Rugby League World Cup: The ‘biggest and best’ tournament finally kicks off

Rugby League World Cup team
England last hosted the Rugby League World Cup in 2013
Hosts: England Dates: 15 October to 19 November
Coverage: Watch live on BBC TV, BBC iPlayer and online; Live commentary on Radio 5 Live and Sport Extra; Live texts and highlights on the BBC Sport website and app

The “biggest and best” Rugby League World Cup is finally underway after being postponed for a year due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Hosts England face Samoa at Newcastle’s St James’ Park in the opening game on Saturday (kick-off 2.30pm BST).

For the first time, the WC for women and wheelchairs will also be held alongside the men’s competition.

“This is international rugby league’s moment to shine,” said tournament chief executive Jon Dutton.

The event was supposed to begin in October last year, but was pushed back a year after the withdrawal of champions Australia and New Zealand cites “players’ welfare and safety” related to Covid-19.

At the time Dutton said there had been some “really disappointing behaviour” but 12 months on he was in a more upbeat mood with the first game just five days away.

Speaking at the tournament’s launch at the Museum of Science and Industry in Manchester on Monday, he said: “We are putting on the biggest tournament in the sport’s 127-year history.

“We welcome the sport’s greatest contemporary athletes and the most diverse player population ever assembled in the sport.

“It is fundamentally important that we succeed – it means more people will engage with the sport, there will be more visibility across the globe and more opportunities will be provided by these special moments.

“Together, we have the greatest opportunity to create new history that will pave the way for amazing athletes to show the world their talents.”

Newly appointed Sports Minister Stuart Andrew said: “Today we launch the biggest and best Rugby League World Cup ever. I know it’s been a long time coming for you all.”

Representatives such as head coaches and captains from all the men’s teams were present, including those from England’s opponents Samoa.

Andrew, MP for Pudsey, added: “While I have sent all the teams my best wishes, I hope no one will mind me saying that I can’t wait to cheer on an England win this weekend.”

‘It’s been a long time coming’

England last hosted the World Cup in 2013 and an idea to bring the tournament back to the country was not conceived until two years later.

Dutton pointed to a number of challenges organizers have had to overcome in that period, including Brexit, the pandemic, a change in the monarchy, the cost of living crisis and the eviction itself.

“This has been an incredible journey,” Dutton said. “Everyone collectively has had to navigate so many things, but we’ve done it with resolute determination. Let the fun begin.”

A total of 61 matches will be played at 21 venues across the three tournaments, all of which are live across the BBC.

The last World Cup took place in Australia in 2017, where the hosts out of England with 6-0 in a close and nervous finale.

This time, the men’s and women’s double-header finals will be played at Old Trafford on November 19, while the wheelchair final will be at Manchester Central the day before.

As well as Samoa, England will also face France and debutants Greece in Group A and boss Shaun Wane said: “It has been a long time coming.

“Since I took over, an Ashes series has been canceled and the World Cup postponed, so I’ve been bored for the last few years. I’m looking forward to it starting.”

Asked what a home World Cup means to him, skipper Sam Tomkins said: “It means everything.

“I’m proud to be English, very proud to wear the shirt and for us to host it in front of our own people is a huge opportunity for us as players with a wider view to develop the sport in the country.

“Hopefully a successful England team can be the catalyst for that.”

of the tournament inclusion ambassadorexternal link Oliver Thomason asked Tomkins: “Are you sure you’re going to win?”

“I’m 100% sure,” he replied.

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