Rugby League World Cup bosses will fly to Australia in January to meet with NRL clubs over biosecurity issues for next year’s delayed tournament in England.
Just 100 days after pulling out of this year’s event with little notice, Australian and New Zealand officials were among those to sign participation agreements for 2022.
A new schedule was released on Friday night, with the tournament starting a week earlier to avoid a clash with the FIFA World Cup but with the same order of games.
That will include Australia’s opening clash with Fiji being the second game of the tournament on October 15, just 13 days after the NRL grand final.
Organisers will consider having warm-up matches in Australia in a bid to make life easier for nations made up of NRL players or will otherwise fly players to England as they exit the league.
Managing relationships that hit all-time lows last year will be crucial for the tournament’s success.
World Cup CEO Jon Dutton insisted things had turned a corner with NRL and NZRL counterparts Andrew Abdo and Greg Peters in recent months.
“We went through some difficult moments,” Dutton admitted to AAP.
“We took a few weeks to probably feel sorry for ourselves, but since then we’re back.
“We’ve had something like 170 contracts to renegotiate. That’s with our team, all the way to the nations, partners, commercial agreements, broadcast agreements.
“We have had some really good constructive conversations … rebuilding relationships and looking forward.
“I can’t speak highly enough of those two organisations (NRL and NZRL) in terms of looking forward rather than poring over the past and what’s happened.”
While organisers initially considered cancelling the tournament altogether after Australia and New Zealand’s withdrawal, Dutton is adamant the postponement can make the event better.
Clubs also shape as an equally crucial issue, with Dutton to head to Australia in late January to meet with the 16 bosses.
“It’s important for me to go to Australia and meet every club and chief executive,” he said. “I’m targeting 50 meetings while I’m over there.”
Player welfare concerns from NRL teams were one of the major stumbling blocks before the 2021 withdrawal.
Players should now be able to avoid quarantine on return to Australia, while there are hopes restrictions will be largely eased dependent on the global situation with the virus.
“It is a bit of relationship building but also to show we can look after players and provide the safest possible environment,” Dutton said.
“We just have to acknowledge that what was relevant back in July, what is relevant today and what will be relevant in the UK in October will be different.
“And everyone is aware of that.”
Dutton confirmed the tournament will not put in place a mandatory vaccination policy for players.
“We’ll liaise with our colleagues in the NRL,” he said. “What we’ll put in place is what other people would expect. The vaccination rates both here and Australia are heartening. We’ll adhere to whatever Public Health England rules are in place.”