard work could unravel, he conceded: “It was devastating.

Australia are the defending men's champions (Picture: AP)

“And the reality, as we saw last week with England playing the Wallabies in front of 82,000 people, we could have staged the tournament.

“(But) We would have staged the tournament without the very best athletes in the world and we made what is a responsible decision.

“It hurt. It hurt a lot. But we look forward. Having all 32 signed participation agreements – we should remind ourselves we didn’t have that last time – is a key change.

“They’re as legally binding an agreement as any other contract we have. I genuinely believe that everyone, not just Australia and New Zealand, are behind this.

“It adds more confidence. For all of us now, we can stop spending our time reflecting and we can go back to using the word ‘opportunity’.

“We’ve got more time to sell more tickets and create more of a social impact.”

With the MKM Stadium out of action due to the Hull Fair, Leeds’ Headingley Stadium will now host the opening night clash between holders Australia and Fiji on Saturday, October 15 (7.30pm).

Hull’s MKM Stadium will, instead, take New Zealand v Jamaica on Saturday, October 22 (7.30pm) which had originally been planned for Headingley.

Similarly, Anfield is unavailable due to building work so the quarter-final involving the winner of England’s group will be staged at the DW Stadium in Wigan instead as part of a double-header with the England v Canada womens’ group match.

Lastly, Liverpool’s M&S Bank Arena is unavailable for the wheelchair final so Manchester Central will host that on Friday, November 18 (7.30) ahead of the men’s and women’s finals at Old Trafford the following day.

Dutton said: “We’re obviously disappointed by losing two venues in Liverpool but having the three finals in Manchester will be a transformative moment for the sport; inside Manchester city centre, Friday night with a clean court broadcast to the world in front of 5,000 spectators and then the next day to go do the same again at Old Trafford for the men’s and women’s double-header, I think is pretty special.

“We have achieved our objective in delivering minimal disruption to the existing 61-match schedule and I want to place on record my thanks to all those who have made it possible.”

As general admission tickets went on sale yesterday morning, around 1,500 people were in the queue waiting. It will be here soon enough – and on course to be better than ever.