IT WAS with relatively little fanfare that, earlier this week, The RFL launched their bid for England to host what will arguably be the most ambitious Rugby League World Cup held to date in 2021.
At present, no other host candidates have come forward. South Africa – which missed out on hosting next year’s global gathering to a joint bid from Australia and New Zealand – and the USA have both been rumoured as potential bidders, while the UAE’s attempts were derailed by the unjust arrest of Sol Mokdad last year.
Barring any other countries coming forward though, it seems certain the tournament will be returning to these shores for the first time since 2013, when Australia triumphed in what was generally regarded as the most successful World Cup in the sport’s history.
It followed on from a well-regarded revival of the World Cup after an eight-year absence in Australia in 2008 and there is no reason to think next year’s event Down Under will be at least as good as the most recent edition.
These recent successes have clearly encouraged the RLIF and the 2021 tournament will feature 16 teams – up from the 14 included in the 2013 and 2017 World Cups.
It will be the largest number of teams to play at the international game’s showpiece since the ill-fated 2000 World Cup, although it seems the lessons from that bloated mess of a competition have been learnt.
For starters, there are seemingly enough countries to fill the berths, with the RLIF now claiming 64 member nations – either full, affiliate or observer members – and not having to resort to including representative teams such as the New Zealand Maoris.
Matches will also be played at just 12 stadium chosen from a shortlist of 15, rather than the overly-ambitious 26 across the whole of the British Isles and France, including a mix of rugby league and football grounds.
Predictably, the choices reported by The 18th Man have created some controversy and Cumbria in particular can perhaps consider itself unlucky to have missed out after both games held at Workington’s Zebra Claims Stadium during the 2013 World Cup both drew crowds of well over 7,000.
Nevertheless, the choices on the shortlist show the ambitions for this tournament, with Warrington’s Halliwell Jones Stadium and the Keepmoat Stadium in Doncaster having the lowest capacities on the list at 15,000.
The sensible pricing and sadly rare examples of good marketing in rugby league ensured healthy crowds at all venues in 2013 and it goes without saying these must be built on to ensure no repeat of 2000 where cavernous venues like Reading’s Madejski Stadium had just over 3,000 rattling around inside them.
Then there is the question of the whether the quality will be diluted by adding another two teams to the field, although with five years to prepare and increasing opportunities for regular international matches, there is no reason this should be an issue.
Besides, the fears over lopsided games have proven to be unfounded at the previous three tournaments, which have produced some thrilling encounters and great stories such as the success of the USA in 2013 and Fiji reaching the semi-finals in both of the two most recent World Cups.
Perhaps the only downside is no country outside of the ‘big three’ is prepared to host the tournament. Indeed, France is the only other nation to have hosted a World Cup on its own and has not done so since 1972.
So that dream of seeing a final of Lebanon against Papua New Guinea in front of a sell-out five-figure crowd in Toronto might just have to wait for a little while yet…