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Festival of Rugby Hits the North East

The Rugby League World Cup is being held in England this autumn, with Newcastle and Kingston Park playing host to some vital fixtures.

The Rugby League World Cup is the pinnacle event in international Rugby League. Unlike other sports, where we see frequent international competition, Rugby League is more domestic based, with international competitions few and far between.

Last hosted solely on these shores in 1995, this autumn England will once again play host to the best players in the world. The World Cup was due to be held last autumn however, due to covid restrictions in Australia and New Zealand (the two biggest forces in the sport), it was decided to move the event back 12 months, but still market it as the 2021 World Cup.

This year’s World Cup will see more teams than ever compete for the trophy, with four groups of four nations competing in stadiums across England.

Amongst the stadiums chosen are St James Park and Kingston Park, with four fixtures coming to the region, including the prestigious opening ceremony and the first game of the tournament.  Along with Old Trafford, St James Park is now seen as a flagship stadium for Rugby League, as shown by the success of the Magic Weekend, which has found its home right here in Newcastle.

Due to this success, St James Park has been chosen to play host to the first fixture of the World Cup, England v Samoa, on Saturday October 15th. The following day Kingston Park will be home to Scotland’s opening fixture, when they match up against an up and coming Italian side. The event returns to Kingston Park the following Saturday, when Italy once again feature, this time against the tough Fijian outfit.

Finally, on Saturday 29th October, it will be Scotland’s turn to tackle the formidable and tough to beat Fiji in their final group game.

The tournament then continues at stadiums and venues around the country, culminating in the showpiece final at Old Trafford on Saturday 19th November at 4pm.

The way the World Cup works is that all quarter-finalists from the preceding World Cup (RLWC2017) have automatically qualified to compete. The remaining eight nations were decided by a qualification process based on global regions determined by International Rugby League.

The Rugby League World Cup was first held in France in 1954, and was the first world cup for any form of Rugby football, more than 30 years before the first Rugby Union World Cup.

The first tournament featured only four teams, with Great Britain winning the event, beating hosts France in the final. The event was very sporadic over the next few years, with tournaments being anywhere from 2 to 8 years apart, and regularly featuring only 4 or 5 teams. This changed in 1995 when, with the help of various investments and a new interest in the sport, England hosted a 10 team tournament, filling Wembley stadium for the final. Even though the final didn’t go the way of the hosts, they were beaten 16-8 by old rivals Australia, a new era of Rugby League was born and the sport has gone from strength to strength ever since.

This year’s event is the sixteenth Rugby League World Cup, and the tournament has only ever been won by three countries. Australia have collected the trophy 11 times, Great Britain 3 times and New Zealand have won it once.

Our nations competed as Great Britain until 1995 and, since then, none of the individual nations have quite managed to lift the trophy. With home advantage, one of the strongest squads ever put together, and a new found confidence, let’s hope this year England can finally get their hands on the World Cup trophy – and you cheer them on right here in the North East!

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