Shaun Wane: Revised international calendar a shot in the arm for rugby league

England coach Shaun Wane has welcomed a revised international rugby league calendar that confirms a 2026 World Cup as well as committing to the return of regular Ashes tours from 2025.

The International Rugby League said the next tournament will take place in the southern hemisphere following two rival bids, each backed by government guarantees, which are presumed to be from Australia and New Zealand.

The tournament had been due to take place in France in 2025 but the prospective hosts pulled out in May citing financial reasons, leaving the immediate future of the tournament, which had been staged successfully in England last year, in jeopardy.

The IRL also indicated that the sport’s Australian power-brokers have agreed to the return of regular Ashes tours, starting with both England men’s and women’s teams heading Down Under in 2025.

Wane said: “I was brought up on Ashes tours so the chance to coach on that makes myself and my family immensely proud.

“I’m so glad we’ve gone forward with the international rugby league calendar. It’s such a strong message to everyone in the game and I think it’s a real shot in the arm.

“Even though we didn’t succeed in the World Cup, the tournament over here and the success of Super League since the World Cup just shows the need for a strong international game.”

From 2026, the men’s World Cup will be reduced from 16 to 10 teams, while both the women’s and wheelchair World Cups will continue to feature eight teams each. The women’s event will revert to a stand-alone competition from 2028.

IRL chairman Troy Grant said: “The IRL board has made these decisions to create more compelling content and secure the financial future of the international game.

England v France – Wheelchair Rugby League World Cup – Final – Manchester Central

England’s wheelchair rugby league stars will defend their World Cup title in 2026 (David Davies/PA)

“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.”

Previous attempts to pin down an international calendar have stalled, partly due to the Covid-19 pandemic, plus perceived resistance within Australia’s NRL.

However, England will face Tonga in a three-Test series in October, and Grant indicated that agreements have been reached for New Zealand and Australia to travel to face England men’s and women’s teams in 2027 and 2028 respectively.

Despite initial interest from Qatar and another country in the Middle East, assumed to be Saudi Arabia, a return of the World Cup to the southern hemisphere appeared inevitable after the French withdrawal.

Grant added: “We will have an expedited bid process and the host will be identified before the year’s end, once the board has completed its due diligence of those bids.”

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