The 2017 Rugby League World Cup is just five days away and captains and coaches of all 14 nations gathered in Brisbane today to officially launch the tournament that will be played in 13 cities cross Australian, New Zealand and Papua New Guinea.
Tournament CEO Andrew Hill, chairman Dr George Peponis, OAM, and Queensland Minister for Education and Minister for Tourism, Major Events and the Commonwealth Games, Kate Jones, were on hand to launch the 28-game series that culminates with the final in Brisbane on Saturday, December 2.
The 15th Rugby League World Cup, which was first played in France in 1954, will kick-off in Melbourne on Friday night with the clash of century-old rivals, England and Australia, coached by iconic Queensland league figures Wayne Bennett and Mal Meninga.
The tournament will be contested by Australia, England, France, Lebanon (Pool A); New Zealand, Samoa, Tonga, Scotland (Pool B), Papua New Guinea, Wales, Ireland (Pool C), Fiji, Italy and United States (Pool D).
The new international eligibility rules are expected to ensure RLWC2017 is the most competitive and most watched World Cup in history.
Matches will be telecast by the Seven Network in Australia, Sky TV in New Zealand and EMTV in PNG.
“The World Cup is huge for our game, we don’t have fond memories of the last World Cup in Australia in 2008 so we want to turn that around,” Australian captain Cameron Smith told the launch.
“It’s a celebration of our game and I think everyone who gets involved with this tournament and comes out and sees all the matches is going to be for a treat.
"There is going to be some great football played and there are some wonderful players on show throughout this tournament so I can’t wait.
“All the guys are really looking forward to getting out there on Friday night, they are excited about this campaign.
“I think a lot of the focus and a lot of the talk from Mal [Meninga] and from myself is going to be about playing a good game of footy on Friday night because if you get beaten in that first game you put yourself into a tricky position heading into quarter finals and semi-finals.”
England captain Sean O’Loughlin said the English players were looking forward to playing in the tournament under master coach Wayne Bennett.
“I think he just puts the boys under pressure to do the basic things well,” O’Loughlin said. "He has a heap of experience and I think the boys are feeding off that.
“From our point of view we want to get off to a good start but we also want to be building towards the knock out rounds and getting better week in and week out. “
RLWC2017 chairman George Peponis said the World Cup would not only be the best ever, but would leave a legacy for the game, with matches spread across Australia, New Zealand and in Papua New Guinea.
“There has been plenty of hype around the eligibility rules which have shown that the Rugby League World Cup 2017 will be the most competitive World Cup,” Peponis said.
“I would like to thank all our corporate partners as well as our government partners. In particular I’d like to thank the Queensland Government for their support, with Brisbane set to host a semi-final and the final, which for the first time in history will feature the men’s and women’s World Cup finals.”
Next weekend’s opening round matches are (local times):
Friday, October 27: Australia v England, Melbourne Rectangular Stadium (8pm).
Saturday October 28: PNG v Wales, Oil Search NFS, Port Moresby (3pm); New Zealand v Samoa, Mt Smart Stadium, Auckland (8.10pm); Fiji v USA; Townsville (7.40pm).
Sunday, October 29: Ireland v Italy, Barlow Park, Cairns (2pm) and Scotland v Tonga (4pm) in a double-header; France v Lebanon, Canberra Stadium, Canberra (4pm).