The next IRL Rugby League World Cup will take place in the Southern Hemisphere in 2026, with men’s, women’s and wheelchair tournaments to again be played alongside each other, with Wales confirmed as having already qualified for the Wheelchair World Cup.
An IRL board meeting in Singapore has agreed to shift the World Cup from 2025 to 2026 and stage it under a revised format as part of a new calendar to 2030 aimed at capitalising on the growth of the international game.
The 2026 Rugby League World Cup will feature 10 men’s, eight women’s and eight wheelchair teams
The changes were made after France’s decision to withdraw as hosts of the previously scheduled 2025 Rugby League World Cup
In addition, it has been decided that the following Women’s Rugby League World Cup, after RLWC2026, will be held as a stand-alone tournament in 2028.
The move recognises the rapid development of Women’s Rugby League since RLWC2017 and follows the success of the stand-alone FIFA Women’s World Cup being currently played in Australia and New Zealand
The cycle has also changed for the Men’s World Cup, with the next tournament after RLWC2026 to be played in 2030.
The IRL will work to determine where best to position the Wheelchair World Cup after RLWC2026.
A decision on the hosting rights for the 2026 Rugby League World Cup in the Southern Hemisphere, featuring Men’s, Women’s and Wheelchair tournaments, will be made by the end of this year.
A competitive tender process for all World Cups until 2030 will also commence this year.
By reverting to 10 Men’s teams – the same number that participated at the 2008 World Cup – RLWC2026 and RLWC2030 will be elite tournaments featuring the strongest nations and best players.
Greater emphasis will thereby be placed on developing Regional Championships for Asia-Pacific, Europe, Middle East-Africa and the Americas, to ensure there are genuine pathways for nations to develop and ultimately qualify for future World Cups.
The eight Men’s quarter finalists from RLWC2021, played last year in England, will automatically qualify for the 2026 Rugby League World Cup, along with the four Women’s and Wheelchair semi-finalists.
The IRL will consult with member nations to design a qualification framework for remaining World Cup berths.
Announcements about Regional Championships and other tournaments, as well as tours by Southern Hemisphere teams to the Northern Hemisphere – including the Kangaroos and Kiwis – and vice-versa, will be made soon.
IRL Chair Troy Grant said: “The IRL board has made these decisions to create more compelling content and secure the financial future of the international game”.
“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.”
“The Rugby League World Cup is the pinnacle of our sport and an elite tournament that all nations should aspire to take part in.”
“With 10 men’s teams at the 2026 and 2030 World Cups, there will be greater focus on Regional Championships and qualifying tournaments.
“The growth of Women’s Rugby League has been at such a phenomenal rate that the IRL Board believes they deserve to have their own World Cup staged as a stand-alone tournament from 2028 onwards.
“With the Men’s World Cup cycle moving back a year, there will now be a World Cup every 24 months, but this is not a set-and-forget international calendar and there will be opportunities to capitalise on the future growth we believe these changes will generate.”