The Rugby League International Federation Board has approved in principle a rolling calendar of matches for the next eight years. The calendar will see a mix of world events, regional events and bilateral tours starting in 2019. The meeting was held as a part of the RLIF Congress in York.
A highlight of the 2019 plan is the creation of the Oceania Cup featuring Australia, New Zealand and Tonga in one group and Samoa, Fiji and Papua New Guinea in the other group. The nations also agreed that the Great Britain Rugby League Lions will visit the Southern Hemisphere to face New Zealand, Tonga, Samoa, Fiji and Papua New Guinea subject to consultation with the major playing leagues and the players’ representatives.
There are ongoing discussions to ensure that the programme for the women’s game and for wheelchair rugby league are advanced at a similar rate to the men’s game.
The Board has also approved financial support for the Americas Championship and a new competition for nations in the Middle East and Africa, the MEA Championship. RLIF investment will be annual, commencing in 2019, underlining the strategic significance of and recent growth in these territories.
Australia will host the inaugural RLIF Nines World Cup in 2019 which will see teams from across the world gather to compete in this innovative and exciting form of the game. This will feature both men’s and women’s competitions.
The programme will be punctuated every four years with the World Cup and will include the repeat of the Oceania Cup in 2020 and 2022 which will mirror the European Championship in the Northern Hemisphere. With space created for the bilateral arrangement of games and tours by the individual member nations.
Chief Executive Nigel Wood has welcomed the outcome saying:
“The whole international rugby league world has looked to us to complete this important piece of work. The discussions this week have been extremely collaborative and positive.
“This is a complex process and if we can put all the pieces of the jig-saw into place we will have a very exciting programme.”
“There is some further consultation to be undertaken with leagues and playing groups together with some important commercial evaluations before we could make final announcements, however we are confident that we can complete these discussions before Christmas.”
New Zealand Rugby League CEO Greg Peters said:
“We are delighted to have the support of the RLIF and member nations for a significant calendar of rugby league events in New Zealand. This will be the first time in the history of the sport that this number of international games has been hosted in New Zealand. We still have work to do, however, but we are very encouraged by the commitment of all parties to work towards making this a reality.”
Sandis Tsaka, President of Papua New Guinea Rugby Football League, said: “It’s a great boost for us in Papua New Guinea to have a reliable calendar of games that we can promote to our fans, players and stakeholders.”
Todd Greenberg, CEO of the Australian Rugby League Commission, welcomed the collaboration shown in the discussions: “It was refreshing to see the way in which we were all able to work together, particularly the Pacific nations, to deliver the framework for this calendar.”
Ralph Rimmer, CEO of the Rugby Football League, was pleased with the opportunities provided by the calendar: “These are exciting times for the sport in general and particularly the chance we have to both take a Great Britain team to the Southern Hemisphere next year and then welcome the Kangaroos in 2020. There is still some discussion to complete on 2019 but everything looks to be moving in a positive direction.”
RLIF Southern Hemisphere General Manager Jeremy Edwards said: “This programme will give us all a framework that we can work with. The Oceania Cup gives the Pacific nations the ideal platform to continue the immense progress that they have made over the past few years.”