Following France’s financial reasons-triggered pull-out, the 2026 Rugby League World Cup will be held in the Southern Hemisphere. The initial plan had been for North America to host for the first time, but this was cancelled and France was declared the host in January 2022.
Regrettably, the French organizers failed to meet the fiscal requirements stipulated by their government, leading to their withdrawal announcement in May. The tournament will see the participation of 10 men’s, eight women’s, and eight wheelchair teams.
Automatic qualification for the 2026 championship has been granted to the eight quarter-finalist men’s teams from the previous World Cup, held in England in 2022, and the women’s and wheelchair teams that made it to the semi-finals.
To ensure a top-tier competition, the International Rugby League (IRL) announced that the men’s tournament has been downsized from 16 to 10 teams. The event was initially planned for 2025 but has been moved to 2026 as part of a revised schedule, with the subsequent edition scheduled for 2030.
Starting in 2028, the Women’s World Cups will be organized as independent tournaments to acknowledge the game’s significant expansion. A decision regarding the scheduling of the Wheelchair World Cup post-2026 is yet to be taken.
“These decisions have been made by the IRL board to produce more engaging content and secure the international game’s financial future,” stated IRL Chair Troy Grant. “The cancellation of France 2025 offers us a chance to revitalize the structure of the World Cup and associated tournaments as part of a comprehensive international calendar that everyone in the game has been eagerly anticipating.”
Two southern hemisphere nations have placed bids to host in 2026. New Zealand publicly announced their interest, but their initial offer to replace France as the 2025 host was deemed too rushed by the IRL. Australia is thought to be the second bidder, with the Pacific Nations potentially playing a role in either bid.
The chosen host, set to be announced before the year ends, will be required to ensure the tournament’s financial stability.
Originally planned for October and November 2025 in France, the tournament comes on the heels of the 2022 World Cup in England, which was delayed by a year due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Australia claimed the men’s and women’s championships, while England won the wheelchair category.
The IRL, which governs the sport globally, approved a new schedule up to 2030, including the revival of the Ashes with England’s men’s and women’s teams visiting Australia in 2025.
Moreover, New Zealand and Australia are set to compete in England in 2027 and 2028. The IRL is also planning to put more focus on regional championships and World Cup qualifiers in the Americas, Asia-Pacific, Europe, and Middle East-Africa, while ideas for a World Series format are in the works.
“The erratic scheduling of tournaments and international matches, and the lack of clear plans for nations, players, and fans, has been a longstanding issue in international rugby league,” said Grant. “This problem ends now.”
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Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about Rugby League World Cup 2026
What was the host country for the 2022 Rugby League World Cup?
The host country for the 2022 Rugby League World Cup was England.
Who were the champions in the 2022 World Cup?
Australia emerged as the champions in both the men’s and women’s categories, while the host nation, England, secured the wheelchair title.
Why will the Rugby League World Cup be hosted in the Southern Hemisphere in 2026?
The Rugby League World Cup will be hosted in the Southern Hemisphere in 2026 because France withdrew as the host country for financial reasons.
How many teams will participate in the 2026 Rugby League World Cup?
The 2026 Rugby League World Cup will feature 10 men’s teams, eight women’s teams, and eight wheelchair teams.
Which teams automatically qualify for the 2026 tournament?
The eight men’s quarter-finalists from the previous World Cup (2022) held in England will automatically qualify for the 2026 tournament, as will the four women’s and wheelchair semi-finalists.
Why was the men’s tournament reduced from 16 teams to 10?
The men’s tournament was reduced to 10 teams to ensure an “elite” competition, as stated by the International Rugby League (IRL).
When was the original schedule for the 2026 Rugby League World Cup?
Originally, the 2026 Rugby League World Cup was scheduled to be held in 2025 in France during October and November.
What changes are planned for future Women’s World Cups?
Starting from 2028, Women’s World Cups will be staged as stand-alone tournaments to recognize the game’s “phenomenal rate” of growth.
How will the hosts for the 2026 tournament be chosen?
Two bids from southern hemisphere nations, New Zealand and Australia, are being considered, and an announcement of the selected host will be made before the end of the year. The chosen hosts must guarantee the tournament’s financial security.
What are the future plans for international rugby league?
The International Rugby League (IRL) aims to create a long-term international calendar, emphasizing regional championships and World Cup qualifiers for various regions. Additionally, a World Series format is being developed for the future.