International Rugby League

International Rugby League has released its 2023 annual report. The report focuses on the unprecedented growth of the international game in the wake of one of the greatest challenges faced by the IRL after the decision by France 2025 to withdraw from hosting the next World Cup.

Difficult, but necessary, decisions made at July’s IRL Board meeting in Singapore, in response to France’s withdrawal, led to more matches being played by more nations in 2023 than any year outside of a World Cup.

The introduction of the long-awaited international calendar also provided greater certainty about the direction of international rugby league until 2030 and beyond.

The revamping of the World Cup format, with 10 men’s teams and eight each in the women’s and wheelchair tournaments, will ensure more competitive matches featuring many of the game’s best players.

The next World Cup will now be staged in 2026 in the Southern Hemisphere before the men’s, women’s and wheelchair tournaments are held as stand-alone tournaments in 2028, 2029 and 2030 respectively.

The move will make it more feasible for nations to host a World Cup and has been vindicated by the tender process for the 2028 (women’s), 2029 (wheelchair) and 2030 (men’s tournaments).

With a greater focus on regional championships, there will now be a more meaningful qualifying process and the establishment of a World Series to determine the final berths gives added weight to more sanctioned international matches.

Among the 2023 highlights were:

  • The inaugural Pacific Championships contested by Australia, Cook Islands, Fiji, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, Samoa men’s and women’s teams, and Tonga women;
  • Tonga men becoming the first Pacific nation to tour England for a three-match series;
  • A total of 42 men’s, women’s and wheelchair fixtures involving European nations, including a two-match home-and-away series between RLWC2021 wheelchair finalists England and France ;
  • Jamaica hosting the women’s Americas Championship, involving USA, Canada and Jamaica, and a men’s international against the USA Hawks;
  • The first ever bilateral international fixtures played in Africa, with South Africa hosting Kenya in two men’s internationals and Nigeria playing Ghana and Kenya in women’s internationals. In addition, France staged an historic two-match tour to Kenya.

History was also made when Kiwis captain James Fisher Harris, Kiwi Ferns co-captain Georgia Hale and French wheelchair star Jeremy Bourson were announced as Golden Boot winners.

Fisher-Harris became the first front-rower to win the award since its introduction in 1984, Hale was the first forward to win the women’s Golden Boot and Bourson is the first French athlete crowned international player of the year in any discipline of the code.

Off-the-field, the USARL governance reform process, which the IRL began in 2021, was finalised and positions the game in the United States to capitalise on the decision of the NRL to open the 2024 season in Las Vegas.

A number of nations featured in IRL World Rankings for the first time in 2023, including North Macedonia and Slovakia, while Netherlands, Kenya, Nigeria, Jamaica, Ghana and Uganda women all played their inaugural Sanctioned International Matches.

To view the 2023 Annual Report, click here.