New Zealand Rugby League working on unique World Cup bid that includes Pacific Islands

Greg Peters (Photo: NZRL)

New Zealand Rugby League (NZRL) is in talks with the Government on a bid for the 2025 Rugby League World Cup, which will include co-hosting with Pacific Island nations, but not Australia.

It would be a fully inclusive and diverse World Cup, including the men’s, women’s, wheelchair and physical disability tournaments.

International Rugby League (IRL) is desperate to find a new home for the sport’s showpiece tournament after France pulled out in May because of financial reasons.

NZRL chief executive Greg Peters told Stuff at the time they would look at whether to put in a bid, and he has now confirmed they have a vision for the next World Cup that would not only bring the tournament to New Zealand, but take games to the Pacific Islands for the first time.

“We have commenced a feasibility study to look at whether we can achieve a vision of New Zealand and Pasifika and Papua New Guinea hosting the World Cup in 2025,” Peters said.

“That’s an ambitious goal, but we want to have a good crack at it and see if there’s a chance of it being possible.

“We’ve got a pretty short window of time because of France withdrawing and two years to the planned World Cup, it’s not long.

“That can act in our favour, or it can act against us. We’ve got to get stuff done quickly, so things happen quicker, but obviously for the planning stage there’s a short runway.”

Since the modern era of the Rugby League World Cup began in 1995, New Zealand has only once been involved in hosting the tournament, in 2017, and it played second fiddle to Australia that year as only seven of the 28 games were held in the country.

Peters said he wouldn’t rule out Australia being involved in the 2025 World Cup if they end up making a successful bid, but currently it’s the NZRL leading the proposal, with input from Pacific Island nations.

“We’re happy to talk to Australia, but at this stage we’re wanting to lead a New Zealand/Pasifika opportunity and we’re not closing out Australia,” Peters said.

“But we’ll work on a feasibility that considers options and Australia’s very strong relationship with PNG is certainly one area we may explore more.”

Peters believes this could deliver a unique World Cup and one that acknowledges the important role players from the Pacific Islands have played in the sport in recent years.

“We want to bring Pasifika with us, in a collaborative and cooperative manner. So co-hosting with Pasifika and PNG to the extent that’s possible,” Peters said.

Toa Samoa made the final of last year’s World Cup, which sparked huge interest among Samoan communities in Auckland. Ricky Wilson / Stuff

“To bring it all together as a partnership to host it, that’s different to what’s been done before in any other code and particularly in rugby league.

“In the NRL 48% of players are Māori or Pasifika and in New Zealand 86% of our participation base is Māori or Pasifika, so this respects and acknowledges that.

“That’s the vision. It will cost a lot of money so we are working with the New Zealand Government, MBIE (Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment) to do the feasibility work in a very tight timeframe.”

Samoa haven’t played a home test since 2016, while Tonga last played at home in 2007 and Fiji haven’t hosted a test for 23 years.

In the past, infrastructure, costs and broadcasting and medical facilities have been issues, but that’s no longer the case, as highlighted by Fijian Drua playing all their Super Rugby Pacific home games in either Suva or Lautoka and Moana Pasifika playing the Reds in Apia this season.

“They are all on a capability facilities improvement pathway,” Peters said.

“Three years ago broadcasting was very expensive and challenging out of most of those territories, now it’s entirely possible, as we’ve seen with those examples.

“You can do it and the cost has come down significantly. You can see the Pacific tourism benefits if we’re able to make this happen, so it becomes more than just rugby league.”

To bring the World Cup to New Zealand Peters says it will need financial support. That has to come from the Government and regional organisations like Tātaki Auckland Unlimited, which is part of Auckland Council, but is facing significant cuts under the proposed budget of Mayor Wayne Brown, with the risk of the city falling further behind what Australian state governments are prepared to fork out for major events.

“It will require a significant contribution from New Zealand Central Government and regional councils and entities, because that’s the only way these events work,” Peters said.

“Australia is aggressive in that space and I would like to see New Zealand stand up and make a mark in that space as well.”

Peters wants to be in position to go to the IRL’s meeting in Singapore next month having something detailed to show them about the World Cup.

“We don’t understand yet what the IRL’s process for awarding a new host for 2025 is, we’re seeking that,” Peters said.

“But we’re also not waiting for that, because we want to be in a position, if we determine it’s feasible, to put something forward that excites rugby league and the IRL.”

South Africa and Qatar are the other nations to express an interest in hosting the World Cup, but there are significant issues with both countries.

Despite a number of attempts, league hasn’t taken off in South Africa and their men’s team are currently ranked 25th in the world, behind Nigeria, Germany and Brazil.

Qatar has plenty of money and the stadiums for the tournament, having recently hosted the Fifa World Cup, but the country doesn’t have a national team, no heritage in the sport and would rely on fans flying in from the UK or this part of the world to fill seats.

“I’m sure there will be parties expressing an interest,” Peters said.

“One of the things with our concept is that it’s about rugby league and celebrating the cultures involved in rugby league. In a part of the world that has seen signifiant growth, not only with on-field performance, but with interest in rugby league.

“There has been the rise of the likes of Tonga, Samoa, Fiji, Papua New Guinea and the Cook Islands, and it’s not too long ago that New Zealand and Australia were beating Tonga and Samoa by significant margins, but now it’s not like that.

“That’s what we want to see from a sports perspective through this and you don’t get that in Qatar.”

If the NZRL go ahead with the bid, Peters also wants to include the same number of nations competing as there was in England last year. So a 16-team men’s World Cup and eight nations for the women’s and wheelchair World Cups.

“If you’re true about wanting to host pools in the islands, you need a certain number of games to do that,” Peters said.

“We want the bigger games to be back in the New Zealand market because of commerciality and fan base, but you need a certain number of matches to spread this around the Pacific.”

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