Rugby League World Cup revamped, southern hemisphere to host in 2026

Image: St. James’ Park hosts opening game of 2021 RLWC

Image: St. James’ Park hosts opening game of 2021 RLWC

The next edition of the Rugby League World Cup will now take place in 2026 in the southern hemisphere as International Rugby League (IRL) adopts a new hosting model for the national team tournament.

France had been due to stage the next Rugby League World Cup in 2025 but the country pulled out of hosting due to funding-related issues. IRL later announced that Qatar, New Zealand, South Africa and Fiji had declared an interest in hosting in 2025.

IRL has now confirmed that the event will be pushed back 12 months to 2026, with the tournament to be held in the southern hemisphere. A decision on the host nations will be made by the end of the year.

The men’s, women’s and wheelchair tournaments will once again be played alongside each other. The World Cup will feature 10 men’s, eight women’s and eight wheelchair teams.

The decision to revert the men’s tournament to 10 teams, down from 16, will make the event more elite, IRL said. Greater emphasis will be placed on developing regional championships for Asia-Pacific, Europe, Middle East and Africa, and the Americas, to ensure pathways for qualification for the World Cup.

The eight men’s quarter-finalists from last year’s tournament in England will automatically qualify for the 2026 World Cup, along with the four women’s and wheelchair semi-finalists.

It has also been decided that the Women’s Rugby League World Cup will be held as a standalone tournament from 2028. The cycle has also changed for the men’s tournament, with the next event after 2026 to be played in 2030. IRL will work to determine the best position to place the Wheelchair World Cup after 2026.

The changes to the World Cup form part of a wider revamp of the international calendar running until 2030, with the return of an Ashes series that will see England’s men and women tour Australia in 2025. New Zealand and Australia will also head to England in 2027 and 2028, respectively.

The calendar will also feature international tours for other nations, and dedicated northern hemisphere and southern hemisphere tournaments.

IRL chair Troy Grant said: “The cancellation of France 2025 has given us an opportunity to refresh the structure of the World Cup and associated tournaments as part of a long-term international calendar that all in the game have been desperately seeking.

“The Rugby League World Cup is the pinnacle of our sport and an elite tournament that all nations should aspire to take part in. With 10 men’s teams at the 2026 and 2030 World Cups, there will be greater focus on regional championships and qualifying tournaments.

“The growth of women’s rugby league has been at such a phenomenal rate that the IRL board believes they deserve to have their own World Cup staged as a standalone tournament from 2028 onwards. With the men’s World Cup cycle moving back a year, there will now be a World Cup every 24 months, but this is not a set-and-forget international calendar and there will be opportunities to capitalise on the future growth we believe these changes will generate.”