New Zealand and Australia are preparing to launch a joint bid to step in as hosts for the 2025 Rugby League World Cup following France’s sudden withdrawal.

The organizing committee of France 2025 announced yesterday (May 15) the country would no longer host the national teams competition due to concerns over its economic viability.

The men’s, women’s, wheelchair, and youth World Cups were all due to be held simultaneously in France. The country is also set to host the 2023 rugby union World Cup later this year.

However, today (May 16) the New Zealand Rugby League (NZRL) announced its interest in replacing France alongside Australia, with the pair having previously co-hosted the 2017 Rugby League World Cup.

Speaking to New Zealand media, NZRL chief executive Greg Peters said: “We are interested in exploring alternative propositions in this part of the world, with our ARLC (Australian Rugby League Commission) colleagues and others, to create an alternative and exciting tournament that can replace 2025.

“It’s early days, but prior to this announcement we had already started thinking about what that might look like at a high level, and we have some recent experience from 2017 when Australia and New Zealand hosted it.

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“But we believe that, with help from Pasifika and Pasifika elements, we can create something pretty special down here.”

Responding to questions about the tight turnaround to stage the tournament in two years, Peters said it would be feasible.

He said: “It is possible, and definitely that would be the initial goal to keep it in the cycle. Particularly after we missed the cycle with the postponement of the 2021 World Cup, it would be good to get it back into the cycle and avoid other major events around the world.”

The last Rugby League World Cup, hosted by England, was postponed to 2022 after Australia and New Zealand withdrew from playing it in 2021 due to the ongoing pandemic.

Speaking at Australian rugby league’s NRL Indigenous round launch today, NRL chief executive Andrew Abdo would not comment on Australia’s bidding plans but confirmed the Australian Rugby League Commission had been prepared for the French organizers running into issues.

He said: “In terms of World Cups, it’s a bit premature to talk about that, but needless to say we’ll be ready for any situation that unfolds over the next couple of years.

“I’ve been across the issues for a while now. France 2025 was always going to be a great opportunity for us to grow the game in Europe and particularly in France, but it wasn’t without challenge or risk, and it required a few things to go the way of [the sport's global governing body] the International Rugby League.

“It’s too premature to comment on just exactly what we do next but having said that, we have been anticipating some challenges and we are working on a mitigation plan to make sure international content is played over the next five years.

“If we’re not playing a World Cup in France, there are plenty of other really good opportunities to showcase our game.”

If successful, New Zealand and Australia will be the third bid to be awarded hosting rights for the 2024 edition. France was named after the original co-hosts, the US and Canada, withdrew in 2018, ending the International Rugby League’s plans to take the tournament out of Europe and Oceania for the first time.

New Zealand and Australia’s offer will be welcomed by the International Rugby League, which has been left scrambling to find a new host with just over two years to go before kick-off or face the prospect of postponing the tournament until 2026.

The French government had demanded organizers secure extra funding to ensure the tournament wouldn’t have made huge losses. However, despite being given extra time, they were unable to do so, leading to the country’s withdrawal.

In a statement, the organizers said: “Despite all the work carried out by the organizing committee, it hasn’t been possible to fully secure the risk of deficit.

“The conditions of financial viability initially defined by the state to support the project, set in January 2022, were not fully met, despite the search for solutions and the additional three months granted by the state to the organizing committee at the end of 2022.”

Reacting to the news yesterday, International Rugby League chairman Tony Grant said: “The Rugby League World Cup in France in 2025 was always an ambitious project given the unprecedented short lead-in time due to the pandemic, however, it had the advantage of following and leveraging off the widely acknowledged 2021 success. 

"The factors that impacted on the bid team's ability to complete the early structure of the tournament, such as the economic crisis and, in particular, inflationary pressure on host town council budgets, undermined their ability to secure adequate securities for the event to satisfy the Government's strict conditional benchmarks, put forward from the beginning of the process, for the tournament to proceed. 

 "The French Government, particularly the Sports Minister Amélie Oudéa-Castéra, supported the bid team financially and granted additional time to meet benchmarks given the interruptions and obstacles that were put in their way that were out of their control.

"I respect the French Government's decision amid the challenges they are facing but I can't hide my disappointment, that I conveyed clearly to them in person.”

Peter Scrimgeour, senior analyst at GlobalData Sport, commented: "France's withdrawal from staging the 2025 Rugby League World Cup is a massive blow to the sport's international ambitions. It is the second time the event has been canceled, with the original hosts, the USA, also withdrawing due to money issues.

"The IRL has been looking to grow the game beyond Australia, New Zealand, and England, and take advantage of the on-field rise of Samoa and Tonga but the latest set-back will likely result in the World Cup being held in Australia and New Zealand combined in either 2025 or pushed back to 2026, thus continuing the cycle of the event being staged in England and then Australia/New Zealand.”

The International Rugby League said its board will convene on Wednesday (May 17) to “consider options” for the 2025 edition.

Image: Lewis Storey/Getty Images for RLWC