Kiwis coach Michael Maguire admits that New Zealand’s world No.1 ranking will count for little if his team is unable to bring home the Paul Barrière Trophy held by the Kangaroos since 2013 when the World Cup is staged in England at the end of next season.
RLWC2021 organisers have announced new dates and some venue changes for the rescheduled tournament, which will conclude with the men’s and women’s finals at Old Trafford on November 19 and the wheelchair final also in Manchester on November 18.
Australia’s opening game against Fiji on October 15 has been shifted to Leeds from Hull, which will instead now host New Zealand’s second match against Jamaica on October 22, while a quarter-final initially set down for Anfield has been moved to Wigan.
With the Kangaroos having won just two of their four Tests since shutting out England 6-0 in the 2017 final and Australia’s last outing being an historic 16-12 loss to Tonga at Eden Park in 2019, the tournament is expected to be the most keenly contested since the first World Cup in 1954.
After losing to Tonga at the 2017 World Cup and being eliminated by Fiji at the quarter final stage, the Kiwis have rebuilt under Maguire and were the No.1 ranked nation before the global COVID-19 pandemic halted the momentum of the international game two years ago.
However, Maguire said they would need to continue improving to win their first World Cup since defeating Australia in the 2008 final at Suncorp Stadium.
“The players are very proud of what they have been able to do to up to this point, but we also know that they are going to be judged on every game and every performance,” Maguire said.
“We have got to make sure that we take that confidence and belief about what we have been doing to this point, but also know the challenges of going into a World Cup.
“You have got to be the best prepared, you have got to make sure that everything is in place so we can build right into that first game and play some very good footy.”
Despite the World Cup being postponed until next year, Maguire said Kiwi players had remained in regular contact and he recently named an extended squad for the tournament, which included Josh Schuster, Ronaldo Mulitalo, Jordan Riki and Marata Niukore.
“When I first started as the coach of the Kiwis there was Jahrome Hughes and Brandon Smith coming through to establish their names in the Kiwi jersey, and I think they have had an enormous appetite now after the games that they have played,” Maguire said.
“Every player aspires to play in a World Cup and as the coach of the Kiwis, and knowing the passion that the Kiwi boys have about the jersey and playing in a World Cup, it is great to know that it is back on and ready to go.
“Now we have got some dates set in stone we can start preparing for the tournament. The players that I have as senior guys, like Jared Waerea-Hargreaves, Jesse Bromwich, Shaun Johnson and Dallin Watene-Zelezniak, are very keen to get back together again.
“I know the boys are really keen to win a World Cup and be a part of something special like that. Australia have obviously won a number of World Cups over a period of time and New Zealand have got their single win, and they want to build on that.”
Parish honoured to open World Cup with Samoa
The World Cup will kick off at St James Park in Newcastle on October 15 with England hosting a Samoa team that may include Penrith stars Jarome Luai, Brian To’o, Stephen Crichton, Moses Leota and Spencer Leniu.
Samoa coach Matt Parish said it was an honour for his team to be involved in the opening game of the tournament and insisted they would be aiming to turn the World Cup on its head by springing the first upset.
“I am sure Samoans around the world are going to be watching that game and to be part of the opening ceremony of the best and biggest World Cup ever is something I think everyone will aspire to be a part of and we are certainly lucky to be involved,” Parish said.
“With the lack of international football since the last World Cup this is going to be an awesome event to be a part of and I am sure the best players are going to be representing every nation.
“We have got a lot of players now who have experience in big games, in this year’s finals series and particularly the grand final, with Penrith and Souths.
"There are a few players in both sides who will be in the Samoan team, no doubt, and I think it is something to really look forward.
“I have got no doubt that we will put on a good performance in the opening game and I have got no doubt that if we can play to our potential we can match it with anyone in the world but we have got to live up to those standards now to make sure we can do that.”
RLWC2021 CEO Jon Dutton said all 32 teams across the 21 competing nations participating in the men’s, women’s and wheelchair tournaments had fully committed to the revised tournament schedule in 2022.
“We have achieved our objective in delivering minimal disruption to the existing 61-match schedule and I want to place on record my thanks to all those who have made it possible," Dutton said.
“Every host town and city who joined us on this journey remains involved and they will set the stage for the very best that the sport has to offer. There are world class, compelling matches, across all three tournaments at some of the most iconic venues across England.
"With match dates and locations confirmed, the excitement will only intensify as we look to the horizon and the biggest and best Rugby League World Cup.”
Tickets can be purchased via: www.rlwc2021.com/tickets
Oct 15: England v Samoa at St James Park, Newcastle
Oct 17: France v Greece at Keepmoat Stadium, Doncaster
Oct 22: England v France at University of Bolton Stadium
Oct 23: Samoa v Greece at Keepmoat Stadium, Doncaster
Oct 29: England v Greece at Bramall Lane, Sheffield
Oct 30: Samoa v France at Halliwell Jones Stadium, Warrington
Oct 15: Australia v Fiji at Headingley Stadium, Leeds
Oct 16: Scotland v Italy at Kingston Park, Newcastle
Oct 21: Australia v Scotland at Ricoh Arena, Coventry
Oct 22: Fiji v Italy at Kingston Park, Newcastle
Oct 29: Fiji v Scotland at Kingston Park, Newcastle
Oct 29: Australia v Italy at Totally Wicked Stadium, St Helens
Oct 16: Jamaica v Ireland at Headingley Stadium, Leeds
Oct 16: NZ v Lebanon at Halliwell Jones Stadium, Warrington
Oct 22: NZ v Jamaica at MKM Stadium, Hull
Oct 23: Lebanon v Ireland at Leigh Sports Village
Oct 28: NZ v Ireland at Headlingley Stadium, Leeds
Oct 30: Lebanon v Jamaica at Leigh Sports Village
Oct 18: Tonga v PNG at Totally Wicked Stadium, St Helens
Oct 19: Wales v Cook Islands at Leigh Sports Village
Oct 24: Tonga v Wales at Totally Wicked Stadium, St Helens
Oct 25: PNG v Cook Islands at Halliwell Jones Stadium, Warrington
Oct 30: Tonga v Cook Islands at Riverside Stadium, Middlesbrough
Oct 31: PNG v Wales at Keepmoat Stadium, Doncaster
Nov 4: Quarter-Final 1 (Winner B v Runner-Up C) at John Smith's Stadium, Huddersfield
Nov 5: Quarter-Final 2 (Winner A/RU A v Runner-Up D/Winner D) at DW Stadium, Wigan
Nov 5: Quarter-Final 3 (Winner C v RU B) at MKM Stadium, Hull
Nov 6: Quarter-Final 4 (Winner A/RU A v RU D/Winner D) at University of Bolton Stadium
Nov 11: Semi-Final 1 (Winner QF1 v Winner QF 3) at Elland Road, Leeds
Nov 12: Semi-Final 2 Winner QF 2 v Winner QF 4) at Emirates Stadium, London
Nov 19: Final at Old Trafford, Manchester