Rugby League World Cup officials claim 85 per cent of NRL players were willing to take part in the tournament this year before clubs effectively forced its postponement by refusing to release their stars.
Organisers finally confirmed on Thursday afternoon the end-of-season extravaganza would not proceed as planned, opting to push it back until 2022.
Officials had seriously considered cancelling the tournament altogether, before earning the support from the UK Government to go ahead with it at the end of next season.
But organisers remain unhappy with Australia, New Zealand and NRL clubs after the Kangaroos and Kiwis forced their hand by withdrawing a fortnight ago.
World Cup chairman Chris Brindley labelled Thursday a “solemn day” for rugby league, adamant his organisation was ready to put on a safe event in 2021.
Tournament CEO Jon Dutton also revealed that 85 per cent of around 120 players likely to represent the remaining nations had confirmed in an RLPA survey that they had wanted to play.
However that came amid meetings between Dutton and NRL clubs bosses, who made clear in a public statement they did not want their players travelling to the UK.
“What became apparent … was that there were a number of barriers over the weekend that would prevent players from playing,” Dutton said.
“Some other decisions were made, the NRL club statement, the decision on the NRLW (being in October and November)
“If we did carry on it would be irresponsible. Because players wouldn’t be able to get on the plane or represent their nation.
“We as administrators don’t have the right to take away the opportunity for players to play in the World Cup.”
Officials will now work to ensure that the tournament is complete before the FIFA World Cup starts on November 21, creating an uphill battle for some spotlight.
Their initial plan is to continue with the same draw as was in place for this year, hoping the COVID-19 situation has improved on both sides of the equator.
ARLC chairman Peter V’landys and NRL club’s fears had been as much about player welfare as they were safety, after another extended period in hard restrictions in Queensland.
But the withdrawals initially earned a strong rebuke from International Rugby League, with IRL boss Troy Grant now admitting there was some relationship rebuilding required.
Grant also remained adamant any potential matches played between the Kangaroos and Kiwis at the end of this season would not be looked at favourably by the IRL and may not be sanctioned.
“It wouldn’t be a good look if there were just internationals in the southern hemisphere but they couldn’t play here,” Grant said.
“I have already spoken to representatives from both parties. They have given me assurances of their positivity, support and commitments to 2022.
“We need to have some further conversations about how they can assist us and the smaller nations who are impacted.
“They made significant investments to get to the World Cup that are now impacting on their operations.”