Rugby League World Cup

International Rugby League has announced details of the qualifying process and guiding principles for determining women’s berths at the 2026 Rugby League World Cup.

The IRL Women’s World Cup 2026, which will be played alongside the men’s and wheelchair tournaments before it is played as a standalone event in 2028, will feature eight teams comprising of four Pacific nations, three from Europe and the winner of inaugural IRL World Series in 2025.

With Australia, New Zealand, England and Papua New Guinea having already qualified as semi-finalists at last year’s World Cup in England, four berths remain for RLWC2026.

There are 17 nations competing for the four berths.

Qualifying begins next April when Italy host Netherlands for a place in the European RLWCQ tournament alongside France, Greece, Ireland, Serbia and Wales. The loser of Italy-Netherlands is eliminated.

The remaining six European nations will split into two groups of three, each headed by the two highest ranked teams in the next IRL World Rankings to be announced next week.

A seeded draw in January will determine the placement of the remaining four teams.

The teams will play a mid-year round robin tournament, with the winner of each pool joining England as the three European nations at the World Cup.

A play-off next October between the teams finishing second in each pool will determine the European nation in the 2025 World Series. The team ranked highest in the IRL World Rankings after June 30, 2024 will host the match.

Also playing off for a spot at the World Series as the MEA representative will be Kenya and Nigeria, who are scheduled to meet in two international fixtures in Kenya next September.

Brazil, Canada, Jamaica and the United States will play in Florida for the Americas berth at the World Series, with the highest ranked nation to play the nation ranked fourth and the second and third ranked nations to meet. The two winners will then play-off for a place at the World Series.

The remaining berth at the World Series will go to a Pacific nation.

IRL secretary general Danny Kazandjian said the 2026 tournament structure puts an emphasis on competitiveness, consolidated the game’s key regions, with the intention of producing a tournament that was as attractive as possible for TV, sponsors and fans.

He said 13 of the 17 nations involved in qualification had domestic women’s championships and had shown the IRL that they are developing women’s rugby league.

“Planning around women’s World Cup qualification has been ever present since mid-2021, which has enabled us to interact frequently with the membership on the direction of women’s rugby league,” Kazandjian said.

“The focus that many IRL members are putting on growing their women’s programmes is really clear.

“We began consulting with national federations around six strategic pillars IRL felt were cornerstones to on and off-field women’s development in mid-2022.

“We then surveyed members again a year later and were able to use that data and evidence of their progress to shape these exciting qualification competitions that put the focus on members that have invested in local development, which is essential for sustainable growth.”

RLWC2026 Qualifying

4 APAC + 3 Euro berths + 1 from 2025 World Series

AMERICAS

• BRAZIL, CANADA, JAMAICA, USA to play in Florida during 2024 post-season international window

• Teams ranked 1 & 2 in 30/6/24 IRL World Rankings kept apart

• Match 1: Team 1 v Team 4; Match 2: Team 2 v Team 3

• Match 3: Winners Match 1 v Winner Match 2.

• Winner of match 3 progresses to 2025 World Series

APAC

• Format TBC in due course

• 1 to qualify for RLWC2026 in 2024, 1 to qualify for 2025 World Series

EUROPE

• ITALY v NETHERLANDS on 27/28 April (Italy to host as highest ranked team). Loser eliminated. Winner proceeds to Europe RLWCQ

• ITALY/NETHERLANDS + FRANCE, GREECE, IRELAND, SERBIA, WALES in 2 groups of 3, round robin (1 home & 1 away game each).

• Teams ranked 1 & 2 in 31/12/23 IRL World Rankings in separate groups.

• Teams ranked 3 & 4 in 31/12/23 IRL World Rankings in separate groups.

• Draw in January

• Group games in April, May and June

• 2 group winners qualify for RLWC2026

• 2 second place teams play in World Series qualifying match in October 2024. Winner qualifies for 2025 World Series. Highest ranked team at 30/6/24 to host.

MEA

KENYA, NIGERIA

• 2 game series in Kenya in September 2024

• Winner qualifies for 2025 World Series