David Ulch in action against Jamaica

Everything being equal, two teams in the Americas would have been treating 2024 as a stepping stone for the 2025 Rugby League World Cup (RLWC) in France, but the reality is that as of right now, this year is shaping up as one of uncertainty.

By rights, the United States, Canada, Jamaica and Brazil would have played in the Americas region RLWC2025 qualifying series late last year with the top two advancing to the World Cup next year. However, the International Rugby League (IRL) was forced to throw those and many other plans out the window because of the decision by the French to bail as hosts in ‘25.

The IRL has since drafted a new way of qualifying for the next few Rugby League World Cups, starting with the rescheduled one in 2026, which will now be played in the southern hemisphere.

Based on international rankings, the number of teams in the men’s division has been reduced to ten, with eight of them being the quarter-finalists from RLWC2021, which was actually played in 2022.

The two other countries will advance from a World Series which will be a culmination of regional qualifying series. The Americas, European, Asia-Pacific and Middle East-Africa (MEA) tournaments will all lead into the World Series.

Under these new qualifying rules, the Americas region has gone from having two assured seeds in RLWC2025 to, at most, having only one and possibly none in RLWC2026 if the team that advances to the World Series doesn’t finish first or second in that tournament.

The IRL has also made it clear that only nations that are full members will be eligible to qualify, and therein lies yet one more thing for America’s teams to overcome because, at this point, only Jamaica is a full member of the IRL.

The international governing body has set March 31st as the deadline for when nations must be full members, which the other Americas nations concede is a big ask.

“The regional qualifiers and World Series construct are key for the longer term so that we have genuinely engaged pathways for all nations to realize their ambitions,” IRL chairman Troy Grant said when announcing the new format back in October.

So, where does that leave national teams in the Americas in the short to medium term? Well, apart from Chile, currently it’s unclear.

The Weichafes know they have a heritage game in Sydney pencilled in for October. They are then due to compete in the South American Championship in Argentina in November.

“At this stage we have three teams that want to play in Sydney, so we’ll make that decision soon,” says Chile head coach Rod Millar.

This year marks the 20th anniversary of rugby league starting up in Jamaica. While it will be a big year for domestic competitions, there’s a question mark hanging over the calendar for the men’s Reggae Warriors.

“We would accept friendlies if they are suitable, but right now, nothing is on the table,” says Rugby League Jamaica’s director of rugby, Romeo Monteith.

As for the US and Canada, they are due to renew their rivalry on March 1st in conjunction with the NRL’s season-opening doubleheader in the world’s entertainment capital, Las Vegas, but beyond that, things are very much up in the air.

Brian is a strong and effective communicator with more than 30 years’ experience in broadcast and electronic media. He has been writing for Rugby League Planet since 2012 and is frequently the first reporter to break news stories about the sport. He has been our North American correspondent reporting on news in the US, Canada and Jamaica covering everything from league standings to strategy analysis to breaking news on key trades to editorials and colourful features on athletes. He is now writing about rugby league on a broader scale to cover developments around the globe. An accomplished storyteller, Brian started his career in Australian radio, before moving to the United States. He is an experienced podcast host and producer and is also a successful TV commentator having done play-by-play and analysis for ESPN, FOX Sports and the Rugby League European Federation (RLEF) among others. Brian has his own YouTube channel @brianlowe5567 where he posts his interviews for Rugby League Planet. Be sure to check it out and subscribe.