The decision to postpone the Rugby League World Cup to next year will help Canada’s entry prepare but remains disappointing, Canadian team officials say.
The tournament, which features men’s, women’s and wheelchair play, was scheduled to begin Oct. 23 in England. But it has been pushed back to 2022 in the wake of Australia and New Zealand pulling out two weeks ago, citing safety fears due to the pandemic.
Australia has won 11 of the 15 men’s World Cups to date with Britain taking three titles and New Zealand one. The National Rugby League, which features 15 teams from Australia and one from New Zealand, is also home to top players from other countries.
New Zealand won the first three editions of the women’s World Cup and was runner-up to Australia in 2013 and ‘17.
Sixteen teams will contest the men’s title with host England, defending champion Australia, New Zealand and Tonga heading up each of the four groups.
Canada will join Australia, England, Brazil, Cook Islands, France, New Zealand and Papua New Guinea in the women’s competition, which was to have run Nov. 13 to 27.
“This will definitely be disappointing for all of the players and staff who have worked so hard to prepare for the World Cup in November throughout some extremely challenging circumstances,” Canada women’s coach Mike Castle said in an e-mail.
“I personally believe this is a positive outcome for our team. Considering sport across Canada has been limited over the last 18 months,” added the Australian-based coach. “This decision gives us more time to prepare for what will be a fantastic event.”
Bob Jowett, president of the Canada Rugby League Association, agreed.
“My immediate thought was it’s very very disappointing,” he said in an interview from Manitoba. “We were gearing up and we were looking forward to going. And everybody was getting on board. We’ve done well in getting sponsors.”
Tournament organizers now have to avoid a scheduling clash with the 2022 FIFA World Cup, which is scheduled for Nov. 18 to Dec. 21 in Qatar.
“There’s still some concerns on what’s going to happen next year,” said Jowett.
The Canadian women, known as the Ravens, are ranked fifth in the world. They have been drawn in a pool with host England (No. 3), Papua New Guinea (No. 4) and Brazil (No. 13).
At the 2017 women’s tournament in Australia, a fledgling Canada Ravens side lost 50-4 to New Zealand before beating Papua New Guinea 22-8 for its first ever international win. The Canadian women finished the pool stage with an 88-0 loss to Australia. They were then beaten again, 58-6, by Australia in the semifinals.
The Canadian women’s team held tryouts recently with Castle and the Canadians hoping to play an international against the U.S. in October in Vancouver.
“Another year does give more time to prepare and more time for player evaluation. And more time for players to get where they maybe want to be physically and technically,” Jowett said.
The Canadian men, known as the Wolverines, failed to qualify for the tournament.
Rugby league is different from rugby union, the more popular of the two codes.
A rugby league team is made up of 13 players with four on the bench. Each team is only allowed six tackles (plays) before the ball changes hands. A try is worth four points and a conversion two.
Rugby union teams are made up of 15 starters with eight substitutes. Play is more continuous and a try is worth five points and a conversion two.
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This report by The Canadian Press was first published Aug. 6, 2021
Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press