On Tuesday, the teams involved in the 2021 Rugby League World Cup found out which venues they were going to be playing at when the fixtures for the tournament were revealed.
A total of 21 venues across England will be used for the men’s, women’s and wheelchair tournaments, including several beyond the sport’s traditional heartlands.
Here, RLWC2021 chief executive Jon Dutton explains some of the thought process behind which venues were chosen to host which matches…
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Hosts England get next year’s World Cup underway against Samoa at Newcastle’s St James’ Park – a regular venue for Super League’s Magic Weekend – on Saturday, October 23, followed by defending champions Australia taking on Fiji at the same ground one day later.
England then head to the University of Bolton Stadium to face France on October 30 and round off Group A against Greece on November 6 with the first international rugby league match to be played at another football ground Bramall Lane, which is one of Sheffield Eagles’ former homes.
The fixtures have also been arranged so Shaun Wane’s men – if they reach the knock-out stages as expected – head to Anfield for the quarter-finals and Arsenal’s home of the Emirates Stadium for the semis regardless of whether they finish first or second in their group
“Kicking off in Newcastle, we think it’s about the whole weekend rather than just England versus Samoa,” Dutton said.
“Specifically, on England, we wanted a game in the North-West, so we’ve settled on Bolton for that particular game and Sheffield is slightly bold and brave, as the rest of the schedule is or the tournament is.
“Should England qualify they will stay in the north west by going to Anfield for that double-header quarter-final and if they win that game they will go to the Emirates for the semi-final.
“For the England fan, it’s a way of plotting their way to the final should they win their games and we think we’ve got the balance between geography and different sized venues to give different offers for people.”
The women’s tournament is centred around Headingley and the new LNER Community Stadium in York, with the final to be held ahead of the men’s decider at Old Trafford on November 27.
England’s women will also play Canada at Anfield in their group, while Hull’s KCOM Stadium will see Papua New Guinea taking on debutants Brazil.
“The women’s venues, we learnt a lot from 2017 with a single venue for the group games and the final in Brisbane,” Dutton said.
“What we wanted to do for the women’s tournament was have two centres of York and Leeds for the group games, but we’ve mixed that with the Anfield game working through to Old Trafford and one in Hull.”
Beyond the heartlands
Of the non-heartland areas hosting matches, perhaps the two which stand out the most are Middlesbrough and Coventry.
Pacific Islands powerhouse Tonga and the exciting Cook Islands team will be breaking new ground by heading to the Riverside Stadium for their Group D match on November 7 after the city won the right to host a match as part of a bid from the wider Tees Valley area.
The challenge now is to sell out the 34,742-capacity venue in an area where football dominates the sporting landscape.
“We thought hard about Middlesbrough,” Dutton said. “It hasn’t been synonymous with rugby league, it’s in a very interesting geographical area and they came to the party as the Tees Valley, which has a population of three-quarters of a million people.
In talking to people in the area about what would work best, they were really clear a Pacific nation and a big game, and I think with Tonga versus the Cook Island we’ve delivered that.
“In talking to people in the area about what would work best, they were really clear a Pacific nation and a big game, and I think with Tonga versus the Cook Island we’ve delivered that. The challenge now is to fill the Riverside Stadium.
“Let’s not underestimate how tough that’s going to be, but we’ve served up an offer which we think can entice non-core rugby league fans to come and have a great experience.”
Coventry’s Ricoh Arena, which is the home of Gallagher Premiership rugby union club Wasps, has already hosted international rugby league as part of a double-header involving England, Scotland, Australia and New Zealand during the 2016 Four Nations.
The Kangaroos and the Scots will be heading back to the West Midlands for their Group B encounter on October 29, with the match tying in as part of Coventry’s UK City of Culture celebrations.
“We had a really interesting experience in 2016 for the Four Nations double-header at the Ricoh Arena,” Dutton said.
“The important thing with Coventry is it is the City of Culture in the UK in 2021, their dates have been moved back slightly which I think works in our favour, so this is about being part of a wider cultural and sport offer than specifically the fixture.
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